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Seriously, Could Down Season Lead to Dez Bryant’s Release?

Jess Haynie

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Dez Bryant

While we never like to think of our favorite players being released, Dallas Cowboys fans have faced this reality twice in recent years. The departures of DeMarcus Ware in 2014 and Tony Romo just a few months ago make it clear that few players, if any, are safe. Could Dez Bryant be joining them soon?

After this season, Bryant's contract will give the Cowboys options. He will count $16.5 million against the salary cap and only have $8 million left in guaranteed money. Dallas could release him outright for $8.5 million in cap relief, or use the June 1st-provision to split that up to just $4 million dead money in 2018 and 2019.

Could the Cowboys possibly consider letting go of Dez Bryant?  What sort of 2017 performance would he need to have to take that option off the table?

Dez Bryant

WR Dez Bryant

At his best, Bryant is one of the toughest matchups among NFL receivers. He can overpower most cornerbacks and is still dangerous in the open field. Dez Bryant is still a franchise receiver when his health and the circumstances on offense allow him to be.

Health has been an issue for the last two seasons. Dez missed seven games in 2015 and three more last season. Even when he's on the field, Bryant can sometimes look labored by his nagging injuries and it impedes performance. Even if you project his per-game stats from 2016 over a full season, they would have been significantly lower numbers in yards and touchdowns than his best seasons.

Dez Bryant turns 29 this November, which means he turns 30 midway through the 2018 season. These health issues and whatever declining physical skills he has aren't going to be improved with age. If 2017 is another down year, a three-year trend become very difficult to ignore.

That said, defining a "down year" can get tricky. This isn't the same offense that Dez had his best seasons with from 2012-2014. Even if Bryant's chemistry with Dak Prescott is assumably better in their second year together, Cole Beasley has emerged as a favorite target for Prescott and will cut into Dez's opportunities. What's more, the ground-focused attack with Ezekiel Elliott can be detrimental to Bryant's production.

Cowboys Blog - DeMarcus Ware Easily The Greatest 94 In Dallas Cowboys History

LB/DE DeMarcus Ware (AP Photo/Kevin Terrell)

The DeMarcus Ware comparison is a strong one. Ware was about to turn 32 when Dallas released him in 2014.  Despite missing only three games the previous season, Ware's production had plummeted to just six sacks. Dallas cleared roughly $7 million in cap space by cutting Ware and the move seemed very shrewd. Jerry Jones was even praised for thinking with his head over his heart, which has not been his reputation as General Manager.

In hindsight, some could argue that it was a mistake. Ware went on to win a Super Bowl in Denver and had 10 sacks despite a lesser role on the Broncos defense. This past offseason, some were even clamoring for Ware to return to Dallas to help one of the league's worst pass rushes.

Ultimately, I don't blame the Cowboys for the Ware decision.  The logic was sound in the moment, and even the hindsight argument is faulty. Ware's success in Denver came because he was surrounded by talented guys. If he'd stayed in Dallas, he still would've be asked to be the focal point of the defensive line. There is little reason to think that would've been effective.

Dez Bryant

WR Dez Bryant

Age and declining performance sent DeMarcus Ware, the greatest pass-rusher in Cowboys history and one of the best to ever play football, into early free agency. Clearly, it would be foolish to think that it can't happen to Dez Bryant.

Nobody is rooting for this, of course. A big year from Dez is a great thing for Dallas. That $16.5 million cap hit is perfectly fine if he's producing like a true franchise receiver. Dallas can afford to pay it while Prescott and Elliott are still discounted from their rookie deals, and especially when all of the Tony Romo dead money comes off the books in 2018.

This is the major difference between the Bryant and Ware situations, and one that works heavily in Dez's favor. The Cowboys were in desperate need for cap space when they cut DeMarcus, a move that they may not have made otherwise. The 2018 Cowboys will have a lot more breathing room and may not have to make the tough decision on Bryant.

That said, if Bryant misses another big chunk of games or clearly isn't the same athlete anymore, Dallas may need the cash to go get someone else. History has proven that Terrance Williams can't fill Bryant's shoes. If Dez isn't a franchise receiver anymore, the Cowboys will need to find one and probably can't afford to keep paying Bryant at that same level.

This topic is almost certain to be revisited after the 2017 season. Hopefully, it's to say that Bryant was too good to even consider releasing. If Dez struggles next year, though, we may resume this conversation sooner than you think.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Wayne Young

    June 23, 2017 at 11:25 am

    No. Next question.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      June 23, 2017 at 11:39 am

      So, nothing about the team’s recent history suggests it’s a possibility?

      • Wayne Young

        June 26, 2017 at 10:38 am

        Jerry is too loyal. He’ll find every reason he can short of trading or releasing Dez to justify keeping him even if he has an off year. Jerry picked Dez. Last thing he likes doing is admitting he was wrong.

  2. Willie Rogers

    June 23, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Whoever wrote this must have lost a brain cell or two, Dez will retire a rich cowboy.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      June 23, 2017 at 11:41 am

      I can’t argue the brain cell loss, but ask yourself…. why have the Cowboys avoided restructuring Bryant’s contract? They’ve moved money on all these other guys to create cap room, but they’ve left Bryant’s contract more flexible. Why would they do that unless they were also considering they may have to release him one day?

      • Willie Rogers

        June 28, 2017 at 11:04 am

        Lol, it may come a day they release Dak,Zeke,& some of those offensive linemen.

  3. fgoodwin

    June 23, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    I hope Dez has a great year, but we can’t continue to pay him like a franchise player when he spends so much time in the training room.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      June 23, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Jerry’s line about “availability” being the most important ability is one of the truest things he’s ever said.

  4. Ethan Chazin

    June 23, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Big “IF” in play here, but given their offensive configuration makes sense esp. if they could draft a big time college WR. The cap savings alone would enable them to do things but bottom line there are intangibles at play i.e. his positive impact on the other players.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      June 23, 2017 at 1:13 pm

      You just nailed another big point. Given the picks already spent on the o-line and investments on defense just made, Dallas could easily target a WR in the first-round next year.

  5. Bryson Treece

    June 23, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Not enough people are willing to ask this question, so I appreciate you for doing it. Dez makes good money right now, but his numbers (yards, TDs, etc.) aren’t quite up to what we expect. His injuries are a little too often. He does add great value to this team, but I have to think the Cowboys are keeping their options open. Hence no restructure on his contract yet.

    Personally, I would like to stick around, retire a Cowboy, but I look at how deep we’re stacking talent at WR and I believe the reason we’re doing that is because it’s likely Dez will miss games due to injury. If a guy is that predictable, and being paid like he is, that’s just a tough situation. Something has to give, eventually.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      June 23, 2017 at 1:21 pm

      Thank you. Obviously, it’s not something any of us want to see happen. But if the team leaving themselves an escape route, which they clearly are by not restructuring his deal, then I think it’s appropriate to consider the possibility.

      • ThePsychodad69

        June 23, 2017 at 10:07 pm

        Maybe taking care of the all-pro OLinemans 2nd contract before they worry about Dez’s 3rd.

        Its silly to look through a window and guess how warm it is inside or if the toilets full of turds.

  6. TreFKennedy88

    June 23, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    We’ll never know the answer because Dez gonna have 90+’s catches, 1200-1400 yards and 12-20 td’s

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      June 23, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      I admire your optimism and hope you’re right!

      • TreFKennedy88

        June 23, 2017 at 1:24 pm

        Trust me Dez is gonna re claim his top 5 status, plus to me Dez is a hall of famer, gotta get at least 10K yards and 100+ td’s ( which is on pace for) among this generation of wide outs, Aj, Julio, Demaryius, all of them Dez scores at a much higher rate

  7. Matthew Harrell

    June 23, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    I agree. Not only is this entirely possible, it is very likely unless Dez has a monster year. Now I love D-Ware but greatest pass rusher in Cowboys history? This is all in fun but I would put Randy White and Harvey Martin up there with if not ahead of him. Even George Andrie deserves consideration. A 60s beast, he had unofficially 4 straight seasons with double digit sacks, even reaching 18 in ’66. These guys played before the sack was an official stat but you can look up unofficial team info and research will show that these guys had monster numbers also also. Of course Bob Lilly, Too Tall Jones and Jethro Pugh are in the argument as well. Lilly’s numbers are harder to verify but he is alleged to have had 15 sacks in 66 along with Andrie’s 18 and reached at least 94 in his career. Pugh had 4 straight years with 13 or more sacks, reaching 15 in’68.Harvey Martin had 20 sacks and a Super Bowl co-MVP (shared with Randy White, no less) in’77 Randy White, like Martin, absolutely terrorized offenses recording multiple double digit sack seasons and amassed 111 career sacks. Martin had 113 career followed by Too Tall with 105, Andrie 97, Pugh 95 and Mr. Cowboy Bob Lilly 94. I know Ware’s stats are official and arguably better but my argument is these other legends played with each other. Lilly had Andrie and Pugh also eating up sacks while White, Martin and Jones played together. The amount of Defensive destruction done by these two generations of Doomsday left less availability for higher personal statistic acheivment while Ware playing for far less superior Ds was able to pile up more. Just fun fan banter but I put Ware near the top, just not on it. He certainly stands amoung a group of Legends.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      June 23, 2017 at 1:24 pm

      Thank you for the historical perspective. I’m only 35 so I greatly appreciate that insight. You’re right that I was leaning on the official stats, which is really we have for some of these discussions.

  8. Matthew Harrell

    June 23, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    Also to the Dez article, I do like him and hope he has his best season yet but Jess’ logic is sound..I’ve said for awhile Dez is overrsted. Not to say bad, just overrated in the sense that he brings more bark than bite and his position is not as valuable as he or most else believe. Do the Patriots have a Dez? Before ODB did the Giants have one? Have the won a title since having ODB? If he doesn’t have a career year, cut him, his contract will become an albatross at a time when Zeke most importantly followed by Dak will get big ones. All of this after Zack Martin gets paid. Throw in thst he turns 30 next year, the Ware scenario certainly applies here. Having seen my favorite player the last 12 years suffer the same fate due to age injury and most importantly salary, its just a sad fact of football life. Next season we can draft a top WR who will be much younger and cheaper so it makes sense. The one thing that could change is Dez having a monster year.

  9. ThePsychodad69

    June 23, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    Uhhh……didn’t Ware want to play in a 3-4, got salty when Wade was fired and had been injured for his last 3yrs in Dallas, the choice was Wares to stay for less money.

    Pretty sure it was for everybodies benefit @ the time especially after wasting franchise tags on Spencer and paying Rat.

    Dez’s numbers would have to be Eagle like to even consider dumping him, besides can you pull a #1 WR out of your hat to replace him, maybe a recycled #1 will fall from the sky or draft a stud(easier said than done) with the 32nd pick.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      June 26, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      You’re right that some circumstances were different with Ware. Ultimately, though, the scenario of a guy underperforming his contract and getting released has played out time and again in the NFL. Everyone has some unique aspects to their situation, but those key points have a fairly consistent outcome.

  10. Russ_Te

    June 24, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    I don’t look for a skills or speed dropoff yet for Dez. It’s just a question of how brittle in 2017.

    If he misses 10 games and Butler comes on like Miles Austin did, much easier equation in the offseason.

    But the dominant run game is Dez’s friend of course. More loaded boxes = more single coverage. He’ll have a big year if healthy.

    I do think Linehan waits too long some games to get him involved. The dynasty 49’ers never had this run attack, but they always made sure Jerry Rice touched the ball early & they moved him all over the LOS. There’s no reason not to copy that for Dez.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      June 26, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      Good points as always, Russ. I think you’re right about the way Dez is used sometimes hurting him. He seems to be a momentum player, sort of like a RB who needs enough touches to be effective.

  11. Randy Martin

    June 25, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Ok so at first I read the headline and thought oh no! And then I saw it was Jess Haynie who is certainly one of the more reasonable writers of all things Cowboy. So I read it with an open mind. He backed up his premise with facts and it was a reasonable assertion. On the surface, it sounds illogical but there could be merit. Dez Bryant’s best years were 2011-2014. Those first two years we were still trying to find a rushing game with Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray. Murray came on in 2013 and 2014 and Dez still prospered with excellent seasons in those 2 years. Obviously we have had the injury plagued seasons the last two years and this season He has declared himself ready to have a great season. Enter Zeke, Beas, Switz, and Witten. All indications are that Zeke will be used more on the ground this year AND will be catching more passes. I also see Beas and Switz with a high number of catches. There are only so many offensive plays in a game so how the ball is spread around will be based on matchups and game day decisions. All that being said, it is reasonable to project a healthy Dez with 80-85 catches, 1200 yards, and 12 TD’s. But if Dez continues to collect injuries and has another year like the last two it is certainly not unreasonable to assume Dallas could begin looking for a new #1 WR and asking Dez to take a large pay cut or designating him a June 1 cut in 2018. So, perhaps everyone should remove their blue and silver colored glasses and put on your clear view glasses and look at the way NFL teams are run today.

    • Bryson Treece

      June 25, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      Exactly!

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      June 26, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Randy, I really appreciate the benefit of the doubt you gave. I know there’s a lot of junk out there, so the fact you saw my name and trusted me means a lot!

  12. BeirutWedding

    June 27, 2017 at 1:39 am

    Dang, dude, buzz kill much? The season hasn’t even started yet!

    Excellent piece and dead on across the board. The one thing I’ll say about last year was that his numbers might have been down but he was a big play guy last year when we needed him to be. Philly, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Detroit. More importantly, he stepped up in the playoff loss. If he stays healthy, Dez creates the balance with Zeke. He doesn’t stretch the field but he knows how to reach that damn end zone.

    By the way, as great as Ware was and he was great, I don’t know that he was better than Harvey Martin. Harvey had 23 sacks the year they beat Denver in the Super Bowl. He was a machine and honestly, should be in the Hall of Fame (not to mention the damn RING OF HONOR.)

  13. John Williams

    John Williams

    July 5, 2017 at 3:33 am

    Very well put together article and argument Jess. Good job asking the hard hitting questions.

    I wonder if a trade would be a possibility next offseason. I would have a hard time letting him go if they didn’t have a way to replace him with a legitimate WR1. Someone who takes the DB focus all over the field. While Cole is really good as a slot receiver, he doesn’t stretch the field to the boundary like Dez does. Not in the deep threat burner way, but in the, we’ve got to account for where Dez goes way.

    Sometimes teams have to make tough decisions.

    I also wonder if they will ask Dez to take a pay cut if he struggles to stay healthy this year.

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Cowboys Offseason: Landon Collins Cleaned Out Locker, Set to be FA

John Williams

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Cowboys Headlines - #DALvsNYG: Dealing With Giants Safety Landon Collins

It's no secret that the Dallas Cowboys are heading into the 2019 offseason looking to upgrade at the safety position on a defense that finished inside the top 10 in 2018. With much of the focus on Earl Thomas, New York Giants Safety Landon Collins has become the center of attention in the last couple of days.

Per a report by Josina Anderson, Collins cleaned out his locker on Wednesday as he gets ready to go into free agency for the first time.

ig: josinaanderson on Twitter

I'm told that Giants S Landon Collins cleaned out his locker today at the team facility and said his goodbyes to teammates, coaches and trainers. It doesn't seem like Collins expects to be a Giant for much longer, per sources.

After Paul Schwartz attempted to assert that there was no claim to the report...

Paul Schwartz on Twitter

Attention those who care about the New York Giants: Landon Collins HAS NOT cleaned out his locker at the team facility. Repeat: Landon Collins HAS NOT cleaned out his locker at the team facility. Go about your business and have a nice day.

And Landon Collins had this to say...

LANDON COLLINS on Twitter

@NYPost_Schwartz The stuff in that locker that I have left I do not need💯

If cleaning out a locker is any kind of evidence, then Collins is prepared to hit the market when free agency opens on March 13th. He joins a loaded safety group that includes Thomas, Houston Texans Safety Tyrann Mathieu, Los Angeles Rams Safety LaMarcus Joyner, Glover Quin of the Detroit Lions, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix formerly of the Green Bay Packers, but most recently of the Washington Redskins, and several others who could find new homes this offseason.

The Cowboys are very familiar with Landon Collins, as they've seen him nearly twice a year over the last four years. The three time Pro Bowler was one of the best players on the Giants defense. They would line him up in the box and at time use him to cover Cole Beasley.

Collins ranked first in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus in run stop percentage at 7.2%. Meaning on running snaps, he made a tackle that rendered the running play ineffective 7.2% of the time.For further reference, Jeff Heath made a run stop on 4.2% of his run plays, which was 15th in the NFL among safeties.

The only positions to have more of an impact on the running game were linebackers and the defensive line. Even if you include linebackers, his run stop percentage was 31st in the NFL. Leighton Vander Esch led the Dallas Cowboys with a run stop percentage of 11.3%, which was third among linebackers. Collins number nearly matched the run stop percentage of Jaylon Smith at 7.6%.

Add Collins to a defense that stops the run as well as the Dallas Cowboys did last season and you take your team to another level against the run.

Landon Collins will probably get the most money this offseason. He's only 25 and has had success in the NFL. Many teams will be reaching out to Collins when free agency opens and the Dallas Cowboys should certainly be one of those teams. Collins would be an excellent addition to the Dallas Cowboys defense and would allow Xavier Woods to stay in his role as the free safety.

We're just under three weeks away from the start of NFL free agency and the drama will only get bigger as the Cowboys look to add to their team.



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Terrance Williams Was OK, But Cowboys Need More From Michael Gallup

Jess Haynie

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Can WR Michael Gallup Eclipse 1,000 Receiving Yards as a Rookie?

Just yesterday, the Dallas Cowboys declined an option on Wide Receiver Terrance Williams' contract and ended his six-year tenure with the team. One reason the veteran was no longer in their plans was the presence of Michael Gallup, who the team has high hopes for entering just his second NFL season.

It's interesting to compare Gallup and Williams on several levels. Just as Terrance's time ends, having only made a few appearance last year in just three games, Michael was a fast learner as a rookie and emerged as the team's number-two receiver by the playoffs.

Both were third-round picks, with Williams (74th) being selected just seven spots higher overall in 2013 than Gallup (81st) was in 2018.

Terrance came to Dallas when Dez Bryant was firmly entrenched as the team's primary receiver. Michael was drafted less than a month after Dez was released, but Amari Cooper soon established himself as the number-one WR midway through the year.

In both cases, the Cowboys hoped that their third-round selection would yield a player who could at least play a complimentary role as a solid roleplayer, if not regular starter.

For all his warts Terrance Williams was ultimately a solid draft pick. He started in about 75% of the games he played in and was a proficient run blocker, helping both DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott have big years. He also made some highlight reel catches in his time.

Did Terrance Williams' Big Game Quiet His Doubters?

Dallas Cowboys WR Terrance Williams

But with those big plays came some big blunders. Terrance often had a bad drop for every good catch he made. A huge mental error may have cost Dallas the 2016 season opener against the Giants. And if the team wasn't already starting to turn on him, his 2018 arrest for public intoxication seemed to push them over the edge.

That said, the biggest issue with Williams was his inability to produce without other plays drawing attention. He didn't rise to the occasion when Dez Bryant was injured. He rarely even made defenses pay for giving Dez too much attention.

At his best, Terrance was a solid number-two receiver. Plenty of teams who've spent first-round picks on receivers wish they could they'd gotten as much in return. Nobody should be disappointed with how that 2013 third-round pick turned out.

But when it comes to Michael Gallup, Dallas should hope that Williams' career is the floor for Gallup's potential. As teams key on Amari Cooper going forward, can Gallup do damage in ways that Terrance rarely could?

Even more importantly, if Cooper were to ever get injured, could Michael step up and take on a larger role? Can Dallas finally have a number-two receiver with the capacity for occasionally taking the lead?

#DALvsWAS: Michael Gallup Will Play, Value Extends Beyond Passing Game 1

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

That may be putting too much pressure on young Mr. Gallup but it's really not an unfair expectation. Recent drafts have produced highly productive third-round receivers such as Keenan Allen, Cooper Kupp, Kenny Golladay, and Tyler Lockett.

Even more pressure comes if Cole Beasley leaves the team in free agency. While his role lessened toward the end of 2018, Cole remained one of Dak Prescott's favorite options in clutch situations. He was almost impossible to stop with just one man covering him, and that gave defenses a real dilemma once Amari Cooper arrived.

Can Gallup fill those shoes? Can he become a reliable target when the game is on the line?

In the end, all Michael has to do is be a solid starter to provide a great value for his draft selection. The Williams standard isn't a bad measure.

But if the Cowboys ever want to win more than just the occasional playoff game then they need another receiving threat who truly punishes opposing defenses. They need the next Alvin Harper, not the next Terrance Williams.

We can only hope, as the team does, that Michael Gallup is up to the task.



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Deep Dive into the Dallas Cowboys 2019 Salary Cap

John Williams

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check

The Dallas Cowboys are heading into free agency, which opens March 13th, in really good shape. The Cowboys will be able to be aggressive in the free agent market if they want to. They have the 10th most cap space in the NFL. It could make for a fun free agency period for the front office and Cowboys Nation, however, we know how this team has felt about spending on outside free agents since being burned by the Brandon Carr signing.

In years past, they’ve opted to bargain shop. Last year was a departure from the norm though, as they chased the mythical unicorn that is Sammy Watkins last offseason.

Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make. 

They haven’t generally been a team that chased big-time free agents, though this could be the season that all changes with several free agent safeties that could be immediate upgrades.

We know they’re going to spend a lot of money on their own with Demarcus Lawrence coming free and Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dak Prescott looking for contract extensions, but they’re could Ben opportunities to bring in a star from another player to come where The Star.

I hope Jerry Jones has his signing hand ready, it’s going to be putting in a lot of work over the next couple of months.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve had people on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Google+, MySpace, AOL Chatrooms, and via USPS correspondence express concern about whether the Dallas Cowboys will be able to afford all their guys and chase free agents.

Not to worry Cowboys fan, with a little salary cap and contract gymnastics, the sky’s the limit.

Let’s take a look.

Current Cap Space

According to OverTheCap.com, the 2019 Salary Cap is estimated to be around $190 million. After the release of Terrance Williams, the Dallas Cowboys are expected to have nearly $48 million in cap space available to them when free agency opens on March 13th.

When you look at that number by itself, it doesn’t look like a lot with big money contracts coming to DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and Byron Jones. Remember, though, the salary cap may be a fixed number, but contracts are pliable, meaning the team can do several things to create cap space through releases, how they structure new contracts, and restructures.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the Dallas Cowboys will have the money they need to sign the players they want to sign.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Likely Releases

Sean Lee, Linebacker

Age and injury catch up to everyone and this is where we are with All-Pro Linebacker Sean Lee who will be turning 33 in July. Lee’s career has just been unlucky from the time he set foot in Dallas.

Since coming to the Cowboys in the 2010 draft, Lee has only played in 64% of the possible 149 games that the Dallas Cowboys have played in that time frame. Contrast that with a player like Zack Martin who has played in all but two games in his five-year career. That’s a 92% availability rate for his career.

The Dallas Cowboys don’t typically pay age. The difficult choice with Lee is that he’s long been a leader for the Dallas Cowboys. However, with the emergence of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, it’s extremely difficult to justify a $7 million cap hit to a part-time player.

Allen Hurns, Wide Receiver

Allen Hurns was a roller coaster ride in 2018.

First, it appeared he was brought in to be an upgrade at the number two spot. Then when the Cowboys shocked the world and released Dez Bryant, he immediately moved up the wide receiver pecking order, but was generally ineffective. After the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper, Hurns became somewhat of an afterthought in the wide receiver snap distribution. Then he was lost in the win over the Seattle Seahawks with a gruesome ankle injury.

Allen Hurns is a fine player, but the Cowboys could get $5 million in cap relief by parting ways with the former 1,000 yard receiver.

A couple weeks ago, I outlined why I think Hurns could be a solution to the problem facing the Cowboys if Cole Beasley walked away. Hurns best attributes shine when deployed in the slot and asked to run over the middle of the field.

Coming off of the ankle injury, the Cowboys could easily move on and use that $5 million to extend one of their own or go after a big name in free agency.

Unlikely, but not Impossible Releases

The next few players are players that will most likely be on the squad in 2019. But as we saw with Dez Bryant, there can always be surprises.

Joe Looney, Center

The 2018 season seemed almost sunk when news came down that Center Travis Frederick was diagnosed with Guillen-Barre Syndrome during training camp. One of the stories of the 2018 season, was the play of Frederick’s backup Joe Looney. Looney may not have been the most valuable player, but you can’t understate how important he wasn’t to the success the Dallas Cowboys had in 2018.

We’ve seen what happens when backups who are incredibly inferior to the starter they play behind see action. Think back to Atlanta in 2017. If the Cowboys get better play from Chaz Green and Byron Bell, that game and perhaps the season turns out differently. Kind of like when Cameron Fleming filled in for Tyron Smith this season. It was a completely different result. Was Fleming perfect? No, but he wasn’t a disaster and the Cowboys were able to win games without their All-Pro left tackle.

Joe Looney is going to be with this team unless someone loses their center and wants to trade for him. In the event the Cowboys wanted to get some cap relief, they could save $1.5 million in 2019, with only $125 thousand in dead money on the cap.

I don’t see them making this move, but for those of you curious, there are the numbers.

Joe Thomas, Linebacker

Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch got all the glory at the linebacker position in 2018, and for good reason, but Joe Thomas was an important piece to the puzzle as well. He provided excellent depth and a lot of good snaps for the Cowboys in 2018, which is why I think he’s back next year.

He only saves you about $2 million on the cap, but if you didn’t want to pay a  backup linebacker $2 million, then you could part ways with him.

Jeff Heath, Safety

Jeff Heath is a solid player, but gets relied upon for a little more than he should. He’d probably be best served with being a rotational safety in the NFL. He has a penchant for making plays, but also has some maddening snaps as well, like the final play against the Rams where Jared Goff was able to scramble for a first down. Heath never saw the bootleg and was late getting to Goff to keep him from picking up the first down.

The Dallas Cowboys like him as a player and he’s likely to stay with the team. He helps on special teams and provides valuable depth.

If they were to move on, they could save $2.5 million.

La’el Collins, Tackle

It’s not often you hear people talk about releasing a starting tackle, and I’m certainly not here to advocate for that.

Collins has had some up and down games, but in his short two-year stint at right tackle he’s been pretty good. He’s stood tall against some of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

His contract will carry him through the 2019 season, but if the Dallas Cowboys wanted to part ways, again, not saying they should, they could save a whopping $8.5 million in the salary cap.

$8.5 million could be the cost of Earl a Thomas or a Tre Boston. That’s  pretty big chunk of change.

Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, offensive line

Dallas Cowboys offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick

Potential Restructures

When it comes to restructures, the Dallas Cowboys have been selective over recent years with who they choose to flip the switch on.

A restructure doesn’t change the money owed to the player, just changes when the pay out happens. When a team and a player agree to a restructure, the cap hit or base salary is lowered to a more manageable amount and the difference is paid out as a bonus. The bonus is then spread out evenly over the remaining years of the contract.

For example.

Player A has four years remaining on their deal with a cap hit of $16 million per year for the rest of the contract. The team and player A agree to restructure the contract to decrease this season’s base salary to $1 million dollars. The $15 million difference is then paid out as a bonus and then the cap hit is added to the final three years. So instead of the cap hit being $16 million per year for the remainder of the contract, it is now $21 million per year.

The problem with restructuring contracts is that you better hope that the players you restructure make it to the end of their contract otherwise you could end up with big dead money holds on your cap.

The Dallas Cowboys could restructure the following players:

Tyron Smith, Tackle

The Dallas Cowboys All-Pro Left Tackle may be the best draft pick they’ve made in the last 10 years. He’s been one of the best in the game at his position for nearly his entire NFL career and until recent seasons, had been incredibly reliable.

According to Over The Cap, if the Cowboys decided to restructure Smith’s contract, they could get $7.26 million added to the salary cap this season.

That’s a big number, which would help you get your hands on a top safety or defensive lineman in free agency. The reasons why you wouldn’t do it surround Tyron’s health.

He’s missed games each of the last three seasons because of back issues. He’s signed through the 2023 season, which is his age 33 season. It’s entirely possible that he continues to play at a high level through the end of the contract, but you’ll always be a bit concerned about his back.

Zack Martin, Guard

If Tyron was the best draft pick, Zack Martin is a close second. He’s been the definition of reliability as he’s provided elite guard play through the first five years of his career making the All-Pro team each of his first five seasons.

If I were managing the cap for the Dallas Cowboys, it would be a no brainer to restructure Martin who is signed through the 2024 season; his age 34 season. Offensive lineman can play at a high level well into their 30’s barring injury and Zack has the ability to be one of those guys. At his current pace, he could one day end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

By restructuring Martin, the Dallas Cowboys could save $7.36 million on the 2019 salary cap.

Travis Frederick, Center

Last summer was a scary situation for Travis Frederick and by all accounts his recovery is going well. It sounds like he should be ready to go by training camp, and if that’s the case, there’s no reason to believe that Frederick won’t be the player we’ve all come to expect and missed during the 2018 season.

He’s a leader on the offensive line. He’s an excellent communicator and really good at blocking other big humans.

Getting Frederick back for the 2019 season is as big of an upgrade as you could have on an offense. He changes everything. He helps set protections and call out stunts. He will make Conor Williams a better guard just by being present. The offense as a whole will be better by having Frederick available.

Like Smith and Martin, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t play out his current contract at a high level. Even if he’s only 75% of his previous self because of the illness, that’s still a really good football player who is worth every bit of the $10 million a year he’s getting paid.

Travis Frederick has five more years left on his contract. If the Cowboys were to restructure his deal, they could gain another $4.1 million in cap relief this offseason.

Tyrone Crawford, Defensive Line

If ever there was a player that was a victim of his contract it’s Tyrone Crawford. The Dallas Cowboys signed him to an extension thinking he would be the answer at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot. He was good on his rookie deal but his contract was more of a projection than a deal based on prior production.

Unfortunately, Crawford hasn’t lived up to his deal, but he’s been a reliable and versatile player for the Dallas Cowboys. His ability to play both at defensive end and defensive tackle has been huge over the years and he’s come up with some timely defensive plays.

Crawford has two years remaining on his contract that runs through the 2020 season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Cowboys keep him around. He’s a leader on the defense and he gives you good quality snaps. As they continue to wait for Randy Gregory and/or Taco Charlton to take steps forward, Crawford is a guy that they like and will continue to find snaps for.

If the Cowboys restructured Crawford’s contract, they could get a little over $3 million in cap savings this year. $3 million may not sound like a lot, but in combination with the other moves they could make with the cap, it can help. Every bit helps when constructing a roster. That money could go to paying for the 2019 draft class.

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 18: Dak Prescott #4 and Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys celebrate after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Grand Total

The Dallas Cowboys front office has a lot of decisions to make this offseason and several of them will be in the form of extensions for their own players. They’ll have to figure out a way to use the contracts to their advantage.

If they did everything that could be an option to them, they could create another $48.22 million in space in the salary cap. If they didn’t release any of the “unlikely releases,” they could still free up another $33.72 million by releasing Lee and Hurns and restructuring Smith, Martin, Frederick, and Crawford.

So, they’ll be going into the offseason with at least $48 million in cap space, but through a few moves could have as much as $81-$96.22 million in cap space when it’s all said and done.

None of this even accounts for the way the Cowboys could structure the contracts of Elliott, Dak, Cooper, Lawrence, and Byron Jones. With some smart salary structuring, they won’t necessarily have to eat much of their cap hits in year one of their new contracts.

Don’t worry Cowboys fans. The Cowboys will be able to create enough money to get the things done that they want to get done. If they don’t sign anyone of note in free agency or extend your favorite player, it won’t be because they couldn’t afford to.

It’ll be because they didn’t want to.



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