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?
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.
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.
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 Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson
The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.
Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.
The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.
Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.
Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.
For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.
Dallas Cowboys: How “Position-Flex” Has Handcuffed The 2015 Draft Class
Over the last few years the Dallas Cowboys have placed a high level of importance on "position flex." They've drafted Swiss-Army knife players which could be moved around to different positions on the field.
By drafting players like Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods last year, as well as Byron Jones in 2015, the Cowboys have tried to find these versatile players who can be used in multiple ways.
While this seems great on paper, this strategy has handcuffed the majority of their 2015 Draft Class, and is a key reason why the Cowboys seem to be in such a tough spot.
The Cowboys' first round pick in 2015, Byron Jones, quickly became a favorite of mine during his rookie season. Incredibly athletic, long, and skilled in coverage, Jones was able to be both a fantastic cover cornerback and a solid middle-of-the-field safety due to his range.
Due to both injuries to his teammates, and Jones' own versatility, the Cowboys coaching staff couldn't keep Jones in just one spot. Once they discovered how great he was in man coverage against tight ends, they became enamored with trying to play him in the box.
Once in the box, Jones' struggles as a run defender were highlighted, and both the organization and the fans soured on him quickly.
Now it is rumored that Byron Jones will be moving back to cornerback full time. And while I do hope this is the case, the fact that he is in year four, and the Cowboys haven't been able to find their first round pick a permanent home is a huge indictment on their ability to evaluate and develop talent.
Okay, hear me out.
The former third round pick of the 2015 Draft was brought in to be the swing tackle for the Cowboys his rookie year. Mainly due to injuries, Green did not see the field for much of his first two seasons. When he did fill in for Tyron Smith at left tackle in 2016, however, Green was very effective.
Of course, Chaz Green's last appearance with the Cowboys was ugly, giving up a plethora of sacks against the Atlanta Falcons. But Dallas might've made their own bed with Green during the beginning of the 2017 season, when they attempted to move him to left guard full time.
Instead of getting the increased work at tackle, and continuing to work as the swing tackle for the team in case of injury, Dallas started Green at left guard early on in the year. He struggled trying to move positions, and looked even worse when trying to move back to tackle.
Once again, the position flex bit the Cowboys right in the backside.
It's 2018 and we are still talking about what position to play La'el Collins on the offensive line. And that is solely on the coaching staff and front office, not Collins.
Collins was brought in as an undrafted free agent in 2015, but was widely regarded as a first round pick heading into that draft. Though he started at left tackle at LSU, Dallas shifted Collins inside to left guard in 2015. After taking over for Ronald Leary as the starter, Collins produced highlight blocks week after week.
Injuries shortened his 2016 campaign, but heading into 2017 the Cowboys decided to shift him back out to right tackle. Despite some early struggles, Collins progressed nicely throughout the year and became a solid starting right tackle. Plus, he has the upside to become one of the top right tackles in the league.
Instead, it is now being rumored the Cowboys might move him back to guard for 2018. And with that news, I continue to pull my hair out over the position-flex decisions this coaching staff and front office like to make.
If the Cowboys want to get the most out of each draft class, and effectively develop their talent, they need to let those players actually develop, rather than move them around each season. Hopefully they now understand this, and allow both Byron Jones and La'el Collins to reach their full potential.
Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal
At long last, the Dallas Cowboys have their first free agent addition of this offseason. Having lost starters Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens at left guard and linebacker respectively, the team has added depth at LB with Joe Thomas signing a two-year deal.
The 2018 season will actually mark Joe Thomas' second stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as he was signed to their practice squad in 2015. The team that signed Thomas out of South Carolina State following the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers, added Thomas back to their active roster for the 2015 season.
Source: Cowboys have agreed to a 2-year deal with free agent LB Joe Thomas. He visited the Cowboys today. Thomas has played in 42 games over the last three seasons with the Packers. He had a career-high 70 tackles in 2016.
Thomas has spent the last three seasons starting eight games for the Packers, recording 70 tackles and an interception in 2016.
A contingency plan of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith carrying the Cowboys for 16 games at LB requires adequate depth, which is exactly what the Cowboys are typically in the market for come free agency. Waiting longer than usual to make their first splash, the Cowboys absolutely need an addition like Thomas to perform better than last year's FA class.
Used in sub packages by the Packers while also playing special teams - where the Cowboys have lost core players in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber - Thomas will have a great chance to impress two new Dallas coaches in Ben Bloom and Keith O'Quinn.
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