This season for the Dallas Cowboys has been terrible, to put it lightly. Combined with a worldwide pandemic, injuries and a serious drop in valued play have plagued the team this year in a season that had Super Bowl aspirations.
Right from before the opening kick off of the season, injuries were hit and they were hit hard. Each of the following players has missed either the whole season, the majority of the season, or won't return this season at all: Gerald McCoy, La'el Collins, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, Blake Jarwin, Brandon Knight, Trevon Diggs, Tyron Smith, and most devastating of all, Dak Prescott.
Very little has gone right this year for Dallas and what's worse is that this offseason, there's going to be some really tough decisions to make concerning this roster. Who's getting extended? Who's walking? Who's getting cut?
Starting with the obvious, Dak Prescott took a shot on himself and played on the franchise tag. He was on a historic pace before suffering a compound fracture that ended his season.
However, he might have earned more money by not playing, allowing everyone to see what the team looks like without him. Whether it's been Ben DiNicci, Andy Dalton, or Garrett Gilbert, the offense takes a noticeable dip, and as a result, the Cowboys have been on the losing end.
The franchise tag for next year is going to go up from $31.4 million to around $37-$38.5 million. There's no way Jerry and company will want to have to eat all of that on next year's cap.
Plus with Deshaun Watson having signed his deal in the offseason, and quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen both eligible for contract extensions, Prescott's asking price now starts at $42 million per year. Unless the Cowboys finish last in the league with a shot to draft Trevor Lawrence (unlikely), there are no quarterbacks in the draft better than Dak at this juncture. He's likely going nowhere.
But can the team afford to take on another max extension? They've already got contracts on players that fans and writers are split on like Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, and Tyrone Crawford. Crawford is an unrestricted free agent and it's easy to say that his play has diminished as he readies to turn 32 next season. However, his value as a team captain and experience might be enough for the Cowboys to bring him back on a team-friendly deal.
Jaylon Smith and Ezekiel Elliott both are among the team's highest-paid players, with a combined cap figure of $23.5 million going into next year. The fact that Smith leads the team in tackles and Elliott is still on pace for another 1,000-yard season, hasn't taken away from the criticism both players have gotten – that their play has been inconsistent and has people wondering if there's an out.
Assuming the Cowboys were looking for cap relief, a trade would be the first preferred option but it might be hard to find a trade partner willing to take on their contracts. If they were cut, Smith carries over $9 million in dead money and $24.5 million for Elliott. It's probably better to keep them on the roster through next season with their respected cap figures both dropping.
Aside from Tyrone Crawford, other aging vets that are key players but have had health issues are Tyron Smith and Sean Lee. There's no doubting their value and skill when they're both on the field, but the key words are on the field, and health issues have plagued both of them during their time with the team.
Sean Lee is only on a one year deal, so it could just be as easy as not resigning Lee in the offseason, but playing on a team-friendly deal in a position that could use the depth might have the team reconsider bringing him back on another team-friendly deal.
Tyron Smith is still among the very best at his position, but he's been bit many times by the injury bug. Having only played in two games this year before landing on season-ending IR, this marks the fifth year in a row that he's been unable to play all 16 games.
If there was ever a year for the Cowboys to move on, it would be this year; he's owed no more guaranteed money, he turns 31 next season, and this year's draft has a lot of promising players at offensive tackle.
No one wants to see Tyron Smith go, for obvious reasons. He's a future Hall of Famer and one of the best, but he's in a similar boat that the Cowboys had with Dez Bryant a few years back. They'll have to factor everything when deciding if their franchise left tackle returns.
In the cases of first-time extensions, the Cowboys 2017 rookie class was filled with misses, a few hits, and some players who are completely out of the league. For a reminder, their draft that year went was as followed:
- Taco Charlton
- Chidobe Awuzie
- Jourdan Lewis
- Ryan Switzer
- Xavier Woods
- Marquez White
- Joey Ivie
- Noah Brown
- Jordan Carroll
Only Awuzie, Lewis, Woods, and Brown are left on the team.
Awuzie and Lewis provide solid depth but the team is likely going to look to upgrade the position. With this year's second-round pick, Trevon Diggs, returning next year, and Anthony Brown slated to be the team's starting nickel corner, the team might be better off letting both of them walk if they can agree on terms.
Xavier Woods has arguably been the best player from the draft class. He's been one of the more consistent players in the team's secondary over the last few seasons. The thought up to this point seems to be that he'll be back next year. Woods hasn't been flashy, but he's been a reliable starter who won't cost as much to keep and could end up being the only remaining player from the 2017 draft class.
The case for Noah Brown returning is what he does well aside from playing receiver. On the depth chart, he's fifth behind the starting trio and Cedrick Wilson. His best assets to the team are his great play on special teams and his skill as a blocker in the run game.
Our own John Williams even coined him as the team's “Light End” because of his frequent use as an H-back, size, skills as a blocker, and reliable receiving ability. He could be a cheap, underrated re-signing that helps the team in more areas than one.