A couple of weeks before the season was over for the Dallas Cowboys, owner Jerry Jones spent a whopping 250 million on a superyacht. Fast forward to a couple weeks later, days before the NFC divisional round game the owner of the 100-yard yacht was asked what he had to say about the people that think the Jones family is ok with having the most valuable sports franchise in the world and not necessarily winning another Super Bowl. Jerry responded on the Shan & RJ show on 105.3 the fan saying, “It would be embarrassing,” Jones said on his weekly radio show. “It would be shocking if you knew the size of the check I would write if it guaranteed me a Super Bowl. And it would be obscene. There’s nothing that I would not do financially to get a Super Bowl. So, that’s a given. That’s a real given.” Though he won’t have 250 million to spend this off-season to construct a super bowl winning roster, he will be starting with about 50 million, but likely more. In recent years the Dallas Cowboys haven’t had much operating room in the sweepstakes, that is free agency. They’ve had money tied up in a franchise QB (Romo), the Dallas Cowboys all-time leader in TD receptions( Dez), and the franchise leader in receptions and receiving yards(Witten). All of these all-time great Cowboys are no longer there and it gives the Cowboys somewhat of a clean slate going into the off-season to lock up their pieces for the future. Here are some moves the Cowboys could make to free up some more cap space to lock up their QB and all-pro defensive end for the future, and have some extra money to go land a couple pieces to make a push for the super bowl.
Here we’re going to take a look at possible cuts the Cowboys can make and how much each cut will save the Cowboys. We’ll keep track of the savings for the additions portion.
Highly respected in the locker room and around the league as a whole is Sean “the general” Lee. Arguably one of the best, and smartest weakside linebackers in the game when healthy, but staying healthy has hindered his whole career. The all-pro LB has only had three fully healthy seasons in the NFL since 2010 when he came into the league. With one of the best, youngest linebacker groups in the NFL this past season, it’s hard to believe the Cowboys will pay 10 million for a backup linebacker. Though he played a big role in the progression and emergence of the promising Leighton Vander Esch, cutting the first team all pro linebacker would save the Cowboys an extra 7 million dollars against the cap this year, which is Sean Lee’s last under contract. + 7 million
This past off-season the Cowboys cut ties with their only true #1 WR. They thought they could fill that void by going with a “wide receiver by committee approach” and it was a disaster. After Sammy Watkins price tag was too high the Cowboys decided to sign veteran wide receiver, Allen Hurns. The former 1,000yd, 10 TD receiver has also had his fair share of injuries and trouble staying healthy, playing only one full season since 2014. After week 6 the Cowboys traded for Amari Cooper, and as the WR rotation was becoming more consistent, Hurns' role was diminishing. He finished the season, shortened by a gruesome leg injury, with 295 yards & 2 Td’s. His 295 yards was 6th on the team behind Cooper, Gallup, Beasley, Jarwin, and Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys will likely move on and save 5 million in cap space.
+ 5 million
Joe Thomas was signed last year in Free Agency after the Cowboys lost Anthony Hitchens to the Kansas City Chiefs, and also before the NFL Draft where the Cowboys selected LVE. Thomas has only 14 combined tackles in a year where he rarely saw the field outside of special teams. With the LB’r group solidified with Jaylon and LVE, the Cowboys will prob look in the draft or find a cheaper replacement in FA like resigning Damien Wilson than Thomas and his 2.5 million against the cap. Cutting Thomas saves about 2 million. +2 million
Unlikely, but possible candidates
What seemed like a promising prospect has found himself buried on a depth chart that's full of low tier TE’s. Though he hasn't really found consistent playing time, he may be the beneficiary of a low salary and a thin position group. Geoff Swaim is currently a free agent, which leaves the TE group with just Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and Rico Gathers. I don't see how the TE friendly team only rolls into the offseason with two TE’s. Cutting him only saves you $500,00 and the risk seems greater than the reward for the TE the Cowboys have been grooming for 3 years.
Former 33rd overall pick Xavier Su’a-Filo filled in very nicely this season for an offensive line that’s interior was riddled with injuries. The Cowboys were without their all-pro center, Travis Frederick, and the rookie left guard, Connor Williams, for all and part of the season. With Frederick being on the path to being fully healthy, that puts Looney into the backup guard spot. As Cowboys fans saw last year you can't have enough quality back up o-lineman. The line was far from great, but considering the circumstances, played well enough to help propel a late-season playoff push. Here’s another example of risk being greater than the reward. By cutting Xavier, Dallas will only save about $800,000, and with the unknown circumstances around Travis’ future, I think the Cowboys will hold on to him. I think the only way he gets cut is if the Cowboys need that extra money to sign their rookie class.
As we said earlier, Jeff Heath is the weakest link on the defense and possibly the team. I have no doubt in my mind that replacing him is at the top of the list when it comes to acquisitions. With that being said I think the Cowboys keep him for depth and special teams purposes. I mean, whos going to kick field goals and kickoffs when the kicker gets injured? Cutting Heath would save 2 million but I don't think they would do that without signing another safety in free agency AND drafting one as well. The position group is just too thin. This would be a move to get under the cap at the conclusion of the offseason.
Roster Additions/ Contract extensions
Now here's the fun part. One of the most anticipated off-season events is NFL Free Agency. Earlier we noted cutting Sean Lee ( 7mil), Allen Hurns (5 mil), and Joe Thomas (2 mil) bringing the grand total of cap space from 50 mil to approximately 64 mil. So far, in this scenario, the Cowboys have lost four WR's (Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Tavon Austin), two linebackers ( Sean Lee & Joe Thomas), one tight end (Geoff Swaim), and one defensive tackle (David Irving). The Cowboys will need to replace production and depth at all those positions this off-season but the most important moves are going to be locking up your all pro defensive end, Demarcus Lawrence, and quarterback, Dak Prescott.
Dak burst onto the scene in 2016 where he went from being a 4th round draft pick, to the rookie sensation. He started the season as the 3rd string qb behind Tony Romo, and now offensive coordinator, Kellen Moore, to leading the team to a 13-3 regular season record and a first round playoff bye. The Cowboys lost in the divisional round that year to Aaron Rodgers and his late game magic, but the rookie qb gave the veteran all he could handle. After his great rookie season the Cowboys quarterback found himself in a less desirable situation, being without his all pro running back, Ezekiel Elliott, injured Left Tackle Tyron Smith and under performing right tackle La’el Collins. It was a rough stretch for most of the 2017 season where the offense couldn’t rebound from all of the big losses and ultimately went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. That slump went all the way until week eight of this past season. After losing Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Travis Frederick, the Cowboys started the year off 3-5, before dak and the newly acquired Amari Cooper brought life to the passing attack and finished the season 10-6 to win the division and the wild card round of the playoffs. Regardless of how some fans may feel about the third year pro, there is no arguing his record, and ability to win close games, and he's going to get paid for it. Since 2016 only one quarterback has more wins than Dak’s 32 victories, that is arguably the best quarterback of all time, Tom Brady. To go along with the second most wins in his three years, he has 15 game winning drives which is first in the league. He’s stated he wants a new contract and Jerry has already confirmed as much, but what hasn't been confirmed is when and how much. As a 4th round pick, he's been highly underpaid at the position making $500,000, $600,000, & $700,000 his first three years, all of the other quarterbacks in his draft class will have gotten paid over $20 mil more than Dak over the span of their rookie contract . Prescott’s number is likely to go up to the 23-27 mil per year range, putting him at 6th in the league. For now, that may seem a little high, but when the likes of Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Pat Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson get their new contracts, that should be pretty good value for the type of production you get from Dak. - 25 million
During the off-season in 2017, Jerry Jones was vocal about wanting to acquire a “war daddy” type pass rusher, but he also said he could see that being Lawrence. In his first couple of seasons, he had trouble staying healthy consistently. After only playing in 7 games his rookie season due to a fractured foot, he followed that up in 2015 by playing a full 16 games and recording eight sacks and 14 TFL. In January 2016 the defensive end had back surgery and recovered well enough to play when needed but ultimately needed his second back surgery in consecutive offseasons. D-Law came back with a vengeance in 2017 posting 14.5 sacks, 14 TFL, and four FF on his way to being named second team all pro. The Cowboys didn't want to commit to the defensive end long-term with his injury history so they franchise tagged him. In 2018 Demarcus Lawrence solidified himself as one of the best defensive ends in the NFL without putting up gaudy sack numbers. He racked up 10.5 sacks, 15 TFL, and two FF, all while playing with a torn labrum he’d been playing through for two years. Demarcus showed that hes one of the most, if not THE most complete defensive end in the league while putting on a clinic rushing the passer and stopping the run. He also showed his leadership as his fiery mentality showed through all of his teammates on defense throughout the season. Realistically he's probably going to be the highest paid defensive end and second highest paid edge player including 3-4 OLB, being only behind Khalil Mack. -20 million
So as we stand right now we have a combined 45 million going towards re-signing staples on your offense and defense for years to come. With the two priorities locked up we can now focus on team needs and using the remaining 19 mill in cap space we freed up to sign one or two players to take the team to the next level.
The offense, while being very predictable, boring, and not very productive, is loaded with talent. The only position group that is really lacking on offense is TE but they have some guys that have been in this system for a few years and likely would address that position in the draft if they were to do so this year. Losing Cole Beasley will be a big loss on this offense. It would be nice to be able to re-sign him but contract talks fell apart last year when the Cowboys offered him a few more years at the same rate he’s making, and the veteran slot receiver has been vocal about his use in the offense and wanting to find the “right fit”. The team is high on Cedrick Wilson who can play both in the slot and outside, but they would probably like to sign a veteran type player as the whole staff is pretty much coaching for their jobs. On defense, the two biggest needs are Safety and Defensive tackle. The Cowboys have a history of not spending big in the draft or free agency when it comes to defensive tackles and it showed late in the year. The defense got absolutely gashed on the ground in week 16 vs the colts and ultimately cost them the season in the divisional round of the playoffs vs the Rams. Antwaun Woods played solid this year and Maliek Collins is very good when healthy but that has been an issue with him since he's been in the league and neither are game changing players. The weakest link on defense and maybe on this team is Jeff Heath. He had 21 missed tackles on the year which was seven more than the next player on the team and had the most missed tackles among all the safeties in the league against the run. Xavier Woods has shown promise as he had a breakout season this year and showed remarkable progress in both tackling and coverage and showed that he could be a long term player on this team, but for this team to take the next step the safety position needs to be addressed. So out of all the needs, I would rank the top three in order of importance as safety, slot receiver, and defensive tackle. So let's take a look at some possible additions:
Gerald McCoy signed a monster 6 yr/ 95 million dollar deal in 2014 due to make 13 mill this season and may become a cap casualty for a team that needs the cap space to fill a lot of holes. The 30 year old has had declining numbers the last few years but is still a very good, experienced, dependable player. In his last six seasons from least to most recent, he has tallied 8.5, 8.5, 7, 6, & 6 sacks. If the price is anywhere in the 7-8 mill range the Cowboys shouldn't think twice about signing the vet to a deal, to sure up the defensive line that was so costly down the stretch.
Malik Jackson may also be another cap casualty on a team desperate for cap space. With a 15 million dollar cap hit the Jaguars, who are one million over the cap, will likely part ways and save 11 million. The tackle who just came off of one of his most productive years with 8.5 sacks found himself in a shuffle with rookie DT Taven Bryan, and ultimately out of the rotation. The Cowboys could really use an experienced presence in the middle of the d line with the pass rushing skills that Jackson has. He’s another guy the Cowboys should target if he’s within striking distance, around 7-8 million.
There was a lot of speculation surrounding Landon going into the off-season on whether he would be franchises tagged or not and remain a Giant. That no longer looks like the case. The hard hitting, sure tackling safety was reported to have said his goodbyes and cleaned out his locker room in anticipation of no longer being with the club, per Josina Anderson. Landing a guy like Collins would sure up the defense and replace the weakest link on that side of the ball. Collins was first team all pro safety in 2016 where he had 100 solo tackles, second in the NFL, five interceptions ( one returned for a TD), and 4 sacks. Throw he hasn't put up numbers like that since, he’s an amazing talent and still very good, and young. At 25 years old the Cowboys could land a tone setting player that fits into the Dallas defensive scheme very well to take them to the next level next year, and many more to come. Collins would be an enormous upgrade and simply a plug and play type talent that would instantly put Dallas’ already talented defense, near the top of the list. He’s likely going to be in the 10 million dollar range, give or take. If the Cowboys sign him it would likely be the only significant move the make in free agency but could be one of the best.
A couple years ago after the Seahawks beat the Cowboys, Earl Thomas ran up the home teams tunnel and told Jason Garret, “ if you get the chance, come get me”. Well, the Cowboys tried doing that in the off-season last year by offering a second round pick but the price tag was ultimately too high as it was reported the Seahawks wouldn’t take anything less than a 1st. Well, now both sides have the freedom to do whatever it takes to be united. Earl Thomas has consistently been one of the best if not the best safety in football since he entered the NFL. The turnover starved Cowboys who recorded nine int, good for 26th in the NFL, could use a ball hawking type safety like Earl. He’s stayed pretty healthy for the most part starting 107 consecutive games, then in 2016, he broke his tibia while colliding with teammate Cam Chancellor. In 2017 he was sidelined a handful of games with a hamstring problem and last season suffered another break to the same tibia he broke in 16’ The tibia fully healed after the first break and it was considered a “clean break” this past season with no ligament damage so there shouldn't be any concern there. Despite the injury, Earl Thomas still had 3 Interceptions ( two against the Cowboys), 22 tackles, and five passes defended in only four games. Adding Earl Thomas would give this defense a much needed boost in the turnover department. Another thing that’s not noted enough is how much of a leader he will be on and off the field for this young defense and former defensive coordinator, and now defensive backs coach/defensive play-caller for the Cowboys, Kris Richard. He would essentially be a second coach on the field having so much familiarity working with Kris. Something other than turnovers that he would bring to the table that Landon Collins can’t is flexibility. Earl has been the best free safety since he’s been in the league but he can also play strong safety, which gives the Cowboys flexibility on the field to hide coverages and confuse opposing offenses. Landing Earl probably won’t be cheap and will probably be in the neighborhood of $13 mill. We’ve all heard you get what you pay for and Jerry and the Cowboys know exactly what they are getting with Earl, a play maker.
76 receptions/ 816 yds/ 5 TD’s. The very talented slot receiver is looking to get paid on his second contract and though very talented, probably too rich for the Cowboys blood.
4 sacks/ 2 FF/ 2 FR. The 4th year player out of Florida is a very talented pass rusher but has been strictly that. For most of his time in Jacksonville, he was relegated to being a situational passing situations. He has shown bright spots and ultimately put the Rams in the Super Bowl with a hit to Drew Brees that cause an arrant throw and interception. With the Cowboys tying so much money up in Demarcus Lawrence it’s unlikely the Cowboys will make a move but should be a name to keep an eye on if things fall through with D-Law.
41 receptions/ 653 yards/ 5 TD’s. Another talented slot receiver who can put up big numbers despite being the third option on a team with Keelan Allen and Mike Williams. In 2016 when Keelan Allen missed the season with an injury the wr put up 69/1,059 yards/7 TD’s. Another young slot receiver on the market and unfortunately another that is also going to be to costly with other needs being a priority.
Surely there will be a slew of names that pop up, some that were unexpected, before free agency officially begins on March 13th. The owner said it would be “embarrassing” when referencing the size of the check he would write to win another super bowl, and here's his chance. Now, we sit and wait.