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The Cowboys are about ready to tie their hands for years, and it’s glorious.

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Time for some cap talk

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones affirmed that new contract deals with key offensive weapons Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Zeke Elliott “will happen.” That’s incredible news for the Washington Redskins, and frankly, the other teams in the NFC East.

While the Cowboys currently have about $24M in cap space in 2019, that is massively assisted by the fact that Dak is currently being paid about $2M per year, still on his rookie deal. Zeke - currently holding out for new contract - is poised to make about $8M this year, in the 4th year of his rookie contract, and Cooper is slated to make about $14M in the 5th year option of his rookie deal.

It would be no surprise, given their performance on the field, if both Elliott and Cooper want top level contracts with significant guaranteed money. For Elliott, that means something in the $13M+ AAV range, ala Gurley, Bell, and Johnson. For Cooper, I suspect it means something in the $16M+ AAV range, on a par with Evans, Hopkins, and Cooks. No one, besides perhaps Skip Bayless, would argue that Dak is a top five QB. The amazing thing is, he doesn’t have to be in order to request $30M+ AAV money. QB6 - in terms of pay - Kirk Cousins has a $28M AAV contract signed in 2018. Inflation alone would take that number over $30M in 2019.

Existing Contracts

In addition to these three contracts, which alone could add $35M in cap hit to the team in 2020, the Cowboys have signed several other large contracts that grow in the coming years. The most notable among them is the Demarcus Lawrence’s deal, signed this year, which pays him a paltry $11M in 2019, but explodes to $22M in 2020, and grows steadily from there to $26M in 2023. That’s an additional $11M in cap hit from 2019 to 2020.

Center, Travis Fredrick, signed his current deal in 2016, and will be paid about $11M in 2019. In 2020, his salary increases slightly to $12M, and actually tails off a bit in the last few years of the contract.

All Pro guard, Zach Martin, was given a 6-year extension in 2018 that will pay him $14M in 2019 and $15M in 2020. The contract increases a bit to 2022 and then decreases slightly to 2024.

In total, these three contracts add about $13M in additional cap hit from 2019 to 2020, on top of the $35 million mentioned above. That takes likely 2020 obligations to around $48M above the Cowboys current cap number.

Any Relief?

The Cowboys do have a couple of large contracts that result in some meager savings from 2019 to 2020. The most notable are Tyron Smith’s, whose cap hit drops $2M from 2019 to 2020 and Tyrone Crawford’s, whose hit drops about $1M in the same timeframe.

It also needs to be mentioned that, for the past several years, the salary cap has been climbing by about $11M per year. That, combined with the contract savings above, nets the Cowboys about $14M in buffer in 2020, still putting the Cowboys at about $34M more in spending than where they are today - a $10M exceedance of the expanded cap.

Potential Cap Casualties

So who is likely to go as a result of Jerry’s spending spree? Defensive end, Robert Quinn, who is on a one-year $8M dollar deal, would be low hanging fruit, as would the aging LB Sean Lee, who is in the last year of a deal paying him $6M.

Byron Jones, the Cowboys 2015 #1 draft pick, could potentially be a casualty as well. On his 5th year option in 2019, Jones will be paid $6.2M. If Jones remains in 2020, expect that his salary will be added to the cap deficit. If he’s allowed to walk, he opens up a hole in the Cowboys’ secondary.

Right tackle, La’el Collins, could go either way too. Collins is in the final year of an extension paying him $10M in 2019. As we have seen, good offensive linemen are hard to come by, and usually get well compensated when it comes time for contract negotiations. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a couple million additional dollars per year if he re-signs with the Cowboys.

NFL: New England Patriots at Dallas Cowboys Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, the Cowboys have TE Jason Witten on a one-year $4.2M rental. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him gone in 2020, re-retiring after giving it a shot in 2019, saving the team a bit of money.

Conclusion

Should the Cowboys go down this path, they will have approximately $122M locked up in seven players in 2020: Dak (QB), Zeke (RB1), Cooper (WR1), Frederick (C), Martin (RG), Lawrence (DE), and T. Smith (LT). Assuming an $11M escalation in the cap to $188M, that would have this group of players accounting for about 65% of the cap, leaving around $66M for the other 46 positions. That is, if nothing else, a “must win now” approach, built on a questionable offensive strategy. We’ll see if it works for them. In the meantime, I’m ecstatic to see them locking themselves into a top heavy, veteran reliant model that seems to be out of step with NFL’s current road map for success.

Poll

What do you think about the Cowboys’ current model of team building?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    I think it makes sense and will likely pay off
    (153 votes)
  • 66%
    I like it....because I hate the Cowboys
    (1057 votes)
  • 23%
    We’ll have to wait and see
    (371 votes)
1581 votes total Vote Now