Roster Priorities — Dallas Cowboys
The next team up in our roster deep dive series is “America’s Team”. The Cowboys had a tale of two seasons as the media brought out the casket when the team started 3-5. They silenced the talking heads by going 7-1 down the stretch and sealing up another NFC East title.
With a full head of steam going into the playoffs many thought they may prove the doubters wrong this time around. They snuck by the Seattle Russell Wilsons in the wild card round but ran into the juggernaut Rams in the divisional round. Another year and another divisional round loss for the storied franchise. Although it didn’t end in a Super Bowl win there were many positives to take out of the season.
The Amari Cooper trade that was destroyed at first look turned out to be a home run for Jerry Jones and crew. Dak Prescott silenced the haters and proved he is a starting QB in the NFL and can handle adversity. Leighton Vander Esch proved worthy of his 1st round status and Jaylon Smith is back to full speed. The offensive line had enough depth to handle Travis Frederick being out all season.
The downside to the Cooper trade being a home run is that he will now be commanding the money that is paid to receivers of his caliber. Fortunately, Cooper is still under contract for at least one more season but with a cap hit just shy of $14 million.
Even with his cap hit for this season the team still has around $48 million in cap space. Don’t get excited as that money will dry up quickly as Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot, and most notably Demarcus Lawrence all need extensions as well. Lawrence is the most urgent as he has already stated he does not want to play under the franchise tag again like he did in 2018.
Prescott and Elliot are at least signed for one more year while Elliot has a fifth-year option that will almost certainly be exercised. For now, Dak and Zeke will play 2019 with a combined cap hit of $5.87 million. That would be good news if they were signing players for one-year deals which they may sign a few as they know they have a team to at least compete for a Super Bowl.
The bad news however is that once their extensions hit payroll in 2020 their cap figures will balloon. According to Spotrac.com market value analysis the combined cap hit for Dak, Zeke, and Amari could be in the amount of $49.9 million. I believe Zeke’s market value is a little closer to Gurley’s though so add another $6 million to that price tag so $55.9 million is a good projection.
Add in Demarcus Lawrence’s market value and it now equals $75.6 million. To put that into perspective for an entire teams’ cap that is about 40% of the total team cap for 2019. For this year we will add in Demarcus Lawrence franchise tag hit of $17.6 million. That leaves the team with about $30 million in cap space to spend this offseason.
They will likely choose not to spend too much of that however as they will need to save as much as possible for all the extensions coming up. With an extremely important offseason ahead for the Cowboys let’s look at what they can do with that leftover money to improve some positions of need.
Earl Thomas has been the talk of Cowboy nation for the past two seasons after the infamous tunnel meeting. It seemed like they were battling with Kansas City to try and trade for him this past season, but nothing blossomed, and he ended up breaking his leg.
The rumors are still there but it looks like the Cowboys will have stiff competition this time around. The bad news is that there seems to be significant interest from the San Francisco 49ers and he has stated he wants to be the highest paid safety in the league.
What that means is he would be asking for more than $13 million that Eric Berry is currently making. That price tag may prove to be too much to handle and the Cowboys won’t be able to outbid a team like San Francisco who has $68 million in cap space. Dallas’ best bet to add another playmaker on the back end in the draft which will likely prove true for most of their needs.
The Cowboys don’t have a first round pick courtesy of the Amari Cooper deal. Although they don’t have a first there are still a couple game changing safeties who may be available in the second round for them to choose from. My favorite of the two is Taylor Rapp out of Washington. His tape jumps out as he has extremely long range and at times seems to come out of nowhere to bat down passes or intercept them. He can also drop into the box and rush the quarterback which is a bonus.
Ugo Amadi out of Oregon is another safety who may be available. Amadi seems to excel more in man coverage and dropping and blitzing. He has blazing speed which is evident when you watch him return punts which he will likely do on whichever team drafts him. Rapp seems to be a better option if he is available when the Cowboys select in the second round.
They could also look to sign a veteran like George Iloka who they showed interest in last August due to the Xavier Woods injury. Iloka would be cheap as he is fresh off a one-year deal worth $880,000. I expect the team to utilize both options and sign a vet as well as draft a player like Rapp.
Jason Witten decided to give up his headset and put the helmet back on for one more season. Although he is a great player and someone Dak used as a security blanket he is now another year older and one year out of football. I don’t foresee him stepping right back in where he left off, but he will certainly help at a position they struggled to replace after his departure.
There are a few good tight ends that will be available in free agency but as with the Safety position will likely get outbid for any that would be an upgrade for them. An option that will likely need to play on a one year prove it deal would be Tyler Eifert although I expect his market to be prevalent even with his injury history.
The good news is that there is a surplus of tight ends in this year’s draft unlike previous years. One name that will likely be available in the fourth-round range where Dallas has two picks is Kahale Warring out of San Diego State. Warring is somewhat of a project as he started playing football his senior year of high school. He was still good enough in that one year to earn a spot on the Aztecs and in limited roles showed bright spots.
He is somewhat of a project but is an explosive athlete as his combine numbers show. I know that some of the projects Dallas has had at the Tight End position in recent years haven’t panned out but with Witten back to mentor he would be a good choice in the fourth round. Look for the Cowboys to address this need in the draft not necessarily with Warring although he would be just fine.
Cole Beasely seems to already be out the door as it looks certain he won’t be re-signed. Although it will be tough to let a crucial part of the offense walk, he will likely command more money than Dallas can spend on him. If they can’t afford to re-sign him then they certainly won’t be able to afford any of the other available free agents either.
Once again, they will need to look toward the draft. As of this moment Andy Isabella out of UMass is projected to go in the third-round range where the Cowboys pick. That will certainly change as he is pushing himself up draft boards with his combine performance. Although there are quite a few receivers who fit the role of slot receiver in this draft most of them are pushing themselves into second round territory.
I don’t foresee Jerry Jones and crew spending a second-round pick on a slot receiver so they will need to be lucky and have one fall to them in the third. If Isabella falls to them in the third, then they would be smart to jump all over drafting him as he would be a perfect fit in that Beasley role. He could even do a better job as he has the speed to stretch defenses down the field as well.
Another player who may be available but again may have performed himself into day one or two conversation at the combine is Parris Campbell out of Ohio State. My expectation is the cowboys miss out on both however and are left to try and fill that hole internally.
Interior Defensive Line
The only other possible hole the Cowboys may need to fill is in the interior of their defensive line. Maliek Collins is solid but outside of him they are extremely thin. An option could be had in free agency for this need as the Rams are letting a few big names hit free agency. Ndamakong Suh is one of them as the controversial defensive tackle hits the open market. The Cowboys may be able to steal him on a one-year deal.
Signing Suh to a one-year deal worth about $9 million dollars would be outstanding although he has always been about the money and may want more. He would slot in perfectly next to Collins and solidify that already stout run defense. If they are unable to swing a deal with Suh then they can once again look to the draft which is loaded with defensive line talent.
A name to keep an eye on is Kingsley Keke out of Texas A&M. Keke is currently grading as a round four pick but is subject to change due to a good combine performance. The Cowboys will be lucky to grab Keke on day 3 of the draft but will likely jump if he is there.
As stated, the Cowboys are going to have a busy off-season needing to re-sign much of their young core while also maneuvering to try and get better at positions of need. If they are able to find gems in the draft like they have in previous years, then they will be able to get better without having to shell out millions of dollars in free agency.
Although I don’t foresee them spending a lot of their remaining money after re-signing Lawrence I wouldn’t be surprised if they splurged on one free agent especially at safety.
As always if you enjoyed reading, go ahead and follow me on twitter @jdefeo91 and let me know what team I should do next.