Monday was mostly quiet for the Dallas Cowboys as no new free agent deals were announced (although Morris Claiborne and James Hanna officially signed their new contracts). However, there are a lot of other things to cover, including a cap space move, analyzing free agency so far, and of course, a little draft talk.
Our old friend KD Drummond knows the salary cap situation for the Cowboys as well as anyone. The team used a built-in "trigger" to restructure Tyron Smith's contract and free up an additional $7.2 million in cap space for this year (which is still looked on with disdain by some, despite the skill that Dallas has used in managing the cap recently). Here is KD's take on where they stand now.
Now, Dallas has around $10.6 million of space remaining ($6m from restructures, another $4.6 million from 9 players being removed), and additional moves in their back pocket should they need it. The team could still save between $6 and $9 million by releasing CB Brandon Carr, and other contracts such as Dez Bryant, Tony Romo, Sean Lee and Jason Witten all could be restructured if need be. The team would also save over $4 million by releasing safety Barry Church.
Speaking of cap moves, there have been (apparently erroneous) reports that cutting Carr was in the Cowboys' plans. But the issue is that the team does not have a replacement, and the cornerback market, like for defensive ends, has been paying a lot of money to some pretty pedestrian defensive backs.
Remember back when the Cowboys signed Tony Romo to his long term deal, and many predicted that the team would soon regret such an expensive deal? Well, this year, Romo only ranks eighth on the list of QB cap hits - and when healthy, he is as good as any of the players ahead of him, and clearly better than most.
The headline may be overly pessimistic, as there is no word of a contract for Chris Long at his first stop, the New England Patriots, and he is now scheduled to arrive in Dallas on Wednesday. He is planning to visit four teams in all, and it looks like he will wait until he completes the rounds to make any decision.
Jordan Ross looks at the value of Long versus drafting Joey Bosa, a projected top-five pick. But the most interesting thing in the article may be his explanation of how a strong interior of the defensive line, which the Cowboys have tried to improve with the signing of Cedric Thornton, may be another way to get to the passer by getting push up the middle and driving the quarterback outside to the defensive ends.
The Panthers are a prime example of this theory. In 2013, the Panthers selected 2 DT's in the first two rounds of the draft to solidify their defensive line. Since then, those DT's have helped give them one of the best defenses in the NFL. Only five teams had more sacks than the Panthers in 2015 and their sack leader was DT Kawann Short (11). The most sacks than any Panthers DE had was six from Mario Addison. If the Cowboys DT's can play at a similar level, they should be able to survive without a dominant DE that records 10-15 sacks.
Rob Phillips runs down the reasons the Cowboys have been one of the quieter teams in free agency. He has some good ones.
The Cowboys had too many needs to spend big on a single free agent. Yes, the salary cap is back in good shape with very little dead money. Yes, the team has created roughly an extra $14 million in space by reworking the contracts of Tyrone Crawford and Tyron Smith. But it never seemed realistic they would spend tens of millions in guaranteed money on one free agent. Look, they entered the offseason with 18 unrestricted free agents at 10 different positions. Eleven of those 18 players started games or played a significant number of snaps. And, the team must reserve a few million for their draft class.
Many fans have expressed concern about just how quiet Dallas has been, but reports are coming out that they did go after some other players - but were not willing to outbid others for their services.
As more free agents find new homes, we're learning who the Cowboys tried to land and fell short on. Two of the most recent were running back Matt Forte and free safety Eric Weddle.
While Thornton is the lone outside free agent acquired, the Cowboys have been much more active in getting some of their own free agents back under contract. It is about more than just financial concerns, too.
Some might question the logic of keeping players from a team that finished 4-12 in 2015, but the surer bets in free agency come when you know the player. It also means the Cowboys believe injuries played the single biggest part of the poor season.
The teams that have spent large amounts of money at the start of free agency often receive immediate kudos (see the New York Giants last week) but end up with at least some regret in the future (see the Philadelphia Eagles, 2015).
Now we are all waiting to see if Jack Crawford will be added to the list of re-signed players. There are reports that it is in the works, but he and the team have not yet reached agreement.
When discussing the merits of big-name free agent signings versus holding back and letting the market calm down before acquiring one, the Denver Broncos are often cited as a team that used expensive free agents to get to the top. But even for them, it was not a long-term strategy.
Tere's an adage that the best teams in the NFL build through the draft and not free agency, but that took a hit when the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 due largely to free agent acquisitions like Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Emmanuel Sanders and Aqib Talib, among others. But even the risk-taking Broncos sat on the sidelines during the 2015 free agency period and let other teams spend big.
A year later, it's the bargain shoppers that look like the biggest free agency winners of 2015.
No one really doubts the headline, but this has a very interesting quote about Myles Jack from draft expert Dane Brugler. (Jack's pro day at UCLA is today, so be watching for news about his performance.)
"The news wasn't all that great at the combine when it comes to his knee," he said. "I've talked to several people around the league who are really worried about the status of that knee moving forward. He didn't fail his physical like Jaylon Smith did, the linebacker from Notre Dame, but he didn't pass with flying colors either. Teams are taking a wait-and-see approach to see how he does at the pro day on March 15. They want to see him at the rechecks in April. We can debate Myles Jack on tape or what position he's going to play. It comes down to the medicals and it's pretty simple. Either the doctor gives a thumbs up or a thumbs down. For Jack, we don't know yet. The pro day will tell us a lot."
One blindingly clear piece of evidence that life is not fair is the situation that led to La'el Collins going from a sure-fire first round pick to UDFA, all because his name came up in a murder investigation just before the draft, despite his having no real connection to the case. He lost millions because of it, but at least the NFL's performance based bonus system, which this year gave each team $3.802 million to split up among players whose contributions exceeded their contract in some way, gave him a little of it back.
In order to sign La'el Collins as an undrafted free agent last year, the Dallas Cowboys had to go the unusual route of fully guaranteeing his three-year contract for close to $1.6 million.
On Monday, Collins learned he will earn another $277,939.63 from his rookie season thanks to the NFL's performance-based pay system.
The idea of whether the Cowboys could take Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick is hotly debated out there. The Sturminator agrees he is a superb talent, but throws some cold water on spending that kind of draft capital on him.
We happen to know a team that seems to have RB pretty unresolved right now, but it would seem foolish to spend a first-round pick in three out of four drafts on offensive linemen only to then invest even more heavily in the RB behind them. The whole point in making huge bids on Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick (and then paying them all handsomely) was that they could make the RB position more of a disposable asset and roll over any college talent at a minimal price. This would contradict the entire build in my opinion.
I like him a lot, but for me, the Cowboys have already invested heavily in a powerful running game. They need a young and talented RB, but the draft shows those guys can be found every season in the top 100 (Rounds 2-3). Let someone else spend for one in the top 10
This is strange. The ring (for LSU's season, not winning the national championship, since they lost the title game to Alabama) was listed for auction with $100,000 as the starting bid price.
It is a little odd that the ring hit eBay shortly before Claiborne signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Cowboys. He was given a $500,000 signing bonus and his new deal includes incentives worth $1 million.
Maybe he was just worried about not being re-signed?
The NFL has basically been in denial about how repeated blows to the head harms its players. But during testimony before Congress (who frown on untruths if you are not a politician like themselves), there was a different story from a high league official.
During a discussion on concussions with the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce, the league's senior vice president for health and safety, Jeff Miller, confirmed that a credible link has been established between football and neurodegenerative diseases like CTE.
Miller was reportedly asked by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. if the link has been established and he answered "Certainly yes."