Over the last few days, I’ve examined how the Cowboys decision to let their secondary walk in the 2017 offseason has opened the doors for the team to keep some key players. The team should have no problem signing DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving, but it doesn’t stop there. In the final installment of this three-part series, I wanted to look at some underappreciated players that the Cowboys need to hang on to as well.
Here is where we left off last time.
So what’s the next priority for the Cowboys front office this upcoming offseason?
Re-sign Anthony Hitchens
You can make a case that Jaylon Smith will have a larger impact next season. You could also look to the draft to select a young linebacker to add to the roster. While both those factors might come into play, the team should look to keep Anthony Hitchens on the roster. The linebacker position takes a toll and you don’t have to remind Cowboys fans how important it is to have depth behind Sean Lee. Hitchens is a smart player and his football savvy allows him to be a utility-knife linebacker that can fill in everywhere. That’s a huge asset to have on the team.
Hitchens’ deal would be somewhere in the four-year, $18 million range. It would come with a signing bonus of $5 million and a 2018 cap hit of roughly $2.25 million. The only reason to not keep him is if he wasn’t worth it or if a team offers him a lucrative deal and I don’t see either of those things happening.
Re-sign Jonathan Cooper
The Cowboys will likely look to the draft to get some help on the offensive line. Both a swing tackle and/or backup guard should be on the table come draft time, but for now - they need to keep Jonathan Cooper around. He is meshing well with this group and the team should try to rent his services for a couple more seasons. A two-year, $7 million deal would give Cooper a nice raise and only amount to a 2018 cap hit of $3 million. It would also give them a cheap dead money out if they didn’t want to keep him around in 2019.
Re-sign Alfred Morris
Like him or not, Alfred Morris is a good backup for the Cowboys offense. They should be able to re-sign him on a two-year, $5 million deal. This would give him a small raise and only cost the Cowboys $2 million in cap space in 2018. That’s a cheap insurance policy on a team that heavily relies on the running game and as we’ve seen first-hand this season - insurance is important to have.
Let’s check in on our math...
All the important free agents have been re-signed and there is still plenty of money left over to sign the rookies.
The Cowboys will also free up some additional cap space by releasing some overpriced players. Yes, they’ll have to absorb a little dead money hit, but ultimately it saves them money. Both Benson Mayowa and James Hanna have contracts that would pay them a base salary of $2.75 million in 2018 so the team could save an additional $5.5 million in cap space by letting them go. Mayowa has served his purpose. He was a bridge player that filled in nicely last year when he led the team in sacks, but he’s not needed any longer. Hanging on to him is not only financially irresponsible, but any snaps he sees would just act as a progress stopper to Taco Charlton.
Hanna, on the other hand is underrated and the team could very easily choose to carry him on the team for the last year of his deal. But they could also choose to go a different direction based on how they see things playing out with Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin.
Making cuts like this would essentially cover the cost to sign the new rookies, leaving the Cowboys with almost $15 million of cap space to work with. And notice that I haven’t even brought up the notion that the Cowboys could choose to restructure one of the several restructure-friendly contracts they have configured specifically for that purpose. The less of that they have to do, the better they’ll be set up for the future.
The Cowboys will have a lot of options this offseason and can afford to keep all the good talent they’ve acquired over the last few years. This helps them round out the team and will put them in a position to draft as pure as possible without having to target a specific position in the draft. They can just look to collect the best talent in the draft regardless of where they might play. You want to add another high draft pick corner to the group? Why not. You looking for another playmaker at the linebacker position? Sign him up. What about another offensive lineman for depth? You betcha. The Cowboys can even explore the offensive skill positions if an Alvin Kamara or JuJu Smith-Schuster-type player is there for the choosing.
More young talent means more contracts on the books that are super cheap which will allow the Cowboys to fork out the cash to proven talent. Talent they know they can trust within their own organization because they know what they have in their players. They don’t have to roll the dice on high priced free agents that statistically under-perform at an overwhelming rate. It’s the right way to go if they are successful at acquiring good players. And while players like Lawrence, Irving, and Hitchens may not have been anything that got fans excited a couple years ago, we can’t discount the fact the Cowboys were smart in selecting these players.
It was the great Lloyd Braun who said, “serenity now, insanity later” but it could be the Cowboys front office that end up saying - insanity now, confetti later.