Looking forward, the Cowboys have some big contracts they will have to make room for, including:
- Zack Martin
- DeMarcus Lawrence (whether re-signed or tagged)
- David Irving
- Dak Prescott (in 2019)
To make room for these players, there are some veterans taking down big salaries that may be playing their last seasons for Dallas in 2018. Let’s look at four of them.
Tom Ryle’s hot topic asks whether Dez Bryant might be a casualty this offseason rather than next. It’s a fair question. Dez’s production is certainly not anything close to warranting a team-high cap hit of $17 million this year.
But is it worth cutting or trading Dez this offseason? His cap hit next season will be $16.5 million, with $8 million of that dead money. That cap hit will be second on the team to Tyron Smith, whose cap hit has been pushed down the road several years by restructuring his contract.
The problem with $8 million in dead money is it’s a big hole in your roster. You have to replace Dez with someone, and if it’s not a rookie you’ve drafted, they are likely to get a significant contract themselves. So the Cowboys may not be saving much by cutting Dez in 2018. Moreover, Dallas still has $8.9 million in dead Tony Romo money next season. It doesn’t make sense to nearly double that total. Dak Prescott’s cheap deal makes it relatively easy to absorb Romo’s dead cap, but there’s no cheap option to replace Dez.
In 2019, Dez can be cut with a $4 million cap hit, and $12.5 million in cap savings. It’s a much more palatable solution.
One other option? Getting Dez to take a pay cut, like Brandon Carr did. Dez would have to get something out of it, too. Perhaps Dallas could get him to agree to shave $4.5 million off his salary for each of the next two years, so he’d get $16 million in salary instead of $25 million. In return, they might guarantee his deal.
Crawford is behind Dez and Jason Witten for cap hits in 2017, at $10.35 million. Next year, that will fall slightly to $9.1 million, but his dead cap will be $7.3 million, making it unlikely that he’ll be released.
In 2019, however, his cap hit goes back up to $10.1 million, with a $4.2 million dead cap hit to trade or release him.
Crawford is a quality, if unexceptional, pass rusher. The Cowboys are likely going to have to use his money on David Irving by 2019.
You might think Scandrick should be gone next year, given how he’s been unable to stay on the field the last two seasons. But, like Tyrone Crawford, there isn’t much to be saved by cutting him in 2018. His cap hit is $5.2 million, just like this year, but his dead cap would be $3.8 million, just $1.4 million less. The Cowboys would have to spend a third of that on a rookie draft pick.
Scandrick is not the player he once was, but he’s likely to return one more year to provide some stability and veteran presence. In 2019, his cap hit goes up to $5.6 million, but his dead cap goes down to $1.6 million, a $4 million spread. At that point, he’ll almost certainly be gone.
Witten was a huge cap hit this year - $12.26 million - because of all the years his contract was restructured and turned into bonus money. Going forward, he has a straight $6.5 million contract, with no dead cap money if he retires.
It’s unlikely that Dallas will actually cut Jason Witten at any time. The much more likely scenario is that he will retire on his own accord. He’ll be 36 next year, and my guess is he’ll return for at least one more run at a Super Bowl.
The Cowboys also don’t have anyone proven behind him, and didn’t find out this year if Rico Gathers could be that player.
If Rico Gathers can turn into that player next year, then both Witten and the Cowboys might see what life would look like without Witten. The Cowboys might also consider drafting a tight end to help nudge Witten towards the door. That didn’t work in the past because Witten had no intention of giving up his role. But it might work in 2018, especially if the coaching staff finally starts cutting Witten’s snaps.
Beasley has one more year on his contract at $4.25 million, with a $1 million dead cap if cut next year. Even though his production dropped precipitously this year - he went from 75 receptions on 98 targets (76.5% catch rate) for a team leading 833 yards (11.1 ypc) to, with one game to go, 36 catches on 63 targets (57.1% catch rate) for 314 yards (8.7 ypc) - one would expect Dallas to keep him around for an encore to see if he can bounce back. But Beasley will be 30 in 2019, which is an age when Dallas doesn’t like to write new free agent contracts, and by then, presumably Ryan Switzer will have been tested enough for Dallas to know if they have essentially the same player in a younger and cheaper package.
These aren’t the only players that Dallas could move on from to save money.
- James Hanna has one more year at $3.5 million. His dead cap is only $750K, so he might go in 2018.
- Benson Mayowa is due for a $3.85 million cap hit next year, with $1.1 in dead money if cut. Expect the Cowboys to move on from him next season.
- Terrance Williams is likely good for two more years, but will be gone in 2020, when the delta between his salary and dead cap will be $4 million.
- Sean Lee could also be let go in 2019 if the Cowboys wanted to free up cap space. His cap hit will be $10.066 million, with a dead cap of $3.066 million, for a $7 milllion delta. But, as we’ve seen this year, as long as Lee can play, he’s worth every penny the Cowboys pay him, and even at 33 should be retained. By 2020, however, he may be ready to retire.
Total potential cap savings
If Dallas decides to move on from the five headliners in 2018, the cap savings will be more than $33 million dollars, with a $10.8 million dollar dead cap hit in that year, or not much more than the $8.9 million dollar dead cap hit Dallas will take in 2018 on Tony Romo’s contract. Dallas could also choose to spread this out over two years.
That’s more than enough money to pay Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, and David Irving, and make a significant down payment on a renewal of Dak Prescott should he bounce back and show his value.
What does this mean for next year?
Dallas’ offense took a hit this year. If the Cowboys return Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, and Jason Witten in 2018, how can they make it better? It will be tricky, because the solution will probably need to come from altering the snap counts of the starters, rather than expecting each of them to perform much better.
Brice Butler was at one point the only real deep threat Dallas had, but he didn’t play at all down the stretch. The Cowboys need someone like that who can take snaps from Dez, Beasley, and Williams. That receiver might also be the Dez replacement in two seasons. (Ryan Switzer should take Beasley’s role in two years.)
The Cowboys also need to start phasing out Jason Witten. He still played nearly every offensive snap. If Dallas cut him back to 65% or less, he could be more productive on a per snap basis, and the Cowboys could use the much more dynamic Rico Gathers in his stead.
Keeping Crawford and Scandrick next year will give the Cowboys good depth.
In two years, Taco Charlton should have taken over Tyrone Crawford’s role at defensive end. It’s also possible that the forgotten man, Randy Gregory, will be allowed to return, and, if productive, kept for several more years. Plus, if the Cowboys keep DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving, as they should, then the loss of Crawford should not make much of a difference.
The same is true for Orlando Scandrick, who is already being supplanted by the 2017 rookies.