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Top Ten Highest Paid Cowboys In 2017: Are They Worth It?

Are the Cowboys in salary cap hell or is that just a myth? We take a look at the team’s top ten most expensive players and determine if the team is getting their money’s worth.

NFL: Pro Bowl-NFC Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are currently $10.6 million over the 2017 salary cap. Just upon hearing that, many people would throw their arms up in frustration and pronounce that the Cowboys are in “cap hell” once again. This however, is not the case. In fact, it’s far from it. Just because a team is using up a great deal of their cap space doesn’t automatically point to some careless contract management. Being in cap hell means that the team is anchored down by a huge dead money hit or held captive by poor contracts, which then in turn limits what a team can do as they look to upgrade their talent. Do any of those things apply to the Cowboys?

Currently, the team owns a 2017 dead money hit of only $3 million. In contrast, the Washington Redskins are second-worst in the league with $8.7 million of dead money and the Philadelphia Eagles are right behind them with $7.3 million. As far as having poor contracts, where do the Cowboys stand there? That will be the focus of this piece as we examine the top ten most expensive contracts on the team.

[Contract figures courtesy of spotrac.com]

#1 Tony Romo, 2017 Cap Hit: $24.7 M

It’s odd how things can drastically change in such a short amount of time. The size of Romo’s contract has been a topic of debate ever since he signed a $108 million extension back in 2013. When healthy, he’s certainly one of the better quarterbacks in the league and he’s been worth every penny for a Cowboys team that has relied on him heavily to compete from season to season. But things are different now. For starters, he’s had trouble staying healthy which makes him an expensive sideline commodity. And after his last injury opened the door for the Dak Prescott era to commence, his importance to the team has severely diminished.

Is he worth it?

No. We all love Romo, but regardless of where you stand in the Tony vs. Dak debate, his value over his replacement is nowhere remotely close to the cost that it would take to keep him on the roster.

#2 Dez Bryant, 2017 Cap Hit: $17 M

The stock price of Bryant has fluctuated throughout his entire career. There was a point where he was a wild card and some were unsure if he’d materialize into the star the Cowboys were hoping. But then in 2012, he dominated with three straight seasons of at least 88 catches, 1,200 yards, and 12 touchdowns, including a franchise record 16 TDs in 2014. That production earned him a five-year, $70 M deal.

And as luck would have it, as soon as he signed that lucrative deal, he would have trouble staying healthy. He’s missed a total of ten games spread out over the last two seasons, making some fans question is value.

Is he worth it?

Yeah. He’s an All-Pro and 3x Pro Bowler and when he’s on the field - he’s spectacular. Even with the recent injuries, he’s still played in 87 percent of the games during his seven-year career. He’s only 28 and with three years left on his deal, the Cowboys are still getting him during his prime years.

#3 Tyron Smith, Cap Hit: $15.8 M

There is not much to talk about here. Smith is a 2x All-Pro, 4x Pro Bowler, and arguably the best left tackle in the league. He did miss three games last year due to injury, but that was a fluke as he’s only missed one other game during his entire six-year career. He’s a seasoned veteran who’s still only 26 years old. The Cowboys hit the jackpot with Smith.

Is he worth it?

Absolutely.

#4 Travis Frederick, Cap Hit: $14.8 M

While that 2017 cap hit figure will drop considerably with a looming restructure, his average cost is just under $10 M. Like both Dez and Tyron, Frederick is also an All-Pro and multi-year Pro Bowler.

Is he worth it?

You betcha. He’s been a stellar center from the moment he arrived in Dallas and after the way he played last season, he still looks like a bargain.

#5 Sean Lee, Cap Hit: $12.4 M

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – an All-Pro, multi-year Pro Bowler gets a healthy paycheck from the Cowboys. Getting tired of that yet? Yeah, me neither. In 2013, the Cowboys signed Lee to a six-year, $42 M deal that equated to an annual salary of $7 M. That would either be a bargain or a rip-off based on whether or not Lee could stay healthy. Things looked a little dicey in 2014 when Lee was lost for the season before the season had even started. After missing 31 games over a three-year span, his contract looked like a big mistake.

But then something great happened. The Cowboys moved him to weak-side linebacker and his health has been restored. He was healthy for every game last year and would have played his first full season of his career had it not been for a cautious coaching staff that cut his tape in the Week 17 finale.

Is he worth it?

This answer is conditional. If he’s on the field, absolutely. The position change and the beefed up interior defensive line makes fans feel a lot better than we used to feel when it comes to Lee.

#6 Jason Witten, Cap Hit: $12.2 M

Knock Knock.

Who’s There?

Orange.

Orange Who?

Orange you glad this All-Pro, multi-year Pro Bowl reference is still going on?

Indeed I am. Of course this is the last stop as I have some disappointing news for you -not everyone on the Cowboys roster is an All-Pro. It had to end eventually.

Witten is an interesting case. At the age of 34, he’s one of the few elder statesmen on the team. He has played in 223 of the 224 games of his career. If availability is ability, then he’s quite the able one because that’s a remarkable display of dependability. People keep expecting him to decline, but to his credit – he just keeps doing Jason Witten things.

Is he worth it?

Besides being such an important leader on this team, he’s a reliable safety net that always is there when you need him. It’s hard to justify him being worth his cap hit price, but I’ll take him every day of the week and twice on Sunday Night.

#7 Tyrone Crawford, Cap Hit: $10.3 M

The Cowboys front office has tried to stay one step ahead of the game cashing in on cheaper contracts before a player performance skyrocket’s their asking price. That process has worked great for some guys, but Crawford’s not one of them. It’s easy to make excuses for him. He played with an injured shoulder for the better part of 2015 and he missed some game action last year due to a hamstring injury. Between his health and being moved around all over the defensive line, Crawford has struggled to make an impact.

Is he worth it?

No. Maybe things get better, but if past performance reflects future performance, he’s significantly under-performing.

#8 Doug Free, Cap Hit: $7.5

The Cowboys signed Free to a three-year, $15 M deal in 2015 that was back-loaded which would make it easy for the Cowboys to move away from him after the season. The team drafted Chaz Green a couple months later as he looked to be Free’s eventual replacement. But Green suffered a hip injury during his rookie season and Dallas was forced stay pat with Free in 2016. And after Green suffered a sprained foot followed by herniated disc surgery last year, the Cowboys are no closer to moving away from Free this off-season.

Is he worth it?

No. Green’s durability issues at Florida continues to trickle over into his pro career. The Cowboys need a right tackle and they may have no choice but to keep rolling with Free, although a pay cut or extension seems more likely.

#9 Ezekiel Elliott, Cap Hit: $5.6 M

When you have a rookie explode out of the gate his first year, it might seem like it’s only a matter of time before he won’t be satisfied with the financial terms of that rookie contract. Fortunately for Zeke, he was picked fourth so his rookie deal is a good one. He is averaging $6.2 M a season for the next four years, which is almost identical to what the Tennessee Titans are paying DeMarco Murray ($6.3 M).

Is he worth it?

Without a doubt. And don’t feel like the Cowboys will only have him for three more years. He’ll only be 24 when he becomes a free agent so if he’s the real deal like we all believe he is, a second contract is in his future. Of course this time, it’s going to cost the Cowboys the Philadelphia Eagles’ version of DeMarco Murray money.

#10 Orlando Scandrick, Cap Hit: $5.2 M

The Cowboys 2008 fifth-round steal had been playing for dirt cheap for most of his career. The team finally compensated him in 2015, but even then it’s only at an annual cost of $3.8 M. But now after pushing out base money into bonus, he’s costing them just over $5 M a year.

Is he worth it?

Yes. That’s still good value for a player that provides the type of play that Scandrick does. He’s 30 now so this answer could be different if we ask it again a year from now.


The Tony Romo conundrum will be a financially wasteful expense for 2017, but even if the Cowboys take a dead money hit of $19.6 M, their overall starting QB expense isn’t that bad because Prescott is only a $635k cap hit. As a frame of reference, Eli Manning currently is ranked with the 10th highest QB cap hit of 2017 with $19.7 M. Of course, the Romo hit is a one-time charge that removes his salary completely off the books the following year.

Crawford is definitely a player who’s not living up to expectations, but the Cowboys have so many players that are exceeding expectations. Cap hell? I say phooey on that. When you are getting such a great return on your investments, I’d call that cap heaven.