Last week we examined the roster by factoring in the players talent, age, and cost for both offensive and defensive players. This helped provide a good perspective and justified why it would be highly unlikely to suggest that players like Tyrone Crawford, Orlando Scandrick, and even Cedric Thornton would not be in a Cowboys uniform in 2017. The money played a significant role in making that argument. Just as dollars and cents can help explain why a player is kept, it can also pave the way towards a players receiving their pink slip as well. The NFL is a business and if the Cowboys can save some money, you better believe it’s going to warrant some serious consideration. If you don’t have the talent to separate yourself from the next man up, then an over-inflated contract could mean bad news for you.
Here are five veteran players whose roster spot is in jeopardy where the financial aspect comes into play.
Note: I have identified five players at risk, however am listing seven players. Two of these players will receive a Golden Ticket that grants them immunity from being cut. While it could save the Cowboys some money, their talent is meaningful enough to make the investment.
OL Byron Bell, age 28
Cap Hit ($2 M) - Dead Money ($250k) = Savings ($1.75 M)
How is it that a fresh new free agent is on the hot seat before he’s even given a chance? Well, the Cowboys used free agency to fill pot holes. Upon the news that Doug Free was retiring, the team didn’t waste much time filling that hole. This put Bell in a competition with fellow tackle Chaz Green for the starting right tackle spot with the consolation prize being the swing tackle position. But all that could change if La’el Collins moves to RT. That means only the swing tackle position is up for grabs and with the limited action it receives, it would be the perfect role in preserving the health of Green.
Bell does have position flex and could move over to guard. The problem is he’s got another former first-round pick in Jonathan Cooper vying for that spot as well. With backup center Joe Looney also in the mix, it’s going to be hard to justify keeping Bell on the roster for that price.
Dark Horse Alert: Watch out for undrafted free agent Nate Theaker.
Prediction: CUT - I loved the Bell signing and thought it gave the Cowboys some extra insurance, but with the recent developments on the O-line, they don’t need the extra coverage.
TE James Hanna, age 27
Cap Hit ($3 M) - Dead Money ($1.5 M) = Savings ($1.5 M)
The veteran tight end has two things working against him. First, his health is a great unknown because of the bone bruise he has in his right knee. While that alone is a cause for concern the team has $5 M in base salary on the table for him over the next two years. Hanna has been one of the most underrated players on the team in recent years, but there is no way he’s remotely close to warrant that type of reckless spending. Especially since the Cowboys were able to replicate his contributions by drafting another blocking specialist tight end in Geoff Swaim.
Dark Horse Alert: Keep an eye on undrafted free agent Blake Jarwin.
Prediction: CUT - Because of future savings this really should be at the top of the list. It’s a much cheaper version of the Tony Romo contract ordeal, only Romo was in better health. That doesn’t bode well for Hanna. Cut now, save now, and save even more later.
RB Alfred Morris, age 28
Cap Hit ($2.2 M) - Dead Money ($500k) = Savings ($1.7 M)
I think this is a good time to come clean and remind everyone that I was one of those guys who didn’t think Darren McFadden would be on the final roster last year. With the acquisition of Alfred Morris and a potential savings of $1.75 M if they released McFadden, it just didn’t seem feasible to endure that expense. But the Cowboys have a different way of looking at it. It’s like calling a bet with nothing because you got something up your sleeve in the future. The Cowboys were thinking ahead when they made the decision to keep McFadden and now he’s in the mix for this season.
So if we are buying into the idea that McFadden is firmly planted as the team’s backup RB (which I have finally come to terms with), then where does it leave Alfred Morris? It leaves him without a job, that’s where.
Dark Horse Alert: Keep an eye out for undrafted free agent Jahad Thomas.
Prediction: CUT - If Morris had a book about his life in the NFL, it would be entitled, “Nice Guys Finish Last.”
OG Jonathan Cooper, age 27
Cap Hit ($2 M) - Dead Money ($500k) = Savings ($1.5 M)
The former first-round pick from North Carolina has had an injury-riddled career thus far. He was signed by the Cowboys to give the team some depth at guard after losing Ron Leary in free agency. Cooper will get a chance at a fresh start on a stacked offensive line, but his chances will get even better if the switch of La’el Collins to RT actually sticks.
Prediction: MAKES THE TEAM - While the savings is there, Cooper gets a Golden Ticket to remain on the team. His upside is too good and could end up being the team’s starting left guard.
DT Stephen Paea, age 29
Cap Hit ($2 M) - Dead Money ($500k) = Savings ($1.5 M)
One thing that you might have noticed from this list up until this point is how young these “older” veteran players are. This speaks to value the Cowboys have on sustaining a youthful roster. This makes Stephen Paea an elder statesman. Of course the Cowboys knew this when they signed him and still valued his experience, particularly within a Rod Marinelli defense.
Prediction: MAKES THE TEAM - Paea gets the last Golden Ticket. He’s a great fit for the defense and can help anchor the interior of the defensive line.
LB Kyle Wilber, age 28
Cap Hit ($1.75 ) - Dead Money ($500k) = Savings ($1.25 M)
Honestly, you can predict Wilber’s release every year and people will have no problem accepting it. Yet every year he’s hanging around. The kid’s got alligator blood. While offering no upside and being labeled a JAG, he’s always managed to cling to a roster spot for two reasons. First, he’s a reserve linebacker and linebackers take a beating. But also, he’s a valuable special teams member.
Unfortunately, both these advantages take a bit of hit this season as the team will finally get to see their perennial All Star with that peroneal nerve, Jaylon Smith, back in action. Not only that, but the special teams group is even more stacked with some new players added to the mix.
That salary will certainly makes things more interesting when it comes to his chances to make the team. Wilber will face some tough challenges this year which will extend past just being able to get dressed.
Dark Horse Alert: Undrafted free agent Lucas Wacha is a name I hear people talking about as a potential sleeper to make the roster. We’ll see what he can do on the field, but based on appearances alone, he brings back bad memories for me.
Lucas Wacha reminds me too much of Cameron Lawrence and for that reason alone...I don't like him. Sorry, Sunshine. pic.twitter.com/H8mwvOiEmk— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) May 8, 2017
Prediction: MAKES THE TEAM - I’m out of golden tickets so he doesn’t get immunity, however, I’m done betting against this guy.
WR Brice Butler, age 27
Cap Hit ($1.1 M) - Dead Money ($300k) = Savings ($800k)
The team looked to have their five wide receivers in tact despite two of them becoming free agents this off-season. The Cowboys got great deals on both Terrance Williams and Brice Butler, however only one of them has a locked down roster spot. Butler’s low cost isn’t anything that would entice the Cowboys front office to do away with as a cost-cutting measure, however his low dead money hit doesn’t do anything to help his job security either. It’s going to be a straight up battle as to which wide receiver is best for the team.
Dark Horse Alert: While everyone is enamored with the Cowboys new toy, Noah Brown, keep an eye out for Andy Jones.
Prediction: CUT - The Cowboys only drafted two offensive players this year and both were wide receivers. Both will make the team and both will be used in special teams.
Which veteran player do you think stands the greatest chance to be released?