When the Cowboys picked up the fifth-year option on Byron Jones’ contract in August this year, they ensured they’d keep their 2015 first-round pick in Dallas through at least the 2019 season, giving them one less free agent to worry about after the 2018 season.
And there is enough to worry about: DeMarcus Lawrence, Cole Beasley, and David Irving headline a list of 16 players who’ll hit some kind of free agency after the season.
Here’s the Cowboys’ motley crew of soon-to-be free agents.
Two tagged or tendered players (DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving). Lawrence and Irving were tagged respectively tendered on what were effectively one-year, prove-it deals. Did they prove they’re worth a contract extension?
Two players are from the 2015 draft class (Damien Wilson and Geoff Swaim) and are playing on the final year of their rookie contracts. Do the Cowboys want to work out an early deal with either of them, or will they let them hit free agency first to gauge their value?
Six players are playing on one-year deals for the Cowboys this year (Tavon Austin, Cameron Fleming, Jamize Olawale, Marcus Martin, Caraun Reid, Darian Thompson), which makes them feel a little bit like rentals.
Four players on veteran contracts are playing out the final year of their veteran contracts (Cole Beasley, L.P.LaDouceur, Rod Smith, Datone Jones).
Two players are restricted or exclusive rights free agent. Daniel Ross is an ERFA, Justin March-Lillard is a RFA, both of which come with some very specific rules and stipulations as outlined a little further below.
Here’s a summary table of all 16 players who could carry some kind of free agent designation after the 2018 season.
|Player||Pos.||Type||Cap Hit 2018|
|Players tagged or tendered|
|2015 draft class|
|Veterans on expiring contracts|
|Restricted Free Agents (ERFA)|
So how many players on this list will the Cowboys keep beyond 2017? Let’s take it from the top.
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to get paid. Lawrence will get a deal from the Cowboys that will make people’s eyes water: It will be higher than the five-year, $85 million contract ($52.5 million in guarantees) Olivier Vernon signed with the Giants in 2016. The next time you see an uninformed opinion about how the Cowboys won’t have to pay a premium for Lawrence, keep in mind that Lawrence’s agent is David Canter, who is none other than the guy who negotiated Vernon’s deal. Canter and Lawrence know what time it is, and the Cowboys do too.
David Irving isn’t going to get paid. The Cowboys will almost certainly let David Irving hit free agency to show him and his agent that his market value is much lower than they think. In fact, there may not be much value at all, so the Cowboys could probably sign him at a steep discount. But I’m guessing that the relationship between the player and the team has regressed to such an extent that Irving’s time in Dallas is coming to an end, cheap contract or not.
The Cowboys are going to let Damien Wilson and Geoff Swaim walk. Somebody is going to pay Damien Wilson a ton of money in free agency next year, and most Cowboys fans are going to wonder why, but he may be the most underrated linebacker at the SAM position I’ve seen, what with all the attention in Dallas focused on Vandersomething and Jaylon. Plus the Cowboys can lock up his successor (Justin March-Lillard) for next to nothing.
At TE, I assume the Cowboys are going to draft a TE high in next year’s draft, and with the three remaining tight ends showing they can pick up Swaim’s slack, Swaim will go the John Phillips-route and move on.
Cole Beasley is going to get paid by some other team. In the right system, Beasley can easily be a 1,000+ yard receiver, and some team not named Dallas will pay him accordingly.
The Cowboys extend L.P. LaDouceur - unless he retires first. But an extension will not mean much, as L.P. could easily find himself “Maher-ed” after camp. The Cowboys will most certainly bring in a young long snapper, and they could save half a million by moving to the younger guy. So what’ll it be, L.P.? Go through the rigors of OTAs and training camp only to be cut in September, or retire right away?
The Cowboys would like to extend Rod Smith, but at a reasonable price. Without Smith, the Cowboys have Elliott and a whole bunch of nothing at running back, which would force their hand in free agency and/or the draft. They don’t want that, so they’ll extend an offseason offer. But will that offer be high enough to retain Smith?
Datone Jones is not coming back. 2018 wasn’t a good year for Jones, who played five snaps before landing on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Three one-year rentals likely get extended. When looking ahead to next year, it’s sometimes beneficial to look at this year and figure out the utilization of the players this year.
|2018 Snapcounts by week|
From the table above, I’d suggest that Marcus Martin, Darian Thompson and Caraun Reid will not be back next year. Reid has been getting a moderate amount of snaps, but keep in mind that he was initially released during final roster cuts, and then brought back as an injury replacement a few weeks later, and that’s what he has remained.
Jamize Olawale will get extended. He’s a solid if infrequently-used addition, and as long as the Cowboys continue to play with a fullback, extending him is more effective than signing another guy in free agency or even investing a draft pick in a guy who’ll give you 10 snaps a game.
Tavon Austin will get an offer. The Cowboys like what they have in Austin, and featured him often at the start of the season. He’ll get to show what he’s got over the remainder of the season, and the addition of Amari Cooper might also have a positive impact on Austin. His injury history remains an issue, so the Cowboys will likely offer a contract at a discount. Will another team offer more?
Cameron Fleming should also get an offer. Fleming has carried himself well in his two starts at left tackle, and offers a moderately priced backup to Tyron Smith. Is that enough for Fleming, or will he look for a starting job elsewhere? My guess is the latter. Remember how Jonathan Cooper translated his 13 average games in Dallas (a 1-year, $2.0 million contract) in 2017 into a $5 million deal in San Francisco the following year?
No tender for Justin March-Lillard: March-Lillard is a restricted free agent (RFA), a player whose contract has expired and who has three accrued seasons of service, which means the Cowboys could tender him. Unfortunately, tendering him would require a contract worth about $2.0 million, and that’s simply not happening. The Cowboys will look to bring him back for a contract close to the veteran minimum, and if they are outbid in free agency, so be it.
Daniel Ross stays: This is the easiest option on the entire list. Not because Ross is necessarily the next coming of Aaron Donald, but because Ross’ status as an ERFA makes his future on the roster a slam dunk.
An ERFA has no more than two accrued seasons in the NFL and may only sign with his prior team, provided that the team extends a minimum qualifying offer to the player. So if the Cowboys want Ross, they can keep him for the veteran minimum for another year at least.
Too much detail? Here’s the tl;dr version
|2019 Free Agents|
|Coming Back in 2019||Will be allowed to hit free agency; may come back||Not coming back|
|Starter||DeMarcus Lawrence, Jamize Olawale, Tavon Austin||Cole Beasley, Geoff Swaim|
|Backup||Rod Smith||Cameron Fleming||Damien Wilson, David Irving|
|Depth||Daniel Ross||Justin March||Caraun Reid, Datone Jones, Darian Thompson, Marcus Martin|
Entering the 2018 offseason, the Cowboys had 20 free agents to deal with. Seven made the 2018 team.