This offseason, the Dallas Cowboys have some very big decisions to make on their top two picks from the 2014 draft. Both DeMarcus Lawrence and Zack Martin are expected to receive long-term deals for a sizable chunk of change after All Pro seasons. But don’t be surprised if the first big deal to go down ends up being a contract extension for Dez Bryant.
Why extend Dez when they have bigger fish to fry?
That noise you hear is the fans complaining and expressing their disgust should the Cowboys add more time to Bryant’s contract. After all, some fans would like to see him flat-out released and some fans want him to take a pay cut, so the idea of giving him even more money may seem absurd.
But it’s not.
There are a couple reasons why an extension for Bryant would be good for Dallas. First off, he’s not as terrible as many people are trying to make him. In fact, he’s still a very good receiver. Because of all the noise being made about his inflated cap hit relative to his production on the field, his stock is low right now. If the Cowboys believe he’s still a great receiver, they might be able to get him locked up for a few more years at a decent price.
Why would Bryant be interested in doing that?
As of right now, the Cowboys have already paid him $45 million of his $70 million deal. The only way he sees that remaining $25 M is from the $12.5 M he is due in each of the next two seasons. The team is under no obligation to give him any more money. Should there exist a time where the front office and Bryant don’t see eye-to-eye on his price, the Cowboys could simply choose to release him. Of course, as you can see, he’d be an $8 million dead money hit should the team release him this offseason.
Now, that’s certainly not going to happen and Dez knows that, but after 2018, things become a little hazy. His 2019 cap hit is large, but his dead money hit is reasonable so the team could save $12.5 million in cap space if they released him next year. Bryant could escape that possibility by signing an extension. He would still be making the same amount of cash over the next two seasons and he would have the security of his 2019 base salary being honored because of the huge dead money hit a new deal would create. He would also stand a good chance to earn $10 million more in each of the 2020 and 2021 seasons because his cap hit wouldn’t be quite as bad as it was with the old deal.
An extension would also protect him from an injury hurting his bank account and allow him to not have to worry about negotiating a new deal when he’s on the north side of age 30. It’s a good deal for Dez.
Why would the Cowboys be interested in doing that?
Some fans might prefer to just let nature run it’s course, pay him what he’s owed over the next two seasons, and deal with 2020 when it gets here. That’s certainly an option and if the Cowboys had doubts about his ability, that would be the way to go. But if the team believes in him and thinks they could get a bargain on a couple extra years due to his recent dip in production, an extension is the right move. Not only would they lock up their star receiver for more time, but a new contract would lower the 2018 cap hit for the team.
Borrowing money from the future isn’t always the wisest thing to do, but opening up some cap space would actually give the team some leverage when it comes to a couple other big deals expected to go down this offseason.
Right now, Dallas has about $20 million in cap space. That takes into account the new salary cap amount ($178 M), rollover money from 2017 ($9 M), and dead money ($13.6 M).
It also includes the $16.5 million cap hit that will go on the books for Dez Bryant. If the Cowboys reduce this cap hit with an extension, the team could gain some leverage when negotiating deals with Martin and Lawrence.
Don’t get worried when contract talks seem to stall
The Cowboys are going to give Martin an extension. He has proven he is worth his weight in gold. Four seasons, four All Pro’s, and he never misses a game. He is not going anywhere. The only real question is - how much will it cost the Cowboys? The answer should be somewhere in the vicinity of $12 M per year when it’s all said and done, but both Martin’s agent and Jerry Jones are going to be hashing it out in an attempt to squeeze out every little penny they can.
Team Martin would love a long-term deal. It would give him a lot of money up front (signing bonus) as well as give him long-term security. Without a deal, he would have to play under his fifth-year option this season. And the Cowboys could even choose to franchise tag him next year as well. That could mean Martin may have to survive two more seasons before he would get his big payday. It would behoove him to sign long-term.
One thing working in his favor is that the Cowboys would like to get the cap relief that would accompany a long-term deal. Martin’s $9.3 million cap hit would drop considerably with a new deal. The Cowboys need that space to do other stuff, but if a new Bryant deal took place, maybe they can wait a bit to re-sign Martin? Or at least that is the perception Team Jerry could create when contract negotiations are happening.
The Franchise tag for Tank doesn’t necessarily mean a one-year rental
Lawrence is likely to get the franchise tag simply to fend off having to compete with any of the other 31 teams in the league that might want to throw a bunch of money his way. Think of it as a placeholder. Sure, the Cowboys could just pay him $17 million for 2018 if it comes to that. That’s a pricey cap hit though and Dallas would like to get some immediate relief through a long-term deal. Team Tank knows how such a large cap hit could restrict what the team could do in the offseason and would use that in their favor. However, with extra space from Dez, the sense of urgency isn’t there. The Cowboys could simply do what they did with Dez in 2015 when they waited until July before a long-term deal was struck.
The front office is going to keep the players they want, but they are going to use everything at their disposal to do it. So if there is a move that doesn’t look right on the surface, keep in mind - it could be just one piece to the bigger puzzle.