This is part one of a three-part series about moves the Cowboys need to make this offseason that will spark some debate, and maybe some anger, within the fanbase.
In part one we discuss the free agency prospects of Anthony Hitchens. It’s likely that Hitchens will get “starter money” thrown at him on the open market if we can believe the rumors, especially from the Colts where Matt Eberflus landed. Most Cowboys fans want to keep Hitchens, but they realize that paying him “starter money” probably isn’t financially sound. We say:
Overpay Anthony Hitchens
Most Cowboys fans have grown to appreciate what the team’s jack-of-trades linebacker can do for them. He’s been a reliable player for the team over his four-year rookie contract and deserves to get a little extra spending money. But as Clint Eastwood said in the movie Unforgiven, “deserves got nothing to do with it.”
As much as the organization would love to offer Hitchens whatever it takes to keep him in a Cowboys uniform, there will be a cutoff point where the price is just too much. According to Spotrac, they currently have Hitchens market value listed as:
Ideally, the Cowboys would like to get him cheaper than that as they already have Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith in the group. It doesn’t seem financially feasible to spend too much on a player who could potential only see 50% of the defensive snaps. Unfortunately, there will be some teams in the league who will value him as a starter who will receive significant action.
The Cowboys should consider upping the ante on their max offer to Hitchens for a few reasons. First, with the risks of Lee and Smith, the current state of the Cowboys linebacker group could take a bad turn if either of them should be unable to play for any extensive time. With Smith, we also still have to wonder about how much he has developed and will he be significantly better in 2018. Nobody wants to watch helpless as the team struggles to get the opposing offense off the field. With so many other good pieces finally coming together, why take a chance on having the LB group let them down?
Second, the Cowboys wisely built in escalators in Lee’s contract that pays him more money ($1.5 to $2 M) each year he plays at least 80% of the snaps. Since signing his six-year, $42 million deal in 2013, only once has that escalator been exercised. The Cowboys should use this Lee-kicker refund they implemented as insurance for just that - insurance. If Lee is healthy and the LB group is in great shape, super - that’s a big win for the Cowboys defense.
Third, the Cowboys cap hit from Jaylon Smith is only $1.7 million, so we can just think of Smith as the backup and Hitchens as the starter when it comes to the financial considerations. Plus, in 2019 Sean Lee will be a free agent, the Cowboys could decide to just slide Hitchens in as a starter if they aren’t prepared to give the then 33-year-old Lee another contract. Even sooner, the Cowboys could get out of the Lee deal in 2019 if injuries are still a big issue.
Being thrifty in free agency is fine as we know how bad the team can be at acquiring reliable replacements. But sometimes you need to pay the piper. Rather than throwing $10 million away in dead money (thank you Cedric Thornton and Nolan Carroll) over two years of cap waste, just pay a little extra to keep a sure thing.
Dallas should keep Hitchens on the payroll even if it cost them close to $7 million per year. How many linebackers do you know can strip the ball while completely inverted?
The runner was ruled down, but what a crazy effort by Anthony Hitchens to strip the ball upside down in the air pic.twitter.com/xOd570ZKqO— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 5, 2017
Okay BTB, would you pay $6.5 million a year to keep Hitchens on the roster?