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Cowboys news: How free agent spending can cause a mess; a defensive end draft prospect is on the rise

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Quick Lane Bowl - Boston College v Maryland Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Dallas Cowboys: NFL salary cap creates challenges - Peter Dawson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
With the Cowboys fanbase getting restless as free agency approaches, the front office will likely show restraint as usual. And there could be a good reason for this as Peter Dawson explains the consequences facing the once-dominant Seattle Seahawks.

The root of Seattle's slash and burn approach to roster reconstruction really started when they won Super Bowl XLVIII in 2013. By selecting quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the franchise had to pay less than $4 million total over the course of four years for a championship signal caller.

Wilson's cheap contract allowed Schneider to hand out massive deals to other players, and add re-enforcements to the NFL's best defense. Seattle didn't win another title, but they probably should have captured one more.

After his rookie deal ended, Wilson finally got paid like a top-10 NFL quarterback. Here are Wilson's cap hits for the past three seasons starting in 2015, according to Spotrack.com: $ 7 million, $18.5 million, $14.5 million. This season, that figure jumped up to $23.8 million. For the 2019 season, that number will only climb to $25 million.

In turn, the organization will likely suffer more cap casualties such as 2017 All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner ($14 million in 2019), former All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor ($14.5 million in 2020) and 2018 Pro Bowl alternate wide receiver Doug Baldwin ($13.3 million in 2020).

Albert Breer talks the future of NFL free agency - it seems familiar - Tom Ryle, Blogging The Boys
Our own Tom Ryle points out that the Cowboys aren't the only team in the league that doesn't splash around in free agency. The team has a way they go about things and I wouldn't expect to much to change.

That is certainly something that has been going on in Dallas for years. While many decry the lack of effort in signing free agents, the truth is that they spend a lot of money on free agents - but lately, it is their own they are handing out the big contracts to. They prefer to “grow their own” rather than go out and bring in outside talent. One of the reasons is that they understandably believe they know a lot more about someone who has several years in Dallas already than a player from another franchise. Additionally, those outside players often come from a very different system and team philosophy. There’s not much sense in trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. And that thing about baggage is very true. Although there has been a lot of angst about the Philadelphia Eagles signing Michael Bennett to bolster an already formidable pass rush, Bennett does have a history of being a rather different kind of football player. He reportedly requires more effort to keep him on point and focused. Throw in the fact that he did show some signs of decline and not putting in a full effort all the time last year, and he does have some risk factors.

Dallas Cowboys should not react to Michael Bennett trade - Christian Blood, The Landry Hat
Many Cowboys fans are not happy that the Eagles continue to make moves while Dallas sits idle. But is the acquisition of Bennett that big of a deal?

Michael Bennett is 32-years old and the cost involved in acquiring him from the Seahawks didn’t exactly cost the Eagles an arm and a leg. Further, given other defensive line concerns that Philly already has, it’s far from certain that the Eagles took a big step forward, if they even took one at all.

The foundation for the Dallas Cowboys is just as good as the one possessed by the Eagles – yes, I’m serious. The difference in ’17 – and let’s remember that the Cowboys were 13-3 in 2016 – was that the Cowboys were far from full strength at every point in the season, but the Eagles weren’t.

Don’t get me wrong, the Eagles had a tremendous season despite losing their franchise quarterback late in the season and nothing can take that away. They should rightfully be the odds-on favorite to win the NFC East in 2018, although we know that championships really aren’t won in the month of March or April.

The Dallas Cowboys will be aggressive this offseason, but it’s not a bad thing that this aggression does not include giving up assets or salary cap space to aging veterans who are in obvious decline.

2018 NFL Free Agency: Franchise-Tag Decisions That Will Change the Market - Chris Roling, Bleacher Report
It's interesting to look at the implications of tagging a player and removing him from the free agent market. With free agency starting up next week, how has the tag decisions changed the market? Chris Roling explains.

DeMarcus Lawrence, EDGE

Decision: Tagged

Elite pass-rushing talent, even on a small sample size—is a valuable commodity teams won't let get away.

Case in point, the Dallas Cowboys with Demarcus Lawrence. The 2014 second-round pick posted 14.5 sacks in 2017, up from his career-high eight in 2015, leaving him at 23.5 over four years. After his 14.5, David Irving's seven were the next closest on a roster that recorded 38 total.

So no, doling out about $17.1 million to see if a 25-year-old can do it again isn't a big price tag. And he sure seemed pleased with it, by the way.

But again, this is another young rusher who, while inconsistent, is worth an investment. We've touched on the poor free-agent class, but the list of 2018 draft prospects doesn't appear great either. After Bradley Chubb, it's a weaker-than-usual class where fit for a prospect might matter more than sheer ability.

For teams like the Lions and Cowboys, throwing down tags was an easy call. The rest of the teams on the market will have to keep looking.

What the market says about how much Zack Martin could get from long-term deal with Cowboys - Kristi Scales, SportsDay
While DeMarcus Lawrence has been tagged, a lot of that drama can be pushed aside for now. Next up could be extending the team's All Pro guard, Zack Martin. How much will it cost to keep him in Dallas? Kristi Scales explains:

What's the status of Zack Martin's contract? Does a deal get done with him soon?

Scales: To get an idea of what Martin and other top guards can expect, let's look at the biggest deals for guards currently under contract:

Kevin Zeitler of the Browns earns the top average salary among NFL guards ($12 million). Even more impressive than Zeitler's salary is his total guaranteed amount of $31.5 million on his five-year, $60 million contract. That means 52.5 percent of his contract is guaranteed, according to spotrac.com.

Kelechi Osemele of the Raiders boasts the second highest average salary ($11.7 million). Osemele's five-year, $58 million deal has $25.4 million in total guaranteed money.

Trae Turner of the Panthers has the third-highest average salary at $11.25 million with $20.5 million guaranteed in his four-year, $45 million deal.

6 contract restructure options could save Dallas up to $36M cap space - K.D. Drummond, Cowboys Wire
Zack Martin isn't the only Cowboys offensive linemen who should see a different looking contract in 2018. A restructure of Travis Frederick would free up a lot of cap space for the team.

Current 2018 Cap Hit: $13.235 million

Frederick is the no-brainer here, as the next four years of base salary are so low, Dallas clearly intended to utilize this option. With a base salary of $10 million, Dallas could move however much they deem necessary, and there are the maximum five years remaining on his deal to spread the hit out over.

Expect this one first, before anything else happens to create room.

In the blink of an eye, that cap hit can be shrunk as low as $6 million, creating over $7 million in additional space.

Cowboys 2018 Free Agency: What's Left Before Market Opens? - Jess Haynie, Inside the Star
Jess Haynie explains why a Frederick restructure is a safe play.

Restructuring is all about sacrificing future flexibility for the present. Dallas would be increasing the dead money penalties in the later years of Frederick's deal for immediate spending power.

You don't mind this with a guy like Travis Frederick, who is always healthy and figure to be with your team for many years to come. There is little reason to think Dallas would cut him anytime soon, so you don't mind giving up leverage down the road that you probably wouldn't use anyway.

He would also address some contracts of other Cowboys players, including a little manipulation of Jason Witten's deal.

What the team can do is convert about $3.9 million of Witten's salary into a bonus and get that back in cap room. It would mean creating a potential cap penalty if Jason is released or retires next year, but the Cowboys may be willing to rob Peter to pay Paul in this situation.

Free agent series: Familiar name of Kenny Vacarro could provide Cowboys with much-needed DB help - Brandon George, SportsDay
The Cowboys front office doesn't have to go crazy in free agent, but rather - just do a little something. Would a reasonably priced free-agent strong safety be too much to ask?

The Cowboys could use an upgrade at strong safety, and Vaccaro may not require them to break the bank.

Vaccaro just completed his fifth season with the Saints, where he was a starter ever since New Orleans drafted him in the first round. He has eight career interceptions. The Cowboys' top four safeties on their roster last season have a combined 10 career interceptions.

Are Combine Workouts Overrated? Which Position Isn’t A Need? - Bryan Broaddus, Dallas Cowboys

It's real easy to start developing man-crushes for players who light it up at the combine, but how much value should people be placing on those workouts? Bryan Broaddus answers that question in the latest mailbag question.

How do scouts and coaches keep themselves from falling for a guy when he has a really good Combine workout? And how do you not let a few underwhelming reps scare you off from potential picks?

Bryan: That’s a wonderful question. I have always used the Combine to confirm what I observed on tape. If guy tests well and plays well, it’s good. If he doesn’t test well but plays well, I tend to side with the tape. On the other hand, if he tests great but plays poorly on tape, I will go back and study him again to see if I missed anything. More times than not, I keep the player in the round where I saw him before the Combine.

Possible Pick: This Top QB Prospect Could Impact Cowboys’ Options At 19 - Rob Phillips, Dallas Cowboys
The Wyoming quarterback showed off his massive arm strength at the combine and it could propel him into the top half of the first round. This would be good news for Dallas fans.

How He Helps The Cowboys:

Speaking at the Combine last week, team owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the team would prefer to find and develop another quarterback over adding a veteran this offseason. However, with Dallas fully committed to starter Dak Prescott, it seems highly unlikely that the front office will draft a quarterback in the early rounds, particularly with so many needs elsewhere on the roster. If Allen does go off the board somewhere in the first 18 picks, it would increase the Cowboys’ chances of landing another player they like at No. 19.

2-round NFL mock draft, version 1.0 – Kevin Turner, The Athletic
Kevin Turner from The Athletic provides a complete two-round mock of the draft. Who falls to the Cowboys? He has them upgrading their defense in the premium rounds.

19. Dallas Cowboys: Harold Landry – EDGE, Boston College

A tad undersized and coming off an injury-plagued 2017, the Cowboys trust the tape and grab the second-best pass rusher in this year’s draft.

50. Dallas Cowboys: RaShaan Gaulden – DB, Tennessee

Gaulden didn't test out very well at the combine but was a fantastic player at Tennessee. He'd likely play safety in Dallas, and I think he's one of the more underrated prospects in this entire draft.

NFL draft analyst: If available, this Boston College DE deserves consideration from the Cowboys - Staff, SportsDay
Draft expert Dane Brugler was asked about what he saw at the combine and if there were any players whose draft stock were affected by their performance.

On what changed in his top 50 after the combine:

"Harold Landry, the pass-rusher from Boston College, he's definitely on the rise from what he did at the combine. He was outstanding as a junior at Boston College, led the FBS in sacks with 16.5, also had seven forced fumbles. Returned for his senior year and he was kind of the forgotten guy because he was hurt most of the year with an ankle injury. So Harold Landry, he's a first round player. He'd be an interesting discussion for the Cowboys at No. 19 if he was there. He's a little undersized and we know how the Cowboys like their defensive ends to fit in that neat little box with the measurements and the size dimensions. But the goal is to get after the quarterback, and Harold Landry is cut from the same cloth as players like Von Miller, Vic Beasley, that type of pass rusher."

Former Cowboy TE Jay Novacek to be inducted into Senior Bowl HOF - Khari Murphy, Cowboys Wire

Jason Witten will go down in history as the greatest tight end ever to play for the Cowboys, but for those of us watching football in the '90s, we'll always have a great appreciation for Novacek. And this week he was honored with another accolade.

Former Dallas Cowboys TE great Jay Novacek will be joining yet another illustrious group. On Thursday it was announced he will be inducted to the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame. He’ll be joined by former Oakland Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano and Denver Broncos linebacker Al Wilson — the group comprises the 30th Senior Bowl HOF cast, and will join all-time greats such as Bo Jackson, Brett Favre, Dan Marino and Walter Payton.