The Cowboys front office is getting better at managing the money. Granted, that hasn’t always been the case, and as of this writing, the team is eating $25.5 million in dead money for the 2018 season. Most of this comes from the following:
- Tony Romo, $8.9 million
- Dez Bryant, $8.0 million
- Cedric Thornton, $2.5 million
- Orlando Scandric, $2.3 million
- Nolan Carroll, $2.0 million
That’s quite a bit of wasted funds the team cannot use toward other players who could help the team, but the team has done some major house-cleaning in recent years. It’s a much younger group now and a lot of players are relatively cheap. But some players are still getting a hefty paycheck, so which players are not doing enough to earn their keep? Bleacher Report just recently listed every NFL team’s most overpaid player and here is who they identified for the Cowboys:
Dallas Cowboys: Sean Lee
Contract: Seven years - $42.6 million
Lee may be the most controversial player on this list, and for good reason. When he’s healthy, there are few better linebackers in the NFL. Lee combines supreme athleticism with an uncanny ability to read the field and diagnose an offense’s intention. Dallas’ defense is far better when Lee is on the field, and were he on the field all the time, there’d be no question about the value of the six-year, $42 million deal he signed in 2013.
The problem, of course, is that Lee isn’t always on the field. He missed the entire 2014 season due to injury, he’s never played a full 16-game season and he managed just 11 games in 2017 with a hamstring issue. The Cowboys decision to select Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 draft is instructive. Vander Esch is an athletic marvel who fits the Lee prototype pretty well from a physical perspective, and the pick seems like a franchise admission that at the age of 31, Lee isn’t likely to turn his injury history around.
The Cowboys have enjoyed relative bargains year-to-year from a cap perspective in return for Lee’s work, but his current contract bumped up to an $11 million salary cap obligation for 2018 and a $10 million hit in 2019. Dallas would have to deal with $7.1 million in dead cap if it released Lee this season, so there is no sense in doing that. But in 2019, the hit is just $3.1 million, so it’s safe to say that 2018 will be Lee’s defining season with his only NFL team.
Hmm, that wouldn’t be my choice. Let’s take a look at some of the Cowboys highest-paid players and see if anyone stands out as the most overpaid player on the team.
Tyron Smith, 2018 cap hit: $17.5 million
When the Cowboys signed Smith to an eight-year, $97 million deal in 2014, most people believed that the team got themselves a steal. An All-Pro left tackle for $12 M per season? Sign me up! Unfortunately, the front office has restructured his base salary into bonus money in 2015, 2016, and 2017, so the team still has over $16 M in credit card debt they still have spread out over the next four seasons to help pay for the previous three seasons. So Tyron’s cap hit will be more costly now.
Despite how the Cowboys have moved money around, Smith is still a good bargain. You have to look at it strictly from a base salary perspective and that’s only going to cost the team $10 million in each of the next four years. That’s still good value for what you get with a healthy Tyron Smith. It doesn’t go unnoticed that he’s missed time in each of the last two seasons and one can’t help wondering if the mileage is starting to catch up with him. The Cowboys did not chose to restructure his base salary this season, which could be an indication that they are being cautious financially. If he continues to show signs that he can’t stay healthy, then maybe this discussion should be revisited, but for now - he’s not overpaid.
DeMarcus Lawrence, 2018 cap hit: $17.1 million
Lawrence is currently slated to play under the franchise tag price for defensive ends, which comes at a steep cost. That’s a big cap hit to take on and the team would love to work out a long-term deal that would be more cap-friendly, but they have to be smart about it. On one hand, Lawrence showed how good he can be when healthy as he broke out with 14.5. sacks last year. He is also very disruptive against the run and has provided strong leadership for the defense.
But on the other hand, the Cowboys want more evidence that he can do this on a regular basis. Not only was 2017 his only year where he performed at a level worthy of a huge paycheck, but he started slowing down as the season progressed. After having at least one sack in each of his first seven games last year, the remaining seven games weren’t as impressive. He only had a sack in two of his final seven games.
What are the Cowboys getting with Lawrence? Is he an elite edge rusher? Maybe, but the Cowboys want to see some more first. Unfortunately, that means paying an expensive one-year rental cost before throwing down some big money long-term.
Sean Lee, 2018 cap hit: $11.0 million
Bleacher Report was off on a few things when it comes to Lee. First off, he’s not a supreme athlete, however he plays one on TV. The fact that people think that about him is just a testament to his instincts and how impressive he looks making players. But as far as athleticism goes, Lee doesn’t pop out at you. It doesn’t matter though, because athlete or not, he’s one of the best football players in the game. And it’s true that he’s never played a full 16-game season before, but it should be noted that he was a healthy scratch in the finale against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016. That shouldn’t be held against him. He also played 14 games in 2015 which strung together his healthiest stretch of his career. The move to weak-side linebacker appears to have helped in preserving his health.
Like Smith, Lee’s another guy whose importance to the team is not fully appreciated until he’s gone. And the front office has cleverly worked in escalators into his contract that rewards him when he plays 80% of the snaps. It’s their way to give them some cap relief when Lee misses games. While he’s getting older, he’s still a phenomenal player and worth the money being paid to him.
Zack Martin, 2018 cap hit: $9.3 million
The Cowboys All-Pro right guard is slated to play under his fifth-year option price, although that should be changing real soon. The Cowboys are currently in negotiations with his agent in effort to work out a long-term deal. The fallout of this means Martin is not participating in OTA’s. Some fans don’t like this, but there is nothing to be worried about with Martin missing time. It’s understandable that he wants to protect himself against injury given his current situation so it makes little sense for him to be there. Plus, Martin is one of the best players in the league and he’s not losing out on anything by missing reps. In fact, the Cowboys can simply use this opportunity to look at other players like Chaz Green.
When all of this is said and done, Martin’s 2018 cap hit will drop down when he signs his long-term extension. However, his average annual cost will move up in the $14 million range. That’s a pretty penny to spend on a guard, but Martin is worth every bit of it.
Tyrone Crawford, 2018 cap hit: $9.1 million
Crawford is one of the most underappreciated players on the team. Whether it is seen or not - he works hard, practices the right way, and his performance shows up on tape. His teammates notice it, the coaches notice it, and it’s one of the reasons he and Lawrence will be your bookend defensive ends when the season begins. Those are the kind of things that keep you on the roster.
While Crawford is a good player, is he really worth what the Cowboys are spending on him? The team thought they were being smart in getting a leg up on inking him long-term before he broke out and cost them a lot more. Unfortunately, Crawford has never broke out and while he’s played well, it’s hard to make a case that he’s worth it. He’s still safe for now, but with another year to see how the team’s defensive end situation players out, 2019 could end up being a year they get out of his contract. He’s a $7.3 million dead money hit right now, but it would only be $4.2 million next season. Crawford is going to have to really step it up or agree to a pay cut next season if he wants to remain with the team.
He’s my choice for the most overpaid player on the roster.
Here are some of the highest paid players on the team currently (info courtesy of Spotrac):
Who do you think is the most overpaid player on the roster?