The front office of the Dallas Cowboys builds their team through the draft. If they score a good player that is vital to the team’s success, they keep him. If not, they let them walk. The hope is, they can draft enough quality players with each new year to supplement the players they lose, and gradually strengthen this roster. Sometimes the money doesn’t match the performance and the team chooses to get out from underneath the contract, even if there is a dead money hit associated with it. The release of Dez Bryant is a perfect example of such.
While the Cowboys have done their house cleaning for the 2018 season, the team could trim the fat again next year. Which players could be targets for an early release? Here are three veteran players who could be spending their last season with the Cowboys.
It doesn’t take a lot of convincing to have fans acknowledge that Crawford is costing the team more than he’s worth. Three years into his rookie deal, the team felt it would be wise to offer him up an extension rather than take the chance of him being more expensive a year later when he would hit free agency. What makes this even more odd is that there was such a limited sample size in seeing what Crawford could do. He played his rookie season at defensive end in the 3-4 scheme under Rob Ryan’s last year as defensive coordinator. Then, he tore his Achilles in training camp in 2013 and missed the entire season. In 2014, he was going to move over to 3-tech DT, but the free agent acquisition of Henry Melton put that plan on hold and he again started at DE. After Melton struggled, Crawford was eventually moved to DT where he played extremely well. He had three sacks and finished with 29 quarterback pressures. It was apparently enough for the team to offer him a five-year, $45 million extension that locked him up through 2020.
Over the next three seasons, Crawford again would be asked to change his position. The interior defensive line was stronger with Terrell McClain, Maliek Collins, and David Irving, whereas suspensions to DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory meant Crawford was needed at defensive end. Despite playing through injuries such as a torn rotator cuff, hamstring, and shoulder problems, Crawford only missed two games (held out for precautionary reasons at the end of the 2016 season to save him for the playoffs) and played solid, averaging 4.5 sacks.
Crawford is a good player for this defense. His work ethic and leadership make him one of the favorites among the coaching staff. While it’s nice to have a player like Crawford on the team, does it make sense to keep him on the roster under his current cost? Let’s take a look at the last three years remaining on his contract courtesy of spotrac.com:
Right now, there is absolutely no reason to cut Crawford. When healthy, he’s easily the best DE not named DeMarcus Lawrence. With Tank not yet signed to a long-term deal, it’s good to keep Crawford in their back pocket in case he’s still needed down the road. Plus, the young edge rushers, Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong, are still developing and cannot be relied on to handle a heavy dose of reps.
Of course, the defensive end situation could all change come this time next year. If Lawrence is re-signed and the younglings start exhibiting more consistent play this season, does it still become feasible to keep Crawford? Not only does his dead money hit drop next season, but unless he’s ball’n at a high level, you don’t want him to impede the progress of a young up-and-coming edge rusher.
What a difference one offseason makes. Last season, fans loved Williams for agreeing to a team-friendly deal that kept the band together. As it turned out, the band’s popularity didn’t last very long after last year’s album “drop it like it’s hot” flat-out tanked. Lead singer, Dez Bryant was replaced. Cole Beasley went solo and made a rap album. And Williams fell into the hard rock-star lifestyle of alcohol and reckless bike-riding.
With new talent added to the band, this “Beatles” to “Monkees” transition has everyone worried, but personally - I’m a believer. Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Cedric Wilson are all working on their new single, “You gotta keep ‘em separated” and new receiver’s coach Sanjay Lal is hoping it will be a smash it.
So, where does that leave TDub? Let’s take a look at the last three years remaining on his contract courtesy of spotrac:
Like Crawford, the cap savings for Williams improves considerably next offseason. And like Crawford, there are still things that need to be sorted out at the position before the team can comfortably cut him loose. What if Hurns gets hurt again or the rookies play like rookies? Williams at least has some chemistry with Dak Prescott and so it’s not a bad idea to keep him around one more year. After that, though - all bets are off.
How Williams performs in comparison to these new guys will go a long way in determining his future in Dallas.
While some fans are ready to say “good riddance” to these first two players on this list, the same is not true for Jones. Fans like Jones. Some will make a case against him because his play is not indicative of his draft cost, but even then - it’s pretty close. Jones has been a solid player for the defense and when you consider he’s been moved around a lot, it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. How is he expected to become really good at his craft if he’s constantly shuffled around?
Well, here lies the problem with Jones. One has to consider that the team keeps moving him around because he cannot seem to flourish at either of the defensive back positions. If you look at his traits, it’s hard to determine where he should play. The Cowboys have used him at safety because he’s a smart, instinctive player who has great recovery and closing speed. He seems like he would be the perfect center fielder-type player you’d want at free safety. But Jones’ instincts have gotten him into trouble at times. His upright running style restricts his movement, making it hard for him to change directions. So when he guesses wrong, the defense pays a big price.
The Cowboys are now going to take the guesswork away from him and just give him a simple assignment. When you look at his size, athleticism, and ball skills - it seems like corner is the right spot. However, he doesn’t have quick, twitchy feet so going toe-to-toe to mirror receivers is not going to be his strength. Jones is going to have his moments where his man is going to put some space between them. And what’s to say this cornerback gig is not his thing? Let’s take a look at the last two years remaining on his contract courtesy of spotrac:
Note: Spotrac has him playing under the cornerback price of $9.1 million for some reason, but it should be the safety price of $6.2 million.
The Cowboys picked up his fifth-year option, and they will get him at the discounted safety price. That seems like a good bargain, but only if he’s a starting cornerback. We can all be excited his potential, but that’s the same song we’ve been listening to in each new year of Jones’ career in Dallas. A position change doesn’t automatically equal success and there are reasons to be concerned about his ability to be an effective corner. Both Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis have much more fluid movement and can stay with the receiver better.
I love Byron Jones and his character is exactly what you want in the locker room. He’s a great athlete as well so it’s frustrating that the team hasn’t been able to properly harness that. But is this a coaching fail that new defensive backs coach/passing coordinator, Kris Richard, can correct or does Jones just not have the skill sets to adequately fit into a specific position?
This year will be a big season for Jones. Mild struggles will be chalked up to growing pains at a new position and he’ll just dust himself off and do it all again next year. Big struggles might relegate him to the bench. It might also cause the Cowboys to dabble at CB in the draft next season to give Richard his first draft resource who fits his mold. With a fiery competitor in Lewis just waiting in the wings, it could muddy up the waters and create a difficult front office decision next offseason.
Which veteran player do you think could be spending their last year with the Cowboys?