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Cowboys DOs & DON’Ts of free agency (PART II): Extending young trio of stars, avoiding restructures this offseason

To extend or not to extend? Why the Cowboys don’t need to restructure anyone.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Before we move forward, here are the cliff notes to what was discussed in Part I:

-DO extend DeMarcus Lawrence as early as possible

-DON’T pay high prices for a slot receiver

-DO explore the entire safety market, Earl Thomas included

-DON’T shop free agency for high-priced defensive tackles

For Part II of this series, we’ll focus on three very important extensions and the proper timing for them as well as avoiding contract restructures this time around.

Up first, let’s tackle some in-house items and we’ll start with the Cowboys young trio of stars on offense, all three have been linked to possible extensions this offseason.

DO extend WR Amari Cooper

The trade for Amari Cooper was one of the single biggest contributors to the Cowboys turnaround that led to a 10-6 finish and a division title. Cooper’s cap hit for this season is just under $14M for one season.

Amari Cooper, at 24 years old, has already banked three 1,000-yard receiving seasons as well as three Pro-Bowl appearances on a rookie contract. Cooper had 53 receptions, 725 yards, and six touchdowns in nine games with the Cowboys. Now, the Cowboys could let Cooper play on his cap figure this year and worry about extending him later, but why wait?

It’s clear that his value to this offense was on full display as the passing game was revitalized with his arrival. Dak Prescott was one of the best quarterbacks at the end of the season after climbing out of a horrific slump largely in part to having Cooper. The Cowboys traded their first-round pick for him because they know how hard it is to make that transition from college to the pros. With Cooper, the Cowboys got youth but also a player that they know can perform at the highest-level. Pay Amari Cooper now before that price raises with the inflation of the salary cap.

Market Value Projection: Five-years, $84M, $57M GTD, $16.7M avg. per season

DON’T extend RB Ezekiel Elliott yet

What is the market value for a running back as good as Ezekiel Elliott?

Recently, Todd Gurley signed a four-year extension with the Rams worth $57.5M, $45M in guarantees, and an average of $14.3M per season. That’s likely the jumping off point for discussions with Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas should also keep an eye on Le’Veon Bell, set to be a big fish in free agency after refusing to play on a $14.5M franchise tag with the Steelers last season. Remember when the Cowboys balked at paying DeMarco Murray more than $8M per season? Well, they’ll have to pay almost double to extend Elliott but why rush to that now?

As much as Ezekiel Elliott has meant for this team over his three seasons in the league, he’s still got a year left on his rookie deal. After that, there is a fifth-year option that Dallas will most definitely pick up before making a final decision on an extension. This one seems like something they can be patient with.

DO extend QB Dak Prescott

Much like with Cooper, the Cowboys are better served to make an early decision with Dak Prescott than wait. They could certainly pull a Washington and franchise tag him next season for over $24M in one season, then tag him again the following year. Still, it’s only going to get more and more expensive to extend Prescott with each year.

Matthew Stafford got five-years, $135M with $27M per year, and $92M in guarantees. Jimmy Garoppolo received $137.5M, with a $27.5M average over the next five seasons and he only had a handful of starts. Matt Ryan just got $150M and bumped his average salary up to $30M, which was eclipsed only by Aaron Rodgers’ $33M per year.

The quarterbacks get paid and if Dallas thinks Dak is a franchise-caliber guy, they’ll have to pay to find out. Plus, they already had Dak on a team-friendly deal for three seasons and have been to the playoffs twice. Dak Prescott is going to get a hefty deal no matter what, there are no discounts in today’s quarterback market. It may be best for the Cowboys to get that done sooner rather than later while the price is still around $30M annually.

Market Value Projection: Five-years, $155M, $89M GTD, $31M avg. per year

DON’T restructure Zack Martin’s or Travis Frederick’s deals

Quite simply, the Cowboys have a lot of cap room as it is and if they wanted to add more, they can make decisions on Sean Lee or Allen Hurns to save money. There just isn’t really much of a reason to restructure any of these linemen’s deals.

The Cowboys hope that Travis Frederick will be back in the fold after recovering from Guillain-Barre syndrome all of last season. Zack Martin dealt with a sprained MCL last season but will be healthy and ready to roll next season. The long-term health of Tyron Smith is always a concern but the Cowboys have found a method to manage him. The Cowboys have all three under contract until 2023 but there is no reason to start kicking the can down the road and adding more years.

For once, the Cowboys aren’t pressed to restructure deals to make moves of any kind. They have almost $50M in room, that’s all they need to accomplish anything they want.

In our final part of this series, we’ll look to areas where the Cowboys could potentially find serious bang for pennies on the dollar.

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