Many wondered if Sean Lee was going to be brought back with the emergence of both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch; however, the Cowboys are restructuring the veteran linebacker’s contract for next season.
A look at Jason Witten’s contract should provide a template for how the club attempts to restructure Lee’s final year. The tight end signed a deal earlier this week with a base salary of $2 million. A series of bonuses -- 53- and 46-man gameday rosters -- along with incentives tied to performance can increase that deal to $5 million.
Lee’s contract will have a similar structure, with the idea of lowering his cap hit.
Separate hamstring injuries limited Lee to seven games last season. He started five games but lost his job in the starting lineup to rookie Leighton Vander Esch, who earned a Pro Bowl berth.
Sean Lee was not the only member of the Cowboys in the news regarding contract talks.
Contract options for wide receiver Allen Hurns, offensive lineman Joe Looney and linebacker Joe Thomas were exercised, and exclusive rights free-agent defensive tackle Daniel Ross was signed to a one-year deal, the team announced Friday.
Hurns, Looney and Thomas all were signed to two-year deals last offseason with option clauses after one year.
Friday’s moves come one day after the Cowboys re-signed safety Darian Thompson and linebacker Justin March-Lillard, core special teams players, to one-year deals.
More free agent talk. Who could the Cowboys target — other than ET — at the safety position?
Listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, George Iloka is the prototype -- in terms of size -- for the strong safety position on the Cowboys’ defense made famous by Kam Chancellor with the Seattle Seahawks.
Iloka spent the 2018 season with the Minnesota Vikings after becoming a salary cap casualty of the Cincinnati Bengals in August 2018. Though he performed well at times, Iloka was not a great fit in Mike Zimmer’s defense, where he was forced to play a large percentage of snaps in Cover 2 and Cover 4.
Given his skill set, Iloka would be a much better fit in the Cowboys’ scheme -- where they play mostly Cover 1 and Cover 3 -- as a strong safety, playing a healthy portion of snaps around the box.
Marx breaks down how the Cowboys’ salary cap looks as of early March.
Currently, 11 of the 20 highest-paid players on Dallas’ roster are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the 2019 season. The list includes some of the top talent on the team: DE DeMarcus Lawrence, QB Dak Prescott, WR Amari Cooper and LB Sean Lee. The Cowboys hold a fifth-year option on RB Ezekiel Elliott that, if exercised, would make him a free agent after the 2020 season.
Lawrence, Prescott, Cooper and Elliott are in line for huge paydays, and the Cowboys have said they’ve budgeted accordingly in order to retain all of their star players. That means it’s likely some of their other key contributors will be wearing different uniforms soon.
How will Jerry Jones and Co. prioritize the budget? What about signing a free agent such as safety Earl Thomas, who’s been flirting with Dallas for more than a year? A look at the Cowboys’ key salary cap numbers offers some insight into the decisions to be made:
Miller gives the latest rumors surrounding the draft. He notes that the Cowboys are leaning towards the defensive side of the ball with their second-round selection, and Miller adds that the Cowboys are interested in running back Tevin Coleman.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys don’t have a first-round pick, but in Round 2 they could go after an interior defensive lineman or safety, according to sources within the team’s scouting staff. They have also been making calls about running backs, including free agent Tevin Coleman.
Kelly does an excellent job of detailing each kind of receiver in the 2019 draft class.
“SLOT” AND “BIG SLOT” RECEIVER
One recent evolution seen in the NFL is that of the “slot” receiver. It’s almost as if two roles now occupy the slot, the traditional role and the “Big” slot.
Generally, slot receivers will operate with a free release. Because they have either side of the field to work with and are constantly going in motion, nickel corners or overhang defenders won’t press the slot receiver as often as the wide receivers on the outside. Slot receivers are relied on the change direction quickly, taking advantage of the natural spaces in the defense. They’re expected to find holes in zone coverages between linebackers and safeties, a completely different challenge than beating cornerbacks in man coverage. In today’s NFL, think of players such as Cole Beasley.
The “big” slot is a recent trend that has manifested itself from the natural mismatches that tight ends usually benefit from. Receivers who are “too fast for linebackers, but too big for safeties” can take advantage of a lot of different man or zone coverage looks that are thrown their way because of natural athletic gifts. That position has evolved, and now players such as JuJu Smith-Schuster have become stars in that role. The position acts as a hybrid between slot receiver, tight end and Z receiver, so their skill set needs to be unique enough to beat a whole variety of defenders and coverages.
Could OBJ be traded outside the NFC East?
4. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
Last offseason, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the New York Giants were willing to listen to trade offers for star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. In February, NBC Sports’ Chris Simms reported the Giants nearly traded him this past season, and the New England Patriots were the “most aggressive” in pursuing him.
The 26-year-old has already made three Pro Bowls and has four seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards. If the Oakland Raiders could fetch a first-round pick for Amari Cooper, who hasn’t been nearly as good as Beckham, the Giants’ asking price is likely astronomical.
If the Giants were to move Beckham, look for them to get a first-round pick and more from another team.
DeMarcus Ware is doing a very good thing for people who have suffered tragedy in his home state of Alabama. A tornado ripped through the state last weekend.
Former NFL Super Bowl champion DeMarcus Ware has committed $10,000 to pay for grave markers for all 23 victims of Sunday’s deadly tornado in Beauregard.
Born and raised in Lee County, the nine-time Pro Bowler said he felt a need to help his community in any way possible following the deadly tornado.
“When I heard the news, I didn’t know where to start, I just knew I had to do something,” he was quoted as saying in a news release. “We are coming up on ‘DeMarcus Ware Day’ (April 19) in the state of Alabama and when that proclamation was declared three years ago, I made a vow to always do my part to protect ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’ All things considered, this donation is small in comparison to the devastating feeling of burying a loved one. I look forward to making an even bigger impact in the weeks to come as relief needs continue to be assessed.”