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Follow the money: Four Day 2 candidates that the Cowboys can use to replace expiring contracts

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It’s always good to look ahead to the future.

Iowa State v TCU Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

There are a lot of different things to look at when it comes to trying to guess what players the Dallas Cowboys might select in this week’s NFL Draft. If you want to get inside the heads of the war room, then it’s a great idea to instill in your mind the Cowboys 10 draft commandments, courtesy of BTB Alum, K.D. Drummond. One of the things you’ll find on this stony tablet of draft guidelines is how the Cowboys have a tendency to follow the money when it comes to making selections. It goes against the whole “win-now” philosophy and is more inclined to think ahead to future contracts that are getting close to expire.

Last year, we did a similar piece following this line of logic and two of the five prospects mentioned, Leighton Vander Esch and Connor Williams, ended up being the team’s top two picks of the draft. There’s definitely a method to this madness so it’s worth taking a look at. Let’s examine some of the team’s most costly cap expenditures and determine if it would make sense to get ahead of things and draft their replacement.

Tyrone Crawford

2019 cap hit: $10.1 million

Years left on deal: 2

Age: 29

Crawford’s name is always a popular one to come up when it comes to possible cap casualties. The odd thing was that this topic was going on during a time when his dead money hit was astronautical. Ironically, now that it’s much lower, such talk has subsided. Maybe that’s because people are coming around to the idea that Crawford is an important piece to this defensive line, despite the inflated extension he received back in 2015. Needless to say, the Cowboys can save roughly $8 million in cap space by releasing him, whether it’s this year or next. Or they could just let him play it out and hit free agency in 2020.

Regardless of what happens, the Cowboys will need bodies at defensive tackle and they will need them real soon. Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and recently signed Christian Covington will all be free agents next season. Dallas needs to come away with a viable interior defensive lineman, so who should they look at?

Possible replacement:

Technically, Collier is a defensive end, but just like Crawford - he’s a hybrid who can play both inside and out. He’s got a good first step and has active hands to eradicate blockers. He plays with good fundamentals and a high motor. Collier has a little bit of nasty to him and loves to exploit weaknesses. He’s not a standout athlete so he’s ceiling is a little lower and that does drown out the excitement a little, but the Cowboys don’t need to get cute here. Collier is a guy who can provide quality reps not only defending the run, but as a sound pass rusher as well.

La’el Collins

2019 cap hit: $9.9 million

Years left on deal: 1

Age: 26

The Cowboys are sitting in good shape at the tackle position after re-signing swing tackle Cameron Fleming to two more years. Even if La’el Collins leaves in free agency next year, the Cowboys could move Fleming over to right tackle. While this is a solid fallback plan, the team should be looking ahead to the future to fill out their offensive line depth. Tyron Smith is still under contract for a while, but he has a lot of mileage and you can pretty much set your watch to the idea that he’ll miss three games during the season. If for some reason a starting caliber tackle falls in this draft, they need to be ready to pounce. That may not be what fans want to hear as it doesn’t optimize the strength of the 2019 squad, but collecting quality talent is job that never ends.

Possible replacement:

While a late-round developmental guy is more my cup of tea right now, you can’t overlook what Scharping would offer. He’s NFL ready right now with great fundamentals. He has experience on both sides of the line. His hands are strong and shows good coordination with his feet. Scharping is also a very smart player with high character. He’s just got all the traits this team looks for in a player and even though tackle is not a pressing need, it’s never a bad idea to have extra talent at the position. He’s a guy who could step in and be the eventual successor of Collins at a low cap cost.

Byron Jones

2019 cap hit: $6.3

Years left on deal: 1

Age: 26

It’s unclear what the future holds for the Cowboys new All-Pro cornerback. On one hand, the team got a bargain by exercising his fifth year option last offseason while he qualified as a safety. If he stacks another year on top of what he did last season, that’s just great value for the Cowboys. But on the other hand, his late emergence as a top caliber corner means the team will have a tough decision to make. With so many young stars coming up on second contracts, will Jones will included with them? The Cowboy may decide to take a less expensive route and that would involve reloading through the draft. With Anthony Brown’s contract also up after the season, the team needs to add more depth at the cornerback position.

Possible replacement:

It’s very puzzling that the Cowboys didn’t bring more corners in for pre-draft visits. With so many quality players available on Day 2, you’d think there would be a handful of players brought in. They did give us a taste of what they’re looking for with Baylor’s Derrek Thomas being an official visitor, but he’s extremely raw. He’s also got good size, speed, and very athletic. Should the team roll with a similar type player who is far more seasoned, they could go after Central Michigan’s Sean Bunting.

Bunting has great length and is physical at the point of attack capable of hindering the path of the receiver. He’s extremely competitive who will fight through the whistle. Not only does he posses the physical makeup Kris Richard looks for in a corner, but he changes direction well and has the athletic ability to explode to the ball. Again, addressing this position isn’t the most optimal for the 2019 group, but don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. Just do it collect great players.

Ezekiel Elliott

2019 cap hit: $7.9 million

Years left on deal: 2

Age: 24

Technically, Ezekiel Elliott has one year left on his deal, but let’s be honest - they said picking up his fifth-year option is simply a formality which is putting him on the books for two more seasons. Then what? Well, some would tell you that Elliott’s worth his weight in gold and making him the top paid running back is only reasonable. But then there are others who will argue that spending money on a position that has the highest turnover of NFL-ready players doesn’t make much sense. Honestly, both sides make sense. And while I’m on “Team Zeke” and don’t think he stands any shot of getting away, it’s important to be open to all possibilities.

Possible replacement:

Let’s do a little math here. Damien Harris was one of three running backs the team brought in for a pre-draft visit. Harris is projected to go sometime on Day 2, possibly as early as the second round. The Alabama running back is a well-rounded player who can handle whatever is asked of him. He’s not ultra athletic, which is why he could be available, but he can run, catch, and pass protect very well. If something happened to Zeke, Harris is good enough to keep the ground attack going. So, that begs the question - how much different would the team be with Harris as the lead back? It may not be the Cowboys intent to replace Elliott, but there is a long list of recent stars whose exit we didn’t see coming. If the Cowboys are truly about drafting pure and Harris is still on available at 90, you’d have to believe he’d be in the mix as a possible candidate. Having another talented running back on the roster on a cheap four-year deal would certainly give the front office something to think about once Zeke’s contract is up.