It’s not called the “Not For Long” league for nothing. The NFL is a brutal game that takes an inevitable toll on its players, and the bulk of its rosters are composed of athletes in their early 20s. Many will only see a handful of years before being forced out of the game by injuries, the erosion of skills, and the cost-effectiveness of replacing them with players still on those relatively cheap rookie deals. The Dallas Cowboys are no exception. But a core of senior leaders can be a valuable thing, bringing years of savvy and locker room gravitas.
Our Michael Sisemore recently took a look at how Dallas has built a roster that offers promise for success this season, and for more to follow. That got me to wondering about the older players on their roster. Here are the nineteen current Cowboys who have more than five years in the league, which puts them into that senior category, and past their rookie deals.
Cowboys’ “senior” players
|Cameron Fleming||6||26||Has an option year for 2020|
|Travis Frederick||6||28||Sat out last season with GBS; signed through 2023|
|Allen Hurns||6||27||In final year of contract; returning from injury|
|DeMarcus Lawrence||6||27||Signed through 2023|
|Zack Martin||6||28||Signed through 2024|
|Xavier S'ua-Filo||6||28||In final year of contract; facing challenge for roster spot|
|Tavon Austin||7||29||In final year of contract; missed part of last season due to injury|
|Jeff Heath||7||28||In final year of contract|
|Joe Looney||7||28||In final year of contract|
|Jamize Olawale||7||30||Team options in 2020 and 2021|
|Tyrone Crawford||8||29||Signed through 2020|
|George Iloka||8||29||One year contract|
|Chris Jones||8||29||Signed through 2021|
|Randall Cobb||9||28||One year contract|
|Robert Quinn||9||29||One year contract|
|Tyron Smith||9||28||Signed through 2023|
|Sean Lee||10||32||In final year of contract|
|L.P. Ladouceur||15||38||One year contract|
|Jason Witten||15||37||One year contract|
There are only four of the older players who have long contracts remaining, Lawrence and the trio of All-Pro offensive linemen. Offensive line players are among the longest lasting positions in the league, so they represent pretty good investments - especially as contracts continue to inflate. The Cowboys have them all locked up at increasingly attractive rates, and with the lack of a need to restructure them for cap space they have an excellent chance of getting the maximum utility out of all three. Lawrence also plays a position where we often see good longevity, and his talent, like that of the blockers, is unquestioned.
There are only two other players that are signed past this season, Jones and Crawford. Jones has two years remaining after this season, while Crawford has just 2020 left on his deal.
The three real graybeards are of course Lee, Witten, and Ladouceur, who are the only three members of the roster over 30. It may come as a surprise to see that the long snapper is actually the oldest guy on the team - and he has never missed a snap in those fourteen seasons. But is is also notable that all three are playing on one-year deals. The team is not locked into anything with them.
And that is a theme that recurs with many of the other names here. It is something the free agent signings this year all have in common - they were brought in on one-year deals, which of course gives the team all the control. And the rest of the older players are either in the last year of their contracts, or in the case of Olawale and Fleming, the team has an option to bring them back or not.
This is a far cry from past years, and shows that the senior management has learned some hard lessons. They are no longer locking up free agents with expensive, multi-year deals. They reserve those for their own, proven players. We are going to see some long-term, lucrative contracts with players like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and Byron Jones in the near term, and you can now add Jaylon Smith, who has reportedly been contacted about preliminary work towards a new deal. But those are all key talents for the team, and well worth some investment.
As Michael Sisemore noted in his article, the Cowboys have done a truly superb job of building the roster without handcuffing themselves unnecessarily. They have a good group of experienced players, including starters, key backups, and specialists, but with the exceptions noted above, they have not tied themselves to them for the long term. It will allow them to keep young, which you have to do now, while still having the needed seasoned vets around the locker room.