This offseason has produced endless conversations about what players the Dallas Cowboys should extend. With several players nearing the end of their contracts, the front office will have some difficult decisions. The team isn’t in the business of letting great players get away, and they demonstrated that by making DeMarcus Lawrence the highest paid player in Cowboys history. Retaining their top talent is priority one, but the expression, “you can’t pay everyone” surfaces quite a bit.
While there is truth to that statement, what the Cowboys can do is pay everyone they want to pay. If a player like DeMarco Murray, Ron Leary, Anthony Hitchens, or Cole Beasley isn’t re-signed it’s because the front office doesn’t feel they are worth the money they got in free agency. If they did, they would still be Cowboys.
The team’s ability to lay off of overpaying for players is one of the reasons they’ve done a complete 180 in terms of cap space. The front office avoids overspending in free agency on a regular basis and all this financial responsibility has set them up nicely for the future. That’s gotta feel good.
But not everyone the Cowboys have under contract are players the team is getting a good return on their investment. And while they’ve done a good job extricating several bad contracts, some still linger around. In some cases, the team has had to just bite the bullet because of the lack of other options on the roster, but things are a little different now. The team has great depth.
An early look at the players fighting for roster spots has about 60 players who could conceivably make the team.
There are likely other names not listed here that will find their way on the final roster come September. When you start cutting down the players, it’s easy to see that it’s going to eventually cut deep enough where several good players are not going to make the team. Deciding who’s going to be cut is going to be difficult.
Some of these players are set in stone. The star players and the young, premium draft investments who are expected to be a part of their future - they’re not going anywhere. But what about some of the more expensive veterans who will be sharing reps? Just how important are these players? If the team has enough depth at a certain position to where they are not logging a lot of snaps, does it really make sense to take on a more expensive cap hit? For example - Tyrone Crawford, Sean Lee, Allen Hurns, Jason Witten can combine for a total savings of $30.25 million.
Clearly, the Cowboys aren’t going to cut all these players, and they may end up not cutting any of them, but man - that’s a lot of extra cash. They are all ‘right-kind-of-guys’ in their finest form, but they will not come close to contributing enough to warrant that cost. Let’s examine each player to see what makes the most sense.
For years Crawford has been one of the team’s most underrated players. He gets a lot of criticism for not producing at a level indicative of his contract, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a strong contributor. Crawford has battled injuries, yet still finds his way on the field, proving to be very reliable. Even more helpful is his ability to play inside and out, allowing the team to fill voids along the defensive line over the years.
While the Cowboys’ needs at certain spots on the defensive line has always put Crawford in high demand, the gradual increase in depth now makes him less valuable. He’s not starting on the edge over Robert Quinn. The team also has a slew of youngsters they’d like to get some reps eventually. And who knows what’s going to happen this year with Gregory? It’s very possible that Crawford isn’t going to see much action at defensive end this season.
So, just move him inside, right? Except the team now has both Maliek Collins and rookie Trysten Hill vying for reps at the 3-tech spot. How’s that going to work? And it’s not like they can just move Collins to 1-tech to open up more reps because Antwaun Woods and new free agent Christian Covington are already fighting for snaps there.
The defensive line is a crowded group. Crawford is certainly up there on the depth chart, but the guys right below him aren’t far behind. In fact, it’s up for debate as to how the reps should be distributed. His reps could see a notable dip which isn’t what you’d want to see from one of the higher-paid players on the team. Would it be financially feasible to continue to shell out that kind of cash for a reduced workload? Here is a breakdown of his contract situation (numbers courtesy of spotrac.com):
The team could save a total of $15 million if they were to release him. Most people would want to keep Crawford on this team for depth, but when you think about how much better use the team could get from all that money, it makes you wonder just how valuable Crawford is to the team.
Bottom line: Crawford is not going anywhere, and keeping him around allows them the luxury of revisiting the defensive line situation a year from now. With so much uncertainty going on with this group, the team can’t risk weakening an area they’ve worked too hard to build up.
Last week, we discussed how a deep wide receiving group could push Hurns off the roster. Looking at the roster above, there are seven receivers fighting for spots and that doesn’t even included undrafted free agents like Jon’Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton, who shouldn’t be written off as having no chance to make the team. Who really knows how this wide receiver group is going to shape out?
What we do know though is that Hurns is the second-highest cap hit of all the wide receivers. The team could save $5 million by cutting him, which puts him at a disadvantage when it comes time to round out this roster. When you look at all the depth within this position group, it’s hard enough to make the squad, but when you carry one of the biggest cap burdens - that makes it even worse.
But Hurns is here and he’ll have a chance to compete. Not only is he going to have to impress, it might take an injury to one of the guys ahead of him to secure a roster spot. And that’s not unimaginable as both Randall Cobb and Tavon Austin have trouble staying healthy. This could open the door just enough to keep Hurns in a Cowboys uniform for one more season.
Bottom line: It’s not looking good for him. He needs some things to work in his favor to avoid being a cap casualty come September.
Just yesterday, we examined how important Sean Lee is to the team. It’s tough to imagine how things will play out, but we gave it a try and came up with three possible scenarios for Lee next season. Ultimately, what he shows in camp has the most influence on how to proceed with him going forward. If he suffers some type of injury setback, which let’s face it - isn’t unrealistic, that could be a deal breaker because his only value to the team is what he can produce this upcoming season.
Lee unselfishly reworked his deal to go from a $10 million cap hit to $6 million, and that certainly makes a difference as he would’ve inevitably been a cap casualty had he not done that. For Lee, it’s not about the money. He’s always expressed how the Jones’ family has been very generous to him and he’s not lying. Lee has taken home over $42 million over his career so far, which seems pretty fair considering how much time he’s missed. For Lee, he just wants to be a part of the team and while a reduced cost helps his chances, there are no guarantees.
Bottom line: This is a wait and see situation. If he can stay healthy and flashes some of the old Lee, he’s a no-brainer keeper. But
if when he goes down, that’s when things get dicey.
Why is his name listed in this group? Who in their right mind would even consider playing without the legendary Jason Witten? When the Cowboys veteran tight end made the decision to return, most fans welcomed him back with open arms. Sure, he’s 37 and for a lot of football players - that’s old. Every year, he’s been projected to fizzle out as age gets the better of him, yet every year he keeps rolling along.
His numbers have shown a decline as his targets, receptions, and yards have all dropped since 2015. But so have his expectations. For Witten, it’s not about volume numbers to help you win your fantasy league, but rather his well-timed, chain-moving catches that help his team. He’s been a dependable target for Dak Prescott since the young quarterback entered the league. His precision route-running and attention to detail will help mask the unimpressive athletic ability that he never had in the first place. He’s still 6’6” and 260 lbs. as that hasn’t changed. He’s extremely durable as hasn’t missed a game since The Lord of the Rings won best picture back in 2004. And he’s still clever. In fact, that part gets better with age.
The Cowboys will tell you that he’ll see a reduction in workload and fans are hoping that holds true. Many of us want to see Blake Jarwin take off and Dalton Schultz build on a solid rookie season. Let the young guys get their chance, with a little Witten sprinkled in here and there. The problem is - unless the time off slows him down, Witten’s going to keep doing Witten things, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.
Bottom line: Of this group, not only does cutting Witten save the Cowboys the least amount of money, but he’ll probably log the most playing time as well. Even if he does slow down, that’s still good value. Witten stays.
Can you see the Cowboys moving on from any of these players?