With plenty of players about to get big contract extensions, who on the Cowboys will be the biggest bargain?
Dallas Cowboys: ILB Leighton Vander Esch
Three Years Remaining on a Four-Year, $11.8 Million Deal
You could make a case that two-time league rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott has provided the Dallas Cowboys with their best value. However, he should be getting a hefty payday soon—a la Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell—so we’ll look at another young rising star instead.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, 23, was a revelation for the Cowboys as a rookie in 2018. He amassed 140 tackles, seven passes defended, two interceptions and made the Pro Bowl.
He should soon replace the oft-injured Sean Lee as the centerpiece of the Cowboys defense—if he hasn’t already—and he’s likely to be a legitimate defensive MVP candidate.
What’s all this costing Dallas? Not much. Vander Esch won’t top $3.8 million in annual cap dollars at any point in the next three seasons. If he doesn’t get his own extension like Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott are about to, the Cowboys can exercise the fifth-year option for another value year.
The Cowboys are built for Zeke, so it’s no surprise to see 21 land on this list.
But with great power comes great responsibility, and with Elliott, the Cowboys depend heavily on their star running back when it comes to the overall production of the entire offense.
NFL.com’s Adam Schein recently ranked the most indispensable offensive players in the NFL today. And on a list that excluded quarterbacks (due to their obvious involvement in a team’s success), it came as no surprise that Zeke made the countdown. He landed at No. 3 in the league.
”Zeke makes Dak. Never get it twisted,” Schein wrote. “Elliott makes the Cowboys a contender to go deep into the playoffs, as a game-changing back and the perfect complement to one of the best defenses in the league.”
”In today’s NFL, committee backfields are the norm. But Elliott’s a true bell cow, the motor that Dallas’ entire game plan revolves around.”
Doney discusses who is behind Ezekiel Elliott for the Cowboys.
Ezekiel Elliott has had more than 1,000 touches in his first three seasons. If he is going to have a long career, that number needs to start to come down, says Pat Doney. Who’s behind Zeke is training camp storyline No. 18
On the topic of Zeke, Danny explains why it’s not a bad (or expensive) idea to extend the Cowboys running back.
Scenario #3 - Extend him now (Six total years)
If Elliott is the ember that makes this fire burn, then what are they waiting for? Using Todd Gurley’s contract extension from last year as a baseline, and giving it the six percent annual increase - the team can extend Zeke somewhere in the range of four years for $61 million. This puts him at $15.2 annually, making him the highest paid running back in the league. Based on those figures alone, that’s a pricey investment, but that’s actually his 2021-2024 annual cost. When you tally up his total six-year price, it drops to an average cost of $13 million.
The great thing about this scenario is Elliott’s locked down for the next six years and the team will get his best years out of him before he hits the age of 30. And by the time Alvin Kamara or Saquon Barkley get their new deals, Zeke’s contract will be a good value.
If that still seems a bit too rich for your blood, here is a side-by-side breakdown of each scenario.
Keep in mind, if his contract is structured anything like Todd Gurley’s, the team will have a potential out in 2023 with a minimal dead money hit. That means the Cowboys get Zeke until he’s 27 with an option of two more years at what then will be a good price for a top running back.
Paving the way for Zeke is All-Pro guard Zack Martin. The former Notre Dame offensive linemen deserves every penny of his contract.
From Barnwell: “It would be hard to raise any serious reservations about the Cowboys giving Martin the largest contract for a guard in NFL history and one of the most significant position-independent deals in all of football. Martin has now made the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons, with three first-team All-Pro nods along the way. The list of guys who can say they’ve done that across their first five pro seasons is 14 players long. ... Martin is a 28-year-old and his peers all have gold [HOF] jackets. Of course he’s going to get paid.”
The Cowboys are no strangers to long-term contracts. They signed left tackle Tyron Smith to an eight-year extension in 2014. And with time running out on the rookie contracts of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper, more lengthy deals are surely on the way.
Sticking to the defensive side of the ball, what are some reasons for the Cowboys to move on from Byron Jones following the 2019 season?
2. Jourdan Lewis Waiting in the Wings
The Dallas Cowboys have some seriously good depth at the cornerback position. It’s so good, they have a potential starting corner who has a really hard time getting off the bench. With Byron Jones rehabbing his hip injury most of this offseason, third-year player Jourdan Lewis is getting the opportunity to show what he can do against the Dallas Cowboys first-team offense. And he’s been showing out.
As I wrote last week, Lewis has been impressing in OTA and minicamp practices. He’s been able to make life difficult for the Dallas Cowboys best two receivers; Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb.
There are many who analyze the Dallas Cowboys for a living who think that Jourdan Lewis could be the team’s best cover corner, but with the premium that Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard places on his corners having length and size, Lewis has been on the outside looking in.
Despite being the fourth corner in 2018, he found a way to make an impact when the Cowboys deployed him against Alvin Kamara.
If Lewis’ play this offseason continues into training camp and the preseason, the Dallas Cowboys will be forced to rethink their plans with regard to Byron Jones.
If the Cowboys come out on top of the NFC East, the receivers will be a big reason why.
Amari Cooper is the best receiver in the division. Three 1,000+ yards in four seasons. Three Pro Bow selections. One season saving appearance via blockbuster trade.
The 2018 Dallas Cowboys were dead in the water before acquiring Cooper for a first round pick mid season last year. After doing so, the Cowboys lost three games. The first one in Week 9, a bad December afternoon in Indianapolis and the last game of the year. That game was in January, thanks in large part to him.
After Cooper however, there are a lot of what if’s? What if Gallup takes the next step and becomes a bona fide number two? What if Randall Cobb can return back to form and have a health-filled season? Then there is Hurns and Austin. What, if anything, will they provide in the passing game in 2019?
The Cowboys receiving group have the potential to be the best in the division. I am just not sure they are in that spot right this moment.