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Stephen Jones says Cowboys have a “distribution dilemma,” but which players can they live without?

The Cowboys only have so much money to go around.

Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Thanks to some brilliant drafting in recent years, the Dallas Cowboys have a great young football team. And with so many talented players on the roster, the front office faces some tough decisions in terms of which players they choose to retain, and which players they’ll allow to hit the free agent market.

Recently, Stephen Jones visited with the boys on 105.3 The Fan and discussed some good contract talk, and he mentioned the Cowboys have a “distribution dilemma” when it comes to allocating funds. Any money that goes to one player is less money to go to another, and when they’re dealing with a salary cap, the team must be diligent in how they proceed.

Who gets signed and who doesn’t may come down to how valuable that player is to the team. What would the position group look like without them? Today, we take a look at six players who are looking for extensions and examine just how important they are to the team.

Dak Prescott

Contract situation: One year left on rookie deal

Despite the team’s track record with him behind center, the Cowboys young quarterback is scrutinized quite a bit. His pocket awareness, his footwork, his ability to read his progressions, and his tendency to check down too much - are some of the knocks against him that have caused him problems in the past. The offense finished 22nd in scoring last year, and Prescott contributed to that.

The good news for Cowboys fans is that all those things are fixable. But regardless of where he’s at in his development, the front office has to push forward with Dak as their quarterback. What are their other options? Their backups are not good enough to lead this offense. There is no one out there worth spending money on that would be a better option than Dak. And if the team has to look to the draft, that’s an investment that would take time to materialize, even if the team hit on one, which is another challenge in itself.

Bottom line is Dak is a good player and super important to this team. The team must sign him to an extension.

Can the Cowboys live without him: No

Ezekiel Elliott

Contract situation: Two years left on his deal thanks to his fifth-year option

Regardless of what you think about the value of running backs, Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best players in the league. We can split hairs over whether it’s him or Saquon Barkley as to who is the best, but either way you cut it - both are outstanding. The Cowboys rely on a strong rushing attack, and let’s face it - when Zeke plays a full season, the Cowboys go to the playoffs.

But if for some reason the Cowboys were without his services, how good would they be? In a matter of just a few months, the team has quickly assembled a very solid running back committee that looks pretty good. Tony Pollard is a dynamic running back that looks great so far. If training camp is any indication, Kellen Moore plans to use him quite a bit and that sure makes things interesting at the running back position. Of course, Pollard was brought in to be an addition to Zeke, not a replacement, so it could be a different story if they leaned on Pollard too much. But that is where Alfred Morris comes in. The veteran free agent is still a very good option to be a two-down back. He’s got a nose for the creases and can grind out those dirty yards. Even seventh-round pick Mike Weber is having a good camp. He can do a lot of different things as well. Between these three, the Cowboys still have a nice running back group should Elliott not show up.

Cowboys legend and now Hall of Famer, Gil Brandt had this to say about Pollard:

But just because these guys are nice options, they’re not Zeke. As Stephen Jones said, Zeke is one of those “huge difference makers.” While the Cowboys running game may be able to do well without Elliott, it’s certainly not optimal for a Super Bowl run.

Can the Cowboys live without him: Yes, but it’s not ideal.

Amari Cooper

Contract situation: One year left on his rookie deal thanks to his fifth-year option

Amari Cooper showed his value quickly as the front office saw a nice upgrade once he was added to the team. His route-running skills and big play ability were a jolt to this offense that made the front office look like geniuses after they traded a first-round draft pick to get him. There have been really no questions about what he means to this team or any worry about what he’s going to mean going forward. Cooper was worth a first and he’s going to get paid.

Should something fluky happen to where the team doesn’t have him, this offense takes a big hit. Michael Gallup is having a great camp, but he’s not they type of receiver that Cooper is. Randall Cobb is a nice piece to the group, but that’s all he is - just a piece. If the team didn’t have Cooper around, the offense would find themselves in the same boat they were in at the beginning of last season, and that was no fun.

Can the Cowboys live without him: No

Byron Jones

Contract situation: One year left on his rookie deal thanks to his fifth-year option

The Cowboys loved the flexibility that Byron Jones had coming out of college, but unfortunately the back-and-forth between cornerback and safety caused him to not find his happy place until last season. The team moved him to cornerback for a full season and the young defender excelled, having an All-Pro season. Now, the team sits in a precarious situation wondering if this one productive season is sustainable. Do they have a shutdown corner worth paying top dollar for?

The answer may seem obvious, but then when you look around - the team suddenly is loaded with some really good corners on the team. Chidobe Awuzie is playing well, Anthony Brown is playing well, and Jourdan Lewis is also playing well. Even rookie Mike Jackson and last year’s UDFA Donovan Olumba have legit shots to make the team. Is this attributed to the Kris Richard effect?

Despite Jones’ absence in camp, the corners have been doing an outstanding job making it difficult on the offense. It wouldn’t be shocking if by the end of the upcoming season that Jones was no longer viewed as the top corner on the team. What if Awuzie does in year three what Jones did in year four? What if Brown is the more cap-friendly corner to extend?There are still a lot questions that need answered before throwing top CB money at Jones.

Can the Cowboys live without him: Maybe so

La’el Collins

Contract situation: One year left on his current deal

The Cowboys were the benefactors when everyone chose to stay away from La’el Collins in the draft after he was interviewed by the police about the shooting death of his former girlfriend. Prior to this news, Collins was a sure-fire first-round prospect, so when the Cowboys were able to sign him as a priority free agent, it turned out to be a big steal for them.

Collins has not lived up to his original projected draft spot, but he’s been a solid fixture along the Cowboys offensive line. He started inside at guard, but has held down the right tackle spot over the last two seasons. While it would be nice to keep him, the team isn’t likely to spend additional cap space on their offensive line.

Instead, the Cowboys should be able to replace him with some of their young depth. Connor Williams may venture out to right tackle next season as they now have rookie Connor McGovern waiting in the wings at guard. Undrafted free agent Mitch Hyatt is another interesting prospect that could be in the mix for the future. Whatever they choose, the Cowboys have options.

Can the Cowboys live without him: Yes

Maliek Collins

Contract situation: One year left on his rookie deal

Similar to the other Collins, most people believe that he is playing his final season in a Cowboys uniform. After a promising rookie season that saw him record five sacks, the defensive tackle has sort of tapered off a bit. Part of it is attributed to moving around some as the team has used him to play the 1-tech position at times. And part of it is nagging foot injuries that finally carried over into the regular season last year as he missed three games.

It’s easy to see him as the forgotten guy on the defensive line as this mild-mannered Hot Boy just quietly goes about his business, but he’s been making some noise recently. Collins is arguably having one of the best camps of anyone this year as he is demonstrating how disruptive he can be at full health. It also helps that the team has found their nose tackle in Antwaun Woods, allowing Collins to play at his more natural position, the 3-tech. He’s not messing around.

It’s possible Collins is a more valuable piece to the defense than some think and it might be wise to re-up his contract. Yes, the team just drafted Trysten Hill to be their under tackle of the future, but he’s a big wild card at this point. Collins is just 24 years old and still has room to grow. The Cowboys might want to strongly considering hanging on to him.

Can the Cowboys live without him: Unknown

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