Let me make sure you aren’t here looking for something that you will not find. This is not about detailed breakdowns of the recent contracts the Dallas Cowboys have completed with Ezekiel Elliott, La’el Collins, and Jaylon Smith. There is no deep dive into cap space, what the Cowboys have left, or how they should use it. It won’t speculate on whether Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, or someone else will be next to get a new deal, or when. That’s not what this is about.
This is an argument that media and fans alike are worried about all the wrong things. We fret over dead money and guaranteed dollars, despite several years now of evidence that the Cowboys have got this figured out. Or, to use something from an old colleague:
The Salary Cap is largely just a tool for NFL teams to use as an excuse to their fans and players for why they make decisions to release players or not pursue all options to improve their team...— Joey Ickes (@JoeyIckes) January 26, 2018
If a team wants a player there are a plethora of paths to making it happen...
By this point, we need to realize that when it comes to those paths, Jerry and Stephen Jones are the Google Maps of the NFL.
And us? We are a couple of short-sighted kids strewing bread crumbs in a woods filled with starving birds. Even if we can figure out how these arcane contracts are structured (and there are some who are rather good at that), we have no idea how the team prioritizes and uses one deal to assist in getting to another.
The perfect example of that was the Collins deal that broke literally hours before Elliott and his team returned to Dallas to get the final details ironed out on their own extension. No one had an inkling that was even in the works, or at least I can find no one who said a thing about it beforehand or has since claimed they knew about it. The Smith one had been speculated on by a few insightful people, but Collins was a total surprise. As a matter of fact, most of the “informed” analysts and reporters thought that he was certain to leave in free agency next year. There was no way the team could afford him with the pending deals for Elliott, Prescott, and Cooper. Or so it was stated, often as established fact rather than the uninformed opinion it actually was. (Disclaimer: I was just as convinced that Collins’ big payday was going to come from another team.)
Instead, the Cowboys not only got a very team-friendly deal done that secures Collins’ financial future and likely makes him a Cowboy for life, they structured it so that an extra $5.7 million in cap space was created for this year, according to reports. As some would say, Jerry and Stephen Jones are playing chess while some others are still trying to figure out checkers.
I know it won’t happen, but the truly rational thing to do about all this is to just quit worrying. It is of course almost impossible. During the Elliott holdout, we were bombarded with daily, often breathless reports about progress, lack thereof, the Cabo training regimen, and any sights of travel. It culminated with the media scrum when Elliott arrived back in Dallas. And this.
Now, after all is said and done, Elliott will be ready for the opening game against the New York Giants. Given his position and what we know about Kellen Moore’s offense, he is the player who least needed camp to get ready for the game. All that fretting and fussing accomplished nothing more than focusing the eyes of the NFL on the Cowboys. And not just the NFL. In an amazingly fortuitous and absolutely completely unplanned (pinky swear) coincidence, Jerry Jones was in New York on some financial business - so even Wall Street was lapping up the news of the Zeke extension.
.@dallascowboys owner Jerry Jones explains the $90 million contract extension with @EzekielElliott: “I’m $100 million lighter as of this morning. Zeke has been arguably our best player… he’s an incremental part to our success.” pic.twitter.com/Tj8yFTnwTM— CNBC (@CNBC) September 4, 2019
We are all just sources of revenue, and Jerry is telling us how best to give our money to him.
Our concerns are totally misplaced. Jerry and Stephen have it all under control, and while they still have to do some hard-nosed negotiating and convoluted contract structuring to satisfy the demands of the cap, they always seem to find a way to get it done. It took them a while to figure it all out. Just a few years ago, the story for several offseasons was how the Cowboys were continuously “kicking the can down the road” with continuous restructuring of contacts to get under the salary cap and would one day have to pay the price.
This is when that price was supposed to be paid. The Cowboys have plenty of cap space this year, a bunch still in reserve for next season, and a new CBA that will more likely than not raise the cap and loosen restrictions. I don’t see any can, do you?
All that contract stuff is not really our business. It’s someone else’s money, and just as in life in general, concerning yourself with someone else’s bank account leads to no good things. Instead, focus on what’s really important: What kind of roster are the Cowboys building with this cap chicanery?
Elliott has been the center of a heated debate about just how valuable he is to the team. Running back is not what it once was as the NFL moves more and more to a passing league. But no matter how you feel about that discussion, Elliott is one of the best backs in the game. There are valid arguments to be made that he is the absolute number one. And if you are going to run the ball, it seems a plus to have him as the guy who gets most of the carries.
Collins obviously does not get the coverage that Elliott does, but his extension is not only quite important, it may be more so. Right tackle is becoming more crucial as defenses no longer are solely sending their best pass rusher against the left tackle. Currently, the top edge defender for a team is just as likely to line up against the RT. Collins really turned his game around once Marc Colombo replaced Paul Alexander as the offensive line coach last season. Now he is locked in for years. And he can be a true force run blocking as well.
Smith is another instance of working to benefit in both the short term and long run. He is still young, is just now reaching his peak after recovering from his devastating injury, and his extension looks like a bargain now, and just like the others, will be even better in the future.
From top to bottom, on both sides of the line, this is the best Cowboys roster in recent memory. Perhaps in two and a half decades. That is what we need to pay attention to. The significance of all these contracts is not dollars and cents, or cap space. It is whether they help assemble the best Dallas team possible. If this is at all close to what we think it is, this could well be a team playing deep into January.
That’s what matters. Nothing else.