When you have a season like the Dallas Cowboys are having, it usually leads to a lot of offseason moves and changes. It is pretty certain that is exactly what is coming. Some things, like a shakeup of the defensive coaching staff, just seem obvious. But what are some things the team might do that would be a bit shocking, or at least surprising? Here are three. Please note that this is not saying these are going to happen, just looking at how some boldness might change the course of the franchise.
Cut Jaylon Smith
This may not be as much of a stretch as the rest, since there are others who have floated this idea. His play has not been great this season. At times, “mystifying” is very applicable. It’s hard to know what is going on with him; he is no longer just having poor results individually, he has reached the point of dragging down the players around him on the field. He is a great individual and seems to be a leader in the locker room, but he is certainly not carrying his part of the load. It is time for the team to admit it and move on.
However, most people think it is not feasible due to his contract. But it turns out that it not only is something that the team could manage, it would be very valuable in cap management, at least according to the figures at Over the Cap. If the Cowboys designated Smith a post-June 1 cut, then he would only create a dead money hit of $2.6 million this year - and providing the actual cut was before March 17, when his salary would fully guarantee, the Cowboys would gain $7.2 million in cap space. His big contract turned out to have a fairly low guaranteed amount, which makes it much easier to escape. The team might even be able to swing some kind of trade for him if they can find someone who is willing to pay him, or if they could work out a renegotiated contract. But that is pretty unlikely, so an outright release is just the most logical way.
Dallas has for years had a problem with hanging onto players too long. It would be a real signal that they were being more aggressive in correcting their roster issues if they went ahead and moved on from Smith. That is also why there is no point in trying to redo his contract, because there just is no argument to be made for keeping him on the field. It would leave a hole to fill, of course, but there are ways to go about that. Like the next.
Trade out of the first round entirely
It seems fated that Dallas will have a high draft slot, with somewhere in the top five certainly not out of the question. Many people are pleading for the team to trade back, given that there is not a good match between what the Cowboys need and the talent available in the upper part of the first round.
Well, let’s take that a step farther and just get out of the first round entirely. Get as many picks in the second round and on as possible, with an obvious preference to be higher than lower. And no, this is not an attempt to redo the infamous “special teams draft” of 2009 that hobbled the team for years. This is about there just not being anyone in the first round that really moves the needle, combined with the needs that the Cowboys have.
With the current state of the roster, the positions that really jump out are defensive tackle, linebacker (see the first move listed), and safety. On offense, they already have good players, many of whom are set to return from injury. The one place they might want to look on that side of the ball is for an insurance running back. Cutting Ezekiel Elliott was another move I contemplated, but his contract is loaded with a ton more guaranteed money and he is just not a feasible cut or trade right now. Otherwise, any offensive players taken would be for depth, at least initially, and that is not worth a first-rounder.
On defense, they have a lot of players at defensive end, so many that they are basically just keeping Bradlee Anae on the shelf as emergency depth. Cornerback is one position that justifies first-round capital, but if Trevon Diggs comes back from his injury to become the player they hope for, that might not be a fully effective use.
As a general rule of thumb, defensive tackles, off-ball linebackers, and safeties are not good values to spend a first-round pick on. So rather than do something like that, the Cowboys should trade out of day one completely, and pick up multiple day two picks. Then they can carpet bomb those lower value positions. The staff has been fairly good at finding value beyond the first round, especially last year. Go for quantity in order to wind up with quality at the end of the day. Sometimes the draft is really a numbers game.
Oh, and did I mention the staff?
Put GM Jerry out to pasture
Some proposals are just a bit out of the normal range of expectations. Others venture into the far-fetched. Then there’s this one, which is generally seen as falling into the “when they pry it out of his cold dead fingers” category.
Except I would argue that it really isn’t. Jerry Jones, who is 78, has been sliding more and more into an oversight role, with son Stephen, scouting maven Will McClay, and the head coach handling almost all the day to day decisions. This is not taking him completely out of the game, either, because he is still the owner, and he still has lots of meetings and stuff to handle in that role.
It just is time to get him completely out of the personnel business, from the draft to contract negotiations. No more paying people for their past services. No more first round running backs. No more talking to every mic . . .
OK, that last is clearly a wild and totally unattainable fantasy. Just create a situation where he talks about something else. Getting him to focus more on the continued building of the brand and lording the value of his franchise over the other owners. Make it clear he is not really involved in the roster.
And while we are at it, let’s redefine the roles of the rest of top management. The shape of the roster should be all on Mike McCarthy. To use an old metaphor, he should consult with his coordinators and assistants, then draw up the grocery list. No second guessing allowed. He has to find a way to win with the players, so he needs to have control over who those players are, definitely including which of their own free agents the team should prioritize. That also extends to who they aren’t, with full authority to bench, and by far the biggest voice in who has to be released or, if possible, traded.
McClay then becomes the shopper, taking that list and figuring out how to fill it with the resources available. The draft has been his best tool, and that should continue. As for free agency, he probably needs more of a voice in how to spend whatever cap space the team has. That would be more useful after 2021, when the cap is expected to contract. But now that huge new deals seem to be on the horizon for the rights to broadcast or stream the games, this should become more relevant over time.
That leaves Stephen Jones to handle the pocketbook. He needs to focus on working out the deals, and do them in the order of priority he gets from McCarthy and McClay. This year, that means stop dragging out the Dak Prescott deal. Get it done, unless Prescott’s agent just refuses to play ball. It may require having to figure out how to meet their demands, but forget team-friendly and tying up too much cap space in one position. Once they get that one done, then Jones can exercise his parsimonious side. Just acknowledge that Prescott is the one player they have to have, and behave accordingly.
Will any of these happen? Probably not. There are ample reasons to doubt all of them, but there are also valid arguments for each as well.