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Cowboys have a top-heavy roster, but does that really matter?

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The stars will get paid, but does having a top-heavy roster mean bad things?

Dallas Cowboys v Cleveland Browns

A while back, Stephen Jones made waves by discussing the idea of paying too high of a percentage of your salary cap to the quarterback, and that decreasing your chances of winning a Super Bowl. It was mostly written off as a negotiating tactic in the protracted struggle to get Dak Prescott signed to a new deal, but it also kicked-off a general discussion about his point. Here’s what Jones told Mike Florio:

As you know Mike the salary cap makes this a zero sum game for owners. This is not something where Jerry and myself are trying to save money so the Cowboys can make more money for the Jones family. We’re just trying to do our very best working with Mike, working with Will McClay, to really divide up the pie in the best way possible to win a Super Bowl. There’s all sorts of analytics out there that show if your quarterback takes up too big a percentage of your salary cap, that it decreases your chances to win. We’re just trying to figure out the right fit. No one wants to sign Dak to a longer-term deal more than Jerry and myself, we’re on the record time and time again of what we think of him as a leader. He has the it factor. He’s a fierce competitor. He wants to win as well. It’s just got to be right for him and right for us.

A corollary debate can be had about how top-heavy your roster is with respect to the salary cap. Recently, Todd Archer noted at which teams have the highest percentage of their salary cap dedicated to their Top-10 salaried players. In other words, just how much of that proverbial pie is set aside for 10 players. He found that the Cowboys had the fourth highest top-heavy roster in the NFL.

The Cowboys’ top 10 salary-cap figures for 2020 total $131.175 million. That’s the fourth-highest top-10 total in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Indianapolis Colts ($142.65 million), Kansas City Chiefs ($142.29 million) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($134.8 million) are Nos. 1 through 3.

Out of those other three, there are some interesting circumstances. For the Colts and the Bucs, they just added some very high-profile quarterbacks.

The Colts added quarterback Philip Rivers and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in the offseason. The Buccaneers added quarterback Tom Brady.

And the Chiefs? Well, they just happen to be the World Champs. When looking at their roster, the Top-10 are basically players they had on their run to the Lombardi last year, showing that having a top-heavy roster isn’t necessarily an impediment to winning it all.

Of course, the Chiefs had a couple of very important players still on relatively cheap deals. Patrick Mahomes was only their 10th-highest salaried player in terms of cap hit percentage, and in 2020 he actually drops to their 13th-highest. In 2019, Tyreek Hill was only their 17th-highest, but he jumps to second in 2020.

For the Cowboys in 2020, Dak Prescott, under the current franchise tag, would best first in salary cap percentage, taking up 14.43 percent. If the Cowboys sign him to a new deal that will come down, but would likely still sit somewhere near the top, depending on how front-loaded or back-loaded the contract turns out to be.

Obviously everybody would like to win a Super Bowl with a quarterback who is on a cheap rookie deal. It’s just not that easy to do. Mahomes is an exceptional talent.

Here are the Cowboys top 10 by cap hit.

Dak Prescott $31.5M
DeMarcus Lawrence $21.9M
Zack Martin $15M
Tyron Smith $13.5M
Amari Cooper $12M
Ezekiel Elliott $10.9M
Tyrone Crawford $9.1MJ
Jaylon Smith $7.7M
La’el Collins $4.9M
Sean Lee $4.5M