Since entering the league, Tyrone Crawford has been one of the most sturdy fixtures along the defensive line of the Dallas Cowboys. That’s a bold statement considering the guy has dealt with all kinds of nagging injuries throughout his career, and a couple times it’s even completely derailed his season. But through all the health issues he’s battled, the veteran defensive lineman has provided the team great flexibility over the years. He’s also one of the team’s strongest leaders in the clubhouse, so clearly he’s someone the Cowboys need to keep around, right?
Well, we’ll get to that in a minute.
Crawford’s journey has been an unstable one to say the least as he’s been tossed around everywhere due to the ever-changing layout of the Cowboys defensive line. A third-round pick back in 2012, he started out on the edge on a 3-4 defense under then defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The following year the team changed out DC’s in favor of Monte Kiffin, but Crawford blew out his Achilles on the first day of training camp and was lost for the year. Upon returning, he was moved inside after Jason Hatcher left in free agency. It was then that he started to show promise at the 3-tech defensive tackle position; so much in fact that the Cowboys front office went with what they thought was a preemptive contract extension, signing him to a five-year, $45 million deal.
The ink hadn’t even dried yet on his contract before some fans were already bothered by such a hefty investment towards a guy who had yet to demonstrate that level of contribution. And ever since, Crawford’s had to wear the title of “most overpaid” player on the team. Making matters worse is that it took no time at all where the idea of him being a rising star, pass rushing 3-tech was squashed as once again he was moved around. This time he went back to the edge as defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Terrell McClain both performed well along the interior during the 2016 season, making Crawford’s contribution at defensive end more helpful to the defense as a whole.
The movement of Crawford has sorta been the norm now as the team assesses the needs of each position group along the defensive line and plugs him in accordingly. But this season presents a little bit of a different scenario because the team has some quality players both inside and out.
The additions of Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe gives the defense two veteran starters at defensive tackle, but they also have young unproven guys like Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore who need some reps here and there as well. Not to mention, nobody has any idea what is going on with Antwaun Woods, so he’s potentially another body that gives them depth.
And while Crawford seems like a nice veteran starter to slot on the other side of DeMarcus Lawrence, keep in mind that Aldon Smith and possibly Randy Gregory could be in the mix as well. If they’re back, you have to figure the coaching staff is going to want to give those guys a shot to show what they can do. Not only that, but the edge rushing group is overfilled with youngsters with a lot to prove. Players like Dorance Armstrong, Joe Jackson, Bradlee Anae, Jalen Jelks, and Ron’Dell Carter are all guys who cannot be ruled out as making the team. And if they’re going to ever amount to anything, the team is going to need to give them reps. The dreaded term, progress stopper could be thrown around if Crawford ends up taking snaps away from younger guys who are expected to be a part of this team’s future.
Crawford’s name has come up plenty of times before as a possible cap casualty because some don’t think he’s worth the money. However, that option hasn’t been a realistic possibility due the large amount of guaranteed money the team has invested in him. In short, it would cost more to cut him than it does to keep him around. But with each new year, more and more of his signing bonus and restructure bonus has already been accounted for, and now the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Since last offseason, the team could actually save money by letting him go.
Here are the cap hits the Cowboys would endure in each of those scenarios:
Releasing Crawford now comes with a minimal dead money hit of just $1.1 million, whereas letting him play out the last year of his contract would consist of a cap hit of $9.1 million due to his $8 million base salary for 2020. Is it worth the additional $8 million to have Crawford around?
There was a time where having Crawford around was an absolute must because the depth of the defensive line wasn’t adequate enough to handle the suspensions and injuries that always accompanied the Cowboys’ pass rushers. But this isn’t one of those times. The Cowboys have some incredible depth. Yes, McCoy and Poe are older than the free agents the team is accustomed to bringing in, and you got two of the wildest of wild cards in Smith and Gregory. But even if things don’t pan out perfectly for the Cowboys (and they won’t), the defensive line has a lot of wiggle room.
Having Crawford around as insurance would be delightful, but the Cowboys have to be smart about where their cap resources go. That’s why their franchise quarterback is still walking around without a long term deal. It’s why the team always goes down to the final hour in getting their key players signed. And it’s also why they’ve had to say goodbye to some instrumental players like DeMarcus Ware and Tony Romo. The expected contribution just didn’t justify the cost, and that’s what they’re dealing with when it comes to Crawford.
Ideally, the front office would attempt to negotiate a pay cut that would benefit both sides. In 2016, Brandon Carr reduced his salary from $9.1 M to $4.25 million. And last year, they renegotiated Sean Lee’s deal that cleared $4 million in cap space. Similar to Crawford, both were great locker room guys and still players the team wanted to hang on to, but not at what it would’ve cost them had they not renegotiated a new deal. Crawford is not going to command $8 million if he hit the market today, so some form of compromise could be the answer.
The Cowboys have to be mindful of their finances, and that becomes especially true when there are talks about a potential reduction in the salary cap next season due to the effects of COVID-19. Remember, money carries over - savings now is savings later. And as nice as it would be to have Crawford in their back pocket, it’s just too hard to justify for a cost of $8 million.