With the combine not happening, the Senior Bowl takes on bigger importance. Here are some names to watch.
Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington
This is an awfully intriguing prospect for a position – much like edge rusher – that is lacking a little bit of star power.
Onwurzurike was first-team All-Pac 12 in 2019, tallying 45 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks for the Huskies. He opted out of the 2020 season without ever playing a snap.
Now, he’s coming to Mobile to remind people what he’s capable of. If he performs well, it’s not a stretch at all to say he could throw himself into the conversation as one of the best defensive tackle prospects in this draft class.
For a Cowboys front that has lacked size, not to mention production, at defensive tackle, the 6’3 293-pound Onwurzurike could be an immediate help.
Quite A Few Linebackers
If there’s a position for the Cowboys to be excited about at the Senior Bowl, it just might be this linebacker group.
Jaylon Smith was the target of constant criticism in 2020, and Leighton Vander Esch once again struggled with durability. Throw in the possible retirement of Sean Lee, and it’s understandable why many see the position as a big draft need.
These practices in Mobile could provide a bevy of possibilities.
None of these guys are likely candidates to be the No. 10 overall pick, but they could all be finds later on.
For starters, there is Ohio State star Baron Browning, who is fresh off an appearance in the national championship game. He managed 29 tackles and three tackles for loss during the Buckeyes’ shortened season, but he showed up in a big way during that national title game loss to Alabama, notching five tackles, a sack and a big strip of Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones.
It has yet to be announced how much money the Cowboys will be working with this offseason.
This $9 million mostly comes from the untimely retirement of Center Travis Frederick last March. With $11 million in dead money remaining on Frederick’s contract, Dallas chose to split that over two seasons by delaying his official removal from the team until after June 1st.
Even when a player voluntarily retires, as opposed to being released, the effect on the salary cap is the same as if he were cut.
Whether you want to call it “kicking the can down the road” or “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” this always stings when the bill finally becomes due. It’s especially rough in this case because of how health issues forced Frederick’s retirement and cost the Cowboys one of their top players still in his traditional prime.
The next-biggest chunk of dead money is $2 million from the release of Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy. When McCoy ruptured his quad last August the Cowboys exercised their option on an injury clause built into the veteran’s contract. It voided nearly everything but the remainder of McCoy’s signing bonus.
How does what’s happening in Green Bay reflect on Mike McCarthy?
So why do I bring this up, I am one of those people who think that Aaron Rodgers just bailed Mike McCarthy out again. Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur is a 41-year-old head coach that was an offensive coordinator for two years on two different teams before he landed the head gig in Green Bay.
Before that, he was the quarterback’s coach in Washington for four-season and was an offensive quality control guy for the Houston Texans before that.
He has now twice taken Aaron Rodgers and company to the NFC Championship game, albeit losing both games. If LaFleur had made it to the Super Bowl in either of those years, you better believe the Mike McCarthy bashing would rear it’s ugly head again.
Now that Aaron Rodgers will be sitting at home watching the Super Bowl like the rest of us, the real question now has to be asked.
Four reasons why the Cowboys front office is handling the Dak Prescott contract situation correctly - Danny Phantom, Blogging The Boys
The Dak Prescott deal is ever on the minds of Cowboys fans.
The rolling cap window
One thing we shouldn’t lose sight of is that the most important element of a player’s cost is the percentage of the cap they use up. So while we see new players become the highest paid player at their respective positions all the time, this is attributed to the ever-growing salary cap. And yes, COVID has thrown a wrench into things, and we’ll get to that later, but it’s important to understand that from year to year there’s a pretty linear relationship between a player’s cost relative the salary cap that season. That is why contracts are deliberately structured in a way that increases their base salary as they progress through the contract.
For example, Matthew Stafford became the highest paid quarterback four years ago at $27 million per season. There are now 11 quarterbacks who make an average annual salary higher than Stafford. One of those quarterbacks is Russell Wilson, who became the highest paid quarterback a couple years ago at $35 million annually. He has since been passed by two other quarterbacks - Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. And while all those bigger values are great for commanding headlines, it should be noted that both Wilson and Stafford’s 2021 cap hits are 18% of their team’s total cap.
If you look around the league at most quarterbacks with second contracts, you’ll find similar figures (Wentz = 18%, Goff = 19%). There may be some variances from year to year depending on how the contract was structured that will skew those percentages a bit, but in reality, that’s the going rate of a franchise quarterback. When Aaron Rodgers signed his five-year, $110 million deal way back in 2013 for an average of just $22 million a year, the cap back then was just $123 million. $22 million divided by $123 million equates to 17.8% of the total salary cap.
Questions that need answers.
How do you make decisions about playing time in a lost season, between veterans and guys who could help you in the future?
Wouldn’t it have made sense to be playing guys like Garrett Gilbert, Tyler Biadasz, Bradlee Anae, Francis Bernard and getting them reps instead of Andy Dalton, Joe Looney, Dorance Armstrong and Joe Thomas?
While the stock answer is going to be about the team remaining in playoff contention until Week 17, it was still very frustrating to watch the team have a bad season and not get information about the slew of young players on the roster. Perhaps they got their answers in practice, that’s a legit reason. But it still seems like these guys deserved some chance to prove it on the field.
Biadasz was activated from IR in December, but he never got his job back. That seems crazy and deserves a follow up question, at least.
After a bad season, it will be interesting to see how teams value these guys.
There’s no doubt that signing Aldon Smith was the most shocking move in free agency for the Cowboys. He hadn’t played since 2015 and, even though his contract would have only maxed out at $4 million if he had totaled 14 sacks, no one knew just how good he would be.
At first, he seemed to be the only player on the defensive front who was able to adapt to former Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s 3-4/4-3 hybrid defensive scheme. As the season went along his production dropped off, but Smith still finished the season with 48 tackles, five tackles for loss and five sacks.
There have been talks about a potential contract extension to bring Smith back to Dallas but the Cowboys will likely want another team-friendly deal and Aldon Smith might be looking for a pay raise.
A difficult move is going to be whether they re-sign longtime Defensive Lineman Tyrone Crawford. There’s no doubt about his effect on the team as a leader, but he’s 31 years old and has only totaled three sacks in the last two seasons.
With players like Neville Gallimore and Trysten Hill on the roster and a need at the defensive tackle spot, the team will look to get younger and more affordable up front. Crawford was one of the Cowboys’ biggest cap hits last season earning $9 million per year. If he comes back it will have to be at a discount. Otherwise, his time in Dallas is over.
2021 NFL mock draft: Round 3, 99th overall
Defensive Back Ohio State
Shaun Wade returned to Ohio State last winter, turning down an early exit to the NFL in hopes of becoming a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Wade made an immediate impact as a freshman in one of the nation’s top secondaries, leading the Buckeyes in interceptions but had his freshman year cut short due to injury.
After playing the nickel corner position alongside 2020 first-round picks Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette, Wade transitioned to an outside corner role this fall to mixed results. Wade struggled early at the line of scrimmage against Penn State and often looks lost against NFL level talent.
While it is unlikely a franchise drafts Wade as a corner to leave on an island, he still provides great value at the NFL. Wade is arguably the top nickel corner in the 2021 draft class and provides flexibility at both corner and strong safety. Wade could go earlier with a strong combine but falls to Dallas as another flexible defender in Quinn’s new defense.
2021 NFL mock draft: Round 4, 113th overall
EDGE Penn State
With their fifth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cowboys add highly productive Penn State defensive end Shaka Toney. Opposite Yetur Gross-Matos and Jayson Oweh, Toney has been the unsung hero of Penn State’s defensive line the last four years but ranks tenth all-time in program history with 20 sacks. As a fourth-rounder, Toney lacks all the required attributes to be a top-level pass rusher but would be an immediate impact player for the Cowboys.
After missing the prior four seasons due to suspension, Aldon Smith returned to the NFL last fall and produced a tremendous season given his time away. However, at 31 and only one a one year deal, he is unlikely to be in the Cowboys’ long-term future. The Cowboys need weapons opposite Demarcus Lawrence and Toney could be the best fit in the 2021 class.
Toney has continued to increase his weight across his five years in State College and saw continued improvement with the Nittany Lions. Despite the shortened Big Ten season, Toney produced 5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss and continues to be explosive at the snap. Toney is will need to add additional weight as an NFL end but would serve Dallas as an immediate pass rusher.
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