It isn’t breaking news to say that the next few weeks are going to tell us a lot about how the Dallas Cowboys are going to handle Dak Prescott’s contract situation. Beyond the literal truth of this idea, the point we are here to discuss is that the Cowboys should be starting to drop some breadcrumbs relatively soon. As in really soon.
Starting this coming Tuesday, February 23rd, teams can begin placing the franchise tag on players and have until March 9th to do so. Those are just two important dates with regards to the franchise tag as July 15th is the other (unfortunately the 2021 NFL Draft falls between them).
Where are the breadcrumbs then? What would the breadcrumbs even look like? Consider that the Carolina Panthers have been creating salary cap space this past week by way of a number of releases, it is more obvious than not that they are opening up what they need in order to take a run at current Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The Cowboys have been extremely quiet in this capacity. While this hardly means that they are dragging their feet the point is that sooner or later they - if they intend to extend or even just franchise tag Prescott - are going to have to start making some moves and/or decisions.
A look at the salary cap carryover for 2021: pic.twitter.com/Q5JELBem2u— NFLPA (@NFLPA) February 19, 2021
This past week saw a rise in the league’s salary cap floor for 2021 and is now going to be $180M (up from $175M). At present time the Cowboys have just under $20M in salary cap space, per OverTheCap, which is how we know that they are going to have to create some room.
ESPN’s Todd Archer discussed recently how players like Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, La’el Collins, and Jaylon Smith are all places that the Cowboys could possibly visit to create cap space. Some would be a bit less wise (Tyron’s health is concerning) while some seem to be necessary bullets for the organization to bite (Jaylon as an example). He also floated out Amari Cooper which would alter the timeline of sorts that people thought the team was on when they extended him last year.
The most obvious candidate for a contract restructure is wide receiver Amari Cooper. The Cowboys can turn about $19 million of his $20 million base salary into a signing bonus and create $14 million (or so) in room. But what’s the downside? The plus of the Cooper deal at the time of signing was the Cowboys could get out of it after the second year with a $6 million cap hit in 2022. If they restructure Cooper in 2021, they could chew up almost all of the savings they would have gained should they walk away.
It is true that the Cowboys could break from Amari Cooper’s contract next year in relatively clean fashion. As next offseason is when Michael Gallup’s rookie contract is up, it seemed somewhat logical that perhaps the team would cut or trade Cooper and extend Gallup to pair with CeeDee Lamb for the next wave of the future. With so many places on the current roster needing help though there is logic to trading away Gallup - again, on a one-year deal that would be enticing for other teams - in the here and now. One hypothetical would be moving him for someone like New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who is also on the final year of his deal (which is a steal of one by the way).
This would obviously tie the Cowboys to a nearby future of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb which is hardly anything to be disappointed by. Last season felt lost in many respects and while we all recognize that Lamb still flourished in spite of it all, so did Cooper. He quietly put together a rather dominant season.
All of these would-be moves point to the idea that things are going to need to start happening much sooner than later. The Cowboys are in the eleventh hour on Dak Prescott and they need every minute of it to figure out the best possible path forward.