Last offseason the Dallas Cowboys did a little housekeeping in the form of trading Amari Cooper, releasing La’el Collins, and re-configuring the contract of DeMarcus Lawrence. All of these moves did wonders to free up cap space last year as well as remove large base salaries from the books in future years.
The front office will once again take a look at their big money makers and determine where changes could be made. To help better understand what could be coming down the pike, we thought we’d examine the team’s ten most expensive cap hits and try to figure out how the Cowboys will proceed with these players going forward.
1. Dak Prescott
2023 cap hit: $49.1 million
After a delay that included a franchise tag in 2020, the Cowboys finally agreed to a four-year, $160 million contract extension in 2021 with their franchise quarterback, Dak Prescott. He is now halfway through that deal and will count $49.1 M and $52.1 M against the cap over the next two years respectively. Prescott’s 2023 guaranteed salary ($31 M) combined with his signing bonus money ($39.5 M) and restructure bonus money ($18.5 M) all equate to a dead-money hit of nearly $90 million if the Cowboys were to suddenly release him, which has no chance of happening. It would drop to just under $60 million in dead money if they worked a trade, but that is also not happening.
What’s next? The Cowboys have two choices here. Either do nothing and let the deal run its course or try to work an extension that frees up cap space now and adds more years to his deal. While it’s unclear how this will play out, look for the front office to make a push for an extension.
2. DeMarcus Lawrence
2023 cap hit: $26 million
The front office worked some contract wizardry convincing DeMarcus Lawrence to reduce his base salary by signing a new three-year, $40 million deal last offseason. In the flick of a pen, Tank went from a pricey commodity to a value asset. His 2023 base salary of $15 million is fully guaranteed and he still has $20 million in bonus money on the books, so he’s clearly not going anywhere ($35 million dead money hit if released).
What’s next? The front office is locked into Lawrence for another year but could revisit what they want to do next year, but if he continues to play as he has, he’ll at the very least play out his deal with Dallas.
3. Zack Martin
2023 cap hit: $19.9 million
It feels like the team’s All-Pro guard was signed to a never-ending deal, but that’s what happens when you throw a six-year extension on top of a rookie deal that also included a fifth-year option. But eventually, all good things come to an end and that end is nearing as Martin only has two more years left under contract. None of Martin’s base salary is guaranteed, but he’s converted base salary into bonus money in each of the last two seasons so there is still $16.8 million that has yet to be accounted for.
What’s next? Martin is 33 years old and every year is another year of wear on his body. The team will likely just let his contract play out and discuss his career options after the 2024 season.
4. Tyron Smith
2023 cap hit: $17.6 million
The Cowboys scored one of the best offensive line bargains when they signed Tyron Smith to an eight-year, $97.6 million extension back in 2014 locking him down for a total of 13 seasons. We’ve now seen 12 of those years pass us by as the veteran left tackle is entering the last year of that amazing deal. While he’s been a great value signing overall, his struggles to stay healthy in recent years have shrunk that value a bit. And with the emergence of both Terence Steele and rookie Tyler Smith, the question now begs, is he still worth the $13.6 million base salary for the upcoming season?
What’s next? This one is tricky. If they could count on good health, this would be an easy decision, but as we know, that’s a risky endeavor. Even with the two younger tackles showing they can handle the workload, it’s nice to have depth, but similar to La’el Collins a year ago, how much is that depth worth? It’s not unheard of to think he could be a cap casualty, but this front office loves Tyron, and letting him leave on his own terms is the most likely outcome.
5. Ezekiel Elliott
2023 cap hit: $16.7 million
With the decline in production of their once-touted star running back, there have been two certainties with Ezekiel Elliott over the last couple of years. One, he wasn’t going anywhere last season as there was just too much guaranteed money in the picture, and two, he’s not playing under his $10.9 million base salary this season. The only decision to be made now is how much he is still worth to the team. Will they work out a pay reduction to reduce his cap hit or will they just cut their losses and outright release him?
What’s next? It’s hard seeing this salary cap, pie-stingy team shelling out any more money to him, but this organization is weird in that when they get fixated on something, they get what they want. A straight-up cut would be the right move, but a pay reduction could be on the horizon for Zeke.
6. Michael Gallup
2023 cap hit: $13.8 million
The Cowboys signed Michael Gallup to a five-year, $57.5 million deal last offseason. On the surface, that’s a good price for a player of Gallup’s ability; however, the team knew this season was a recovery year for him. Going forward, he should be a fair option for them. And if he’s not, they could get out of his contract next offseason with a small dead money hit.
What’s next? There is really nothing to do here at this point. He’ll be re-evaluated next offseason. If he returns to form, the team will have a quality number 2 receiver under contract for the next four years at a reasonable price.
7. Dorance Armstrong
2023 cap hit: $7.3 million
The team let Randy Gregory walk last offseason and instead went for the more affordable Dorance Armstrong who signed a two-year, $12 million deal last year. Armstrong was fast out of the gate last year recording five sacks over the first six games, but then he slowed down as the year progressed. He also provided value on special teams and had a blocked punt last year.
What’s next? There was a time early last year when the only mistake the Cowboys might have made with re-signing Armstrong was signing him to just two years as it looked like he was taking the next step. But after fading a bit, the deal might’ve been perfect. With Sam Williams having a nice rookie season, Armstrong will serve as a nice bridge and just play out the final year of his contract in Dallas.
8. Jayron Kearse
2023 cap hit: $6.2 million
Jayron Kearse was an amazing low-cost free agent signing a couple of years ago and the team wisely re-upped on him last year signing him to a two-year, $10 million deal. Even with the pay raise, Kearse has been a great value addition. He’s now in the last year of the deal and his roster spot is secure as he’s turned into one of the team’s better defensive players.
What’s next? It’s possible the team gives Kearse a third contract next offseason, but it’s also possible the Cowboys continue to look for cheap ways to fill the safety position.
9. Jourdan Lewis
2023 cap hit: $5.9 million
Similar to what they did with Anthony Brown, the Cowboys gave Jourdan Lewis a second contract signing him to a three-year, $13.5 million deal. He was a nice depth signing and served as the team’s slot corner in recent years. He missed the last 11 games of the year last season with a foot injury and has just one year left on his deal. His base salary is $4.5 million and he’d only be a $1.2 million dead money hit if released.
What’s next? Rookie DaRon Bland proved to be a strong slot corner so it’s hard to figure out what Lewis’ place will be next season. Without being a contributor on the outside, this limits his value and the team would be better served to cut him and take the cap savings.
10. Trevon Diggs
2023 cap hit: $4.8 million
The team scored big when Trevon Diggs was still on the board at pick 51 in the 2020 NFL Draft. Playing on a rookie deal, his cap hit has been almost negligible; however, that will change this season after a Proven Performance Escalator bumps his 2023 base salary from $1.4 million to $4.3 million. This offseason is the first year Diggs is eligible to negotiate a possible contract extension, and after two-straight trips to the Pro Bowl, we got to figure that price is going to be steep.
What’s next? Now, or later, that’s the question. The Cowboys will eventually work a long-term deal with their star cornerback.