The Dallas Cowboys are heading into the 2023 offseason roughly $7 million over the salary cap. They’ll need to make several moves to create spending room for the spring and summer, and some of these moves will likely be releasing current talent for cap relief. Below are five of the most likely candidates to be salary cap casualties.
Granted, there are other ways to create cap space. Dallas will assuredly do some restructuring on the contracts of QB Dak Prescott, G Zack Martin, and other fixtures on the roster. But those same triggers were pulled a year ago and didn’t stop the Cowboys from releasing OT La’el Collins and practically giving away WR Amari Cooper for a combined $26 million in cap relief.
Currently over the cap and with some significant work needed to improve, or even just maintain last year’s roster, Dallas will need more than what it can get from restructures. Somebody, and probably a few bodies, will lose their current job in the name of financial flexibility.
Who are the guys whose contracts and performance levels have them on or near the chopping block? We’ll look at what the Cowboys can save by either making the player an outright cut or designating them with the June-1st provision, which creates more space this year but defers some dead money to 2024.
OT Tyron Smith
$9.6 million (pre-6/1)
$13.6 million (post-6/1)
Who else, right? After another season with significant missed time and offering the most potential cap relief of any player on the roster, Smith’s future in Dallas is in doubt. The fact that Tyler Smith appears ready to move forward as the permanent left tackle only further jeopardizes his elder.
Tyron might have more of a chance if there was greater concern about Terence Steele’s return. But with Steele only a restricted free agent and likely returning, Dallas has a capable starting pair of tackles for at least next year.
While there’s still good reason to think Smith could be productive when healthy, those times are just too few and far between now. He can’t be trusted to get on the field anymore and eats up far too much of the team’s cap. Even if the idea of a line with Tyron and Steele at the tackles and Tyler at left guard would be exciting, counting on Tyron to hold up his side of the plan is a liability Dallas can no longer afford.
RB Ezekiel Elliott
$4.86 million (pre-6/1)
$10.9 million (post-6/1)
There’s talk that Elliott is willing to take a pay cut to stay in Dallas. It would need to be a significant one because the team has at least one major reason to want nearly every dollar they can get back from Zeke’s contract.
Needing about $10.1 million to fund a potential franchise tag for RB Tony Pollard, there’s a clear financial incentive to make Elliott a June-1st cut. Dallas can not only pay Pollard with that money but also cover the first-year cap hit of a mid-round rookie running back.
On a personal level, the Jones family loves Elliott and wants him to stick around. He’s still one of the team’s most marketable players and does a lot of little things on offense that provide value. But his days as a featured back are clearly over and so to should be getting paid like one.
CB Jourdan Lewis
$4.7 million (either)
Because 2023 is the last year of Lewis’ deal there is no June-1st option. Dallas can recoup the majority of his scheduled $5.87 million cap hit by releasing or trading him at any time.
With Anthony Brown already a possible free-agent departure, the Cowboys may not be quick to cut Lewis. He’d be their most experienced cornerback and forms a decent top three with Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland. But with both Bland and Lewis best suited in the slot, Dallas may want to look for a better outside option and use Lewis’ money elsewhere.
Guys like Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott are on one level in this discussion; either availability, performance, or both have become out of balance with their cap hits. Lewis counting $5.87 million against the 2023 cap is not unreasonable if he’s still a primary part of the CB rotation. But it’s the redundancy with Bland that hurts his job security.
DT Neville Gallimore
$2.74 million (either)
Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Gallimore’s reached a dangerous point. He’s been passed on the depth chart by Osa Odighizuwa and they play the same spot on the line. Dallas could decide that those funds are better spent elsewhere, or perhaps to re-sign veterans Carlos Watkins and Johnathan Hankins.
Gallimore isn’t a bad player by any means, but the former third-round pick hasn’t taken over the position as we’d hoped earlier in his career. Odighizuwa led all defensive tackles in snaps last year and Hankins started getting a meaty share as a midseason addition. You got the sense that, like Trysten Hill before him, Gallimore has simply fallen out of Dallas’ vision for the future.
S Jayron Kearse
$4.41 million (either)
We saved this one for last because it does seem highly unlikely. But because of Donovan Wilson’s impending free agency, we have to at least consider the possibility that Dallas might use Kearse’s money to help keep the younger safety in town.
The age difference isn’t that much; Wilson is about to turn 28 in a few weeks and Kearse just turned 29 last Saturday. And while Wilson may have had a slightly more impactful season in 2022, Kearse remains one of the leaders and glue guys of the entire defense.
Still, Wilson’s big year can’t be dismissed. Was it enough for the Cowboys to work hard to keep him, or do they feel confident that Dan Quinn’s scheme can help prospects like Israel Mukuamu or Markquese Bell to step up and fill the void?
If Dallas is determined to re-sign Wilson, they may not be able to afford it without pulling some money out of the safety position. Given their roles and with Malik Hooker as the only true free safety, Kearse would make the most sense.