The Cowboys commitment to the run game shows up on the field and in their salary cap.
The short-term fates of Ezekiel Elliott and Dalton Schultz are likely tied to the $10.1 million Pollard decision; the outcomes of those conversations within the front office will be revealed in the coming days, weeks, and months.
But for now, at this moment in time anyway, the team holds a unique record in the annals of NFL history.
The Cowboys currently have the most expensive running back corps the league has ever seen.
That, of course, is practically guaranteed to change soon as the club shifts its focus to Elliott’s contract.
Owner Jerry Jones has plainly stated he’d like to have the two-time rushing champ back in Dallas next season, but it won’t be at the aforementioned $16.7 million cap hit. Or even the $10.9 base salary he’s owed under his exiting pact.
The Cowboys have several veteran players that could help free up spending money with a contract restructure.
1. Restructure Tyron Smith’s contract
Jerry Jones spoke to reporters at the Combine and pretty much ruled out the possibility of cutting Tyron Smith. That’s probably the right call given you can never have two many offensive tackles (and linemen in general), and it’s virtually impossible for a starting unit to get through a season without navigating an injury.
That said, Smith currently accounts for the fourth-highest cap hit on the Cowboys in 2023 at $17.605 million. Only Dak Prescott, DeMarcus Lawrence and Zack Martin have a higher cap hit. While Smith is still capable of performing at an elite level, that number is too high given his recent injury history.
Stephen Jones himself didn’t rule out reworking Smith’s contract. That’s the easiest maneuver to relieve Dallas of some cap room.
Still $7.198 million over, per Over The Cap, restructuring Smith would save $6.217 million in cap space. It’s not a ton of savings, but cutting Zeke and restructuring Smith would put the team in a good place before free agency.
2023 All-Combine Team, Offense: QB C.J. Stroud, TE Darnell Washington impress in Indianapolis - Nick Shook, NFL.com
The Cowboys have been linked to several mid-round running backs with Ezekiel Elliott’s future still being decided.
Sure, I’m going chalk, but for good reason. There are a number of talented and intriguing backs in this group (just look below for a handful of them), but Gibbs had the next-best blend of testing and on-field performance Sunday. Although he only participated in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump during testing, he posted the second-best 40 time of any RB in this year’s class (4.36), backing up the explosiveness he showed on tape during his lone season at Alabama. He followed that up by displaying consistent hands during drill work, with just one drop on a deep ball thrown by an NFL personnel staffer (not a pro QB). Gibbs will be a dynamic playmaker for whichever team selects him.
Jerry mentioned the difficulty of surrounding Dak Prescott with the same talent he had when on his rookie contract, which included the best offensive line in the NFL.
If the Cowboys salary cap situation comes down to keeping McGovern or Tyron Smith, then Smith has to go. McGovern has more upside going forward at this point.
I’m inclined to let Tyron Smith go no matter what and use whatever money that move saves to address other needs. Again, Dallas has a history of finding quality linemen in the draft and the line has some depth already.
The only way I see Tyron Smith in Dallas next year would be if they can’t retain McGovern and Steele. They lose those two and the Cowboys may have no other choice but to hope Tyron Smith can put in one last healthy season.
Solidifying the line with players that can stay of the injured list will go a long way toward establishing a strong run game. It seems McCarthy realizes that his team abandoned the run far too early and often in the past.
Using the big men to soften up the defense will only help make Prescott and the passing game that much better. They might even be able to carry the Cowboys all the way to that big game in Las Vegas in February we’re all interested in.
Cowboys’ Top Hypothetical Trade Packages for Jalen Ramsey, Brandin Cooks, More - Kristopher Knox, Bleacher Report
The Cowboys have been linked to Brandin Cooks for what feels like forever now.
Cowboys Get: WR Brandin Cooks
Texans Get: 2023 fourth-round pick, 2024 fourth-round pick
The Cowboys could also use another complementary receiver. Dallas looked to fill that role throughout the 2022 season, which ultimately led them to veteran T.Y. Hilton late in the year. Hilton and fellow wideout Noah Brown are scheduled to reach free agency next month.
During Dallas’ in-season search for a pass-catcher, the Cowboys reportedly came close to acquiring Brandin Cooks from the Houston Texans.
Cooks isn’t interested in being a part of Houston’s rebuild, and he has requested a trade this offseason. Circling back to Cooks would make plenty of sense for Dallas.
With Cooks’ $18 million base salary guaranteed and on the books for Houston, the Texans won’t be inclined to let Cooks go for proverbial pennies. However, a couple of early Day 3 selections could be enough to get Houston’s attention, since Cooks has no desire to play in Houston this season.
Houston could move on from a player who doesn’t want to be there, while Dallas could get a receiver who posted a 1,000-yard campaign as recently as 2021.
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