The Dallas Cowboys have some of the NFL’s best football players. From the moment he stepped onto the field, Micah Parsons established himself as one of the best defensive players in the league, earning Defensive Player of the Year votes in each of his first two seasons. CeeDee Lamb wasn’t supposed to be available when the Cowboys were on the clock in the first round of 2020, but the nation’s top collegiate receiver was passed up and now he’s wearing the star and is one of the top receivers at the pro level. And Trevon Diggs was the first player to have 11 picks in 40 years as he’s emerged as one of the game’s best corners.
All three of these guys wasted no time becoming All-Pros. All three of them play one of the most important positions in the NFL. And amazingly, all three weren’t on the roster a few years ago. And when you add Dak Prescott to the mix, the Cowboys have four strong players at four strong positions. What is even more satisfying is that three of them are still playing under their rookie deals. They’ve hit the ground running and the Cowboys are getting great production for a cheap price. That is similar to what Dallas had in Prescott during his super-cheap, fourth-round price rookie deal.
While it’s great to have so much talent at key positions, it can also be costly as talent doesn’t stay cheap for long. The front office knows this and has been preparing, much to the dismay of Cowboys fans. They’ve gotten out of the contracts of Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and La’el Collins, all of which were atop the Cowboys payroll not very long ago. They’ve also allowed key players to leave in free agency like Randy Gregory, Byron Jones, and Dalton Schultz.
These decisions are not easy, but they are necessary. In fact, the Cowboys have cleared out enough contracts that their top two contracts now consist of the following:
- Dak Prescott at $40 million (9th-highest in the league)
- Zack Martin at $14 million (135th-highest in the league)
That is a huge gap between a team’s top-paid player and their second-highest-paid player.
Of course, that luxury won’t last for long as the three All-Pros on their rookie deals are gradually approaching huge second contracts. Trevon Diggs is in line to hit free agency first and he’s projected just north of $20 million and likely would be the second-highest paid corner after Jaire Alexander. Lamb is next to follow and could flirt with the $30 million mark, but at the very least should be somewhere near the third-highest-paid receiver behind Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams. And don’t even get us started on Parsons. When it comes time to pay him, he will likely reset the market and could be the highest-paid non-quarterback with an average annual salary of around $35 million per year. And let’s not forget that Prescott himself only has two more years on his deal and his next contract should exceed $50 million per season. Wow, that’s a lot of money.
Nobody is expecting the Cowboys to let any of those guys walk. If all of them are re-signed, that would be a huge chunk of their cap space allocated for just four guys. Is that even possible? Sure it is. The cap is fluid and can be sloshed around to fit whatever the team wants to do. People think the Cowboys' front office is cheap, but the reality is they are not. They spend money just like everyone else. They just save it for the players they love the most, which are their own homegrown talents.
While keeping these four players is possible, it would be a rare thing to have this many players make that much money on the same team. Based on the contract projections above, the Cowboys would likely have something like this - Prescott (5th-highest-paid), Parsons (15th), Lamb (20th), and Diggs (45th).
Just for reference, only two teams in the NFL have four of their players ranked in the top 50 for highest paid:
- Cleveland Browns - Deshaun Watson (6th), Myles Garrett (22nd), Denzel Ward (46th), and Amari Cooper (49th)
- Los Angeles Chargers - Joey Bosa (20th), Khalil Mack (31st), Keenan Allen (47th), and Mike Williams (48th)
That’s not good company as the Browns are the epitome of a struggling franchise, having only one playoff appearance in the last 20 years. The Chargers have had success, but they are similar to Dallas in that they haven’t made the Super Bowl since the mid-’90s and they struggle to get past the divisional round. It should also be noted that their young quarterback Justin Herbert is not on that list and will soon be added.
Not only will Dallas have four players in the top 50, but they’ll have three players in the top 20. There are no NFL teams that have that right now. The Los Angeles Rams are the closest as they have Matthew Stafford (9th), Aaron Donald (15th), and Cooper Kupp (who just misses the cutoff at 21st). That’s close enough and we just witnessed the Rams win a Super Bowl the year before last. However, it’s also worth noting that the Rams are coming off a five-win season and currently are in rebuilding mode. It’s great if you can get to confetti, but heavy costs eventually have consequences.
For the Cowboys, it’s nice to have so many star players, but it’s not as nice when they are constantly coming up short. And with big extensions coming soon, we should all be aware that the Cowboys are entering dangerous waters. It becomes difficult to keep a roster deep when there are limitations on the players they can retain or go after in free agency. The Cowboys can keep their big stars, but can they also keep Terence Steele? Or Pro Bowlers like Tony Polland and Tyler Biadasz?
Great drafting can help and to their credit, they have been masterful in that department, and that gives us hope. But at the same time, we should enjoy things while they last because inevitably there are some challenges ahead.