As the Dallas Cowboys navigate the salary cap this offseason, some players make that job easier than others. While the team will have some tough decisions and fancy maneuvering to do with certain parts of the roster, others are providing flexibility by being relative bargains.
No, Dak Prescott won’t make this list. Neither will the likes of Zack Martin or DeMarcus Lawrence, who are still standout performers but are also chart-toppers with their $20 million-plus cap hits. Today, we’re focusing on the guys who aren’t making what they would be if they hit the open market.
Because he’s likely to receive a major extension this offseason, we’re not including Micah Parsons on this list. His current $5.4 million cap hit is ridiculous for one of the top five defensive players in the league. Parsons knows it, the Cowboys know it, and it’s probably going to change before September to avoid a holdout.
With that said, let’s get into it!
WR CeeDee Lamb
$17.99 million cap hit
Lamb was so good in 2023 that his cap hit quadrupling from $4.5 million to about $18 million doesn’t make anyone flinch. This jump happens because Lamb moves out of the standard four years of his rookie deal into the fifth-year option, which Dallas exercised last spring. Lamb posted career numbers last season and established himself as an elite NFL receiver.
While $18 million would make Lamb the fourth-most expensive player on the 2024 roster, at least based on current numbers, it wouldn’t even put him in the top ten for annual WR compensation league-wide. Tyreek Hill is making $30 million per year and others are in the $28-$23 million range.
Lamb led the NFL in catches last year, was second in receiving yards, and third in touchdowns. He’d be a steal even at $18 million, and there’s a good chance that number will come down if the Cowboys work out a long-term extension for him this offseason.
CB DaRon Bland
$1.06 million cap hit
From fifth-round pick to First-Team All-Pro just 20 months later, Bland is now the biggest bargain on the roster. While his league-leading interception number was the headline for his season, Bland also performed well in general coverage despite having to move from the slot to the outside after Trevon Diggs’ injury.
While he should get a bump based on the league’s performance-based pay program, Bland is still just three years into his rookie deal and the compensation won’t skyrocket. At one of the premium positions in football, you could multiply Bland’s current salary several times over and still be coming out the winner.
Bland’s ascension, coupled with Diggs’ return, gives Dallas some leverage at cornerback this offseason. They can play hardball with Stephon Gilmore as a free agent, either bringing him back at a reduced salary or letting him walk. Bland’s ability to play outside or in the slot also allows the Cowboys to be more flexible in how they replace Gilmore if he does move on.
TE Jake Ferguson
$1.16 million cap hit
Another member of the 2022 draft class, Ferguson has similarly emerged as a tremendous value for the team. He was a top-ten finisher in catches, yards, and touchdowns among tight ends and is still making peanuts in the third year of his rookie deal.
With Ferguson leading the way, Dallas can field a capable TE group next season at minimal cost. Like Bland, he should also get a raise based on PBP. At the very least, hopefully, that elevates Ferguson’s 2023 compensation above Luke Schoonmaker's ($1.4 million) where it belongs.
G Tyler Smith
$3.65 million cap hit
A relatively healthy year from Tyron Smith allowed Tyler to focus on playing guard, allowing his physical gifts to shine more and his inexperience to be less exploited. He was named a Second-Team All-Pro last season and is now the financial bedrock of the offensive line as it moves into a transitional period.
With Tyron Smith and Tyler Biadasz both free agents in 2024, the Cowboys have some work to do. Thankfully, whether he stays at guard or moves back to tackle, the younger Smith is still a major boon for the team’s salary cap and gives them options going forward.
LB Damone Clark
$1.05 million cap hit
Clark led the team in tackles and took on greater responsibility after Leighton Vander Esch’s injury. While the team does hope to improve at linebacker in 2024, Clark will still be a key part of whatever rotation gets established.
Ideally, Clark would play more of the weak-side role and a newcomer (assuming Vander Esch isn’t returning) would do more work in the middle and against the run. Clark is a longer, more athletic linebacker who does well in pursuit but gets overpowered as a primary run defender.
Still, at just $1 million for the year, Clark would be a steal even in a backup capacity. As a starter, he’s providing fantastic value and should only get better in Year Three.