The Cowboys’ Cap space problem – Explained

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A few months ago, the Dallas Cowboys ended their 2018-19 season with a loss in Los Angeles to the Rams. Despite the loss, Dallas fans had a lot to be excited about: They had exceeded expectations, they had loads of young talent, and they’d be getting back the best center in football.

Everything seemed to be pointing to a new era of dominance for Jerry Jones’ esteemed franchise. They have just one problem, however: cap space. Along with young talent comes guys who want to get paid, and the Cowboys have too many stars to keep everyone satisfied.

The media can’t stop talking about the offensive trio of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper, but everyone seems to forget about Byron Jones and Jaylon Smith, two of the most talented young defenders in football who are set to hit the market next year with Cooper.

Furthermore, in April the Cowboys signed Pro Bowl DE Demarcus Lawrence to a five year, $105 million contract. If Elliott and Prescott sign major contracts right now, it seems as though at least two of the other three players will be left out when their time comes a year from now.

Clearly, Dallas has to decide which players are the most valuable to the team, or they’ll be regretting it for years to come. In the piece below, I will explain the way Cowboys should deal with all five players within the next 12 months.

Dak Prescott, QB, FA in 2020

Dak is definitely the toughest one out of all of these, as he is the QB, but he’s also the least talented. Despite leading the Cowboys to a 32-16 record in his first three seasons, there are still loads of question marks about how capable he is to lead a franchise. In July, The Athletic came out with their annual list of QB tiers, which are made by 55 coaches and executives around the league.

Prescott was ranked in the third tier, which describes him as a QB who needs sufficient help on both sides of the ball to win games. Indeed, he’s had that his entire career: a top RB, the best offensive line, and a top 10 defense. Even with all that help, Dak needed Amari Cooper to be brought in midway through the season before he was able to compete with the top teams.

Next, Dak might have a good looking passer rating of 96.0 in his three seasons, but that number is inflated by the QB’s low pass attempts per game. Even with all the great players on their offense, Dallas ranked 21st in points per game in 2019, with just over 21, much less than one would expect from a $100M QB, especially with all the help he’s got.

Now for my point, the Cowboys have been able to afford all this talent so far, simply because all their players are on rookie contracts, but this is no longer the case of course.

Dak just declined a contract worth over $30M per year, which is already insanity. If he somehow gets what is predicted, Dallas will no longer be able to afford all the talent they’ve been surrounding him with all these years.

The QB will be exposed badly for his lack of accuracy and smart decision making, Jerry Jones’ reputation will be badly hindered, and the rest of the NFC East will celebrate.

If Dak and the Cowboys want this all to work out, he needs to take somewhere around $18M per year and let the team re-sign everyone else so his reputation as a competent QB doesn’t get obliterated. Then again, he would probably rather see his bank account inflated than a chance at the Lombardi trophy.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, FA in 2021

Unlike Prescott, Zeke Elliott is the best player on his team. Also unlike Dak, he plays one of the less important positions in the sport. While I disagree with the holdout, I understand where Elliott is coming from.

There’s really nothing to discuss about how good he is on the field, he’s been leading the NFL in rush yards per game in all three years he’s played, winning the rushing title twice.

With regard to his worth, here’s what needs to be made clear. If the Cowboys want to keep Dak for another decade, they’re gonna have to keep Zeke on the team. He’s been carrying them ever since he’s got there, and his QB really needs him: Dak’s stats dropped even more during Zeke’s 6 game suspension in 2017. The RB has every right to request the biggest RB contract in NFL history, or at least something right next to Todd Gurley’s $57 million.

If Jerry decides to pay up, Zeke will continue keeping this offense average, but it comes with some consequences: Dallas still needs to pay three more top players.

Amari Cooper, WR, FA in 2020

Cooper made a big name for himself last season, as he joined the 3-4 Cowboy’s and helped them improve to a 10-6 record and a division title.

Furthermore, his stats seem incredible: 725 yards and 6 TDs in 9 games with the Cowboys. These stats are inflated, however, as you can remove two of those nine games, and Cooper has a measly 329 yards and only one TD in 7 games.

This proves one thing, Cooper is a highly talented WR, he takes the pressure off Dak, but he’s too inconsistent to ask for top 10 WR money. If he demands anything over 10M a year, the Cowboys are better off letting him go and finding someone else for the WR1 position.

Jaylon Smith, LB, FA in 2020

To begin, this man deserves to get paid. He was labeled a generational linebacker and was predicted to be a top 5 pick in the draft before he suffered a major knee injury in his final college game at Notre Dame.

The Cowboys ended up drafting him in the second round of the 2016 draft, and two years later he was back healthy, dominating NFL offenses. Nobody is really sure what his value will be next season, but it would definitely be a big blow to the Cowboys front seven if they can’t reach his price tag in March.

Byron Jones, DB, FA in 2020

Another home run draft pick by Jerry and Stephen Jones, Byron Jones has become one of the best corners in the league since he was drafted in 2015. In a conference with Julio Jones, Davante Adams, and more top WRs, Dallas is gonna need Jones to stay, to take the pressure off the rest of the secondary. Similar to Jaylon Smith, however, it doesn’t seem as though Dallas will be able to afford his requirements in 2020.

Final (estimated) suggestions Prescott: Allow him to leave unless he takes $18M a year, Zeke: Give him a contract similar to Todd Gurley’s, around $12M a year Cooper: Allow him to leave unless he takes $9M a year, Smith: Sign for 3 years, $30M Jones: Sign for 5 years, $55M

All of this really depends on Dak and Zeke. If Dallas gives Dak the big money, then they probably can only sign one or two of the other guys. If they hold off, they’ll be able to keep the roster on par with the best, and if Dak doesn’t settle for average money then they’ll find a new QB.

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