Despite Jerry Jones’ boasting of the exact opposite, there has been a little cramping of the hands when it comes to writing checks in Dallas in the early stages of free agency.
The Cowboys did throw down a substantial bag to retain Amari Cooper (5 years/$100M).
Still, the team continues to balk at locking up its centerpiece, quarterback Dak Prescott, whom they retained via franchise tag Monday morning. Later that day, the team saw cornerback Byron Jones fly southeast to the Miami Dolphins (5 years/$82M). Tuesday team sack leader Robert Quinn inked a 5 year/$70M deal with the Chicago Bears.
Most teams, have a ‘save money’ position from a philosophical standpoint. Some teams stand firm to a committee of low cost running backs rather than one expensive ‘bell cow.’
Some teams employ a short, quick, equal opportunity passing game that best benefits from having 3-4 ‘good’ receivers rather than one elite stud. A new trend with some of the leagues best defenses is building ‘back to front,’ prioritizing coverage players and saving money within the pass rush group.
The Cowboys don’t really have a ‘save money’ position. They foolishly have huge money tied up at running back. They have a big number on an off-ball linebacker.
They have paid a pass rusher and still need another. They declined to pay their cornerback and really have none.
Looking at the Cowboys roster, there is one position group that sticks out like a sore thumb. A group loaded with big cap numbers and rapidly advancing player ages. A group primed for a gradual siphoning of money and infusion of youth. The Cowboys offensive line.
The Cowboys offensive line was the 2nd highest paid OL group in the league in 2019 and currently sits with the most offensive line money committed in 2020. The 3rd, 4th, 6th and 11th richest contracts on the Cowboys are offensive linemen. That is… unusual to say the least.
One way to sort of snapshot the behaviors of successful teams is to look at how playoff teams operate. Of 2019 playoff teams, only the New Orleans Saints were even in the Cowboys’ stratosphere in offensive line pay at $41.7M. On average, the 12 playoff teams committed just $27.9M to their offensive lines (just 56% of what Dallas pays).
The average offensive line cap commitment ranking of playoff teams was 16.75. That’s about as close to the middle of the pack as you can get in a 32 team league. So at least in recent years, average offensive line spending seems to be a trend with successful teams. Having the league’s highest-paid offensive line is workable when you have a QB, RB, WR, DE, and CB all playing on rookie deals as the Cowboys have had in the recent past. But now that the offensive stars have been paid (and the team needs to acquire some defenders, you simply can’t have top contracts everywhere on offense (while the defense still has a ton of needs).
With the main cogs along the offensive line nearing that ominous age of 30, the Cowboys would be wise to get an early jump on shuffling them out for younger, cheaper alternatives.
A move like this would almost certainly turn the tides for fans, and increase reasons to bet on the Cowboys come season-time.
Tyron Smith // LT
Contract escape year, post-2020
Tyron Smith, when healthy is still a heck of a bargain at cap numbers of $12.25M in 2020, and $10.5M in 2021. However, the ‘when healthy‘ is a legitimate concern at this point, and Smith turns 30 late next season.
With a dead money charge of only $1.75M, if the Cowboys move on from Smith, the writing is sort of on the wall. The Cowboys should at the very least keep their eyes peeled for offensive tackle value falling to them in the draft, as early as round one if the right scenario unfolds. It’s not ideal to ‘waste’ year one of a top pick’s rookie contract, but locking down a left tackle a season too early is better than having Tyron Smith break down before your eyes with no successor waiting in the wings.
Zack Martin // RG
Contract escape year, post-2021
Zack Martin has been among the most elite of the elite at his position since he stepped through the door as a rookie. Nonetheless, teams just don’t often carry $15M guards. It’s not a ‘Money 5’ position, and it’s a spot where the aim is to be good, and great is a luxury.
The Cowboys own the rights to guards Connor Williams through the 2021 season, and Connor McGovern through 2022. It is imperative that the team finds out what they have in both players, and hopefully extend one (to become Martin’s successor) before Martin’s escape year after the 2021 season.
In a dream world, you get above-average starting play, for a mid-level payout of both Connors, solving both guard spots. With just a $4M dead cap charge for Martin, post-2021 is the perfect time to move on.
Travis Frederick // C
Contract escape year, post-2021
Frederick will be 31 by the time we reach the season’s end 2021. That offseason Frederick will carry a cap penalty of just $1.84M if let go. A winning move for the Cowboys would be to draft a prospect to play the Joe Looney, interior swing (G/C) role initially, with plans to take over for Frederick at the pivot in 2022.
Between 2008-2010, the Cowboys watched a highly paid, highly productive offensive line unit disintegrate before their eyes because they did not continue to funnel resources into that room. It took a full four seasons to rebuild because all of the pieces toppled at in succession.
The Cowboys can choose to let history repeat itself or have a virtually seamless transition along the offensive line.
If the Cowboys prefer the latter, they have to begin shopping for replacement parts as early as the 2020 draft.
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