Despite coming off of a disappointing 2017 season, the Dallas Cowboys will enter the 2018 offseason in a much better position then they were a year ago. Last offseason saw the front office have to make hard decisions on numerous players, including longtime franchise quarterback Tony Romo. The team would end up parting ways with Romo, Doug Free, Ronald Leary, Barry Church, JJ Wilcox, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Terrell McClain – just to name the starters.
A big factor in cutting ties with many of those players was, of course, money. Heading into the 2017 offseason the Cowboys were $9 million OVER the salary cap. They will attack the 2018 offseason roughly $25 million UNDER the cap as Dan Turner so neatly breaks down in his total Cowboys offseason projection.
The salary cap is expected to jump to around $178 million this year. With $9.2 million in carryover space from last year (courtesy of spotrac.com, rest of the cap figures taken from overthecap.com), the Cowboys will have around $187 million in total ‘cap’.
Dallas currently have $162 million slated in total liabilities. Adding an estimated $2 million for incentives, including the ‘Proven Performance Escalator’, we come to a figure of $164 million.
Therefore, they will go into the offseason about $25 million under the cap. Considering they were about $9 million over going into last offseason, this is a nice change for the Cowboys to have some cap relief, and should allow them freedom to keep who they want, and add a few others.
I am operating under the premise that the Cowboys have $25 million in cap room. This number will certainly fluctuate over the course of the next few months, but it will be the baseline for which many of these keep or sweep decisions will be made.
This one is a no-brainer. Since the departure of Demarcus Ware, Cowboys fans and ownership alike have been looking for a dominant pass rusher. Now, they finally have one. Lawrence finished 2017 with 14.5 sacks, 36 tackles, and 4 forced fumbles. Whether by franchise tag or a long-term deal, don’t expect Lawrence to be leaving Dallas anytime soon. The incomparable K.D. Drummond over at CowboysWire did the math on what a possible Lawrence extension could look like.
2018 Cap Hit: $6.6 million
Ladouceur is a name many casual fans may not recognize. And for a long snapper, that is a good thing. Ladouceur has been with the Cowboys since 2005. Still performing at a high level, there should be no reason why he isn’t back for his 14th season in big D. According to Spotrac.com, Ladouceur has averaged around a $1 million cap hit over the past five seasons. Provided he wants to keep playing, expect a similar figure in 2018.
2018 Cap Hit: $1 million
The Chaz Green experiment was a massive failure in most observers eyes, causing a major lack of continutiy on a line trying to replace two starters. Once Jonathan Cooper settled into the left guard spot, the line began to resemble their 2016 form to a certain degree. Stephen Jones certainly has been pleased with what he has seen.
Dallas would be prudent to bring Cooper back on another short-term deal. After signing a 1 year/$2 million deal last offseason, perhaps something in the 2 year/$5 million range gets it done.
2018 Cap Hit: $2 million
Joe Looney & Kyle Wilber
These two provide cheap experience. Wilber has been with the Cowboys since they drafted him in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Having missed only one game over the past five seasons he provides reliable leadership on the special teams units.
In Looney the Cowboys retain a backup to Travis Fredrick at center as well as depth at both guard spots in a pinch. His 2017 cap hit was just $875k, and I wouldn’t expect a huge jump in his demands for 2018.
Combined 2018 Cap Hit: $2.5 million
Keeping these five players will cost the Cowboys $12.1 million in 2018 cap space for the purpose of this exercise. Subtract that from our $25 million starting point and Dallas will be left with roughly $13 million. This is before any other extentions, restructures or cuts.
Sidenote: David Irving is a restricted free agent. Depending on whether the Cowboys place a first or second round tender on him, his 2018 cap hit could be up to $4.2 million. Something to keep an eye on.
While the Cowboys won’t have as many tough decisions as they did last offseason, Anthony Hitchens’ fututre in Dallas will certainly be a tough call this year. Hitchens had a very good year in 2017, filling in admirablely for Sean Lee. After missing the first four games of his career in 2017, he finished with 55 solo tackles in 12 games. Hitchens’ productivity coupled with the improved health and play of Jaylon Smith may lead to him finding a new home in 2018. If former linebackers coach Matt Eberflus ends up the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis, his relationship with Hitchens could provide a logical landing spot.
Butler all but assured that he wouldn’t be back in Dallas during his recent appearnce on the daytime soap opera Undisputed.
The thought that Butler, who has never surpassed 350 receiving yards on a season, could out perfom Dez Bryant in a WR1 position is quite ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as the show he said on, but I digress. Needless to say, don’t expect Butler back in Dallas next season.
Morris performed as well as anyone could have hoped during Ezekiel Elliott’s six game suspension. Rushing for 547 yards with nearly five yards per carry, Morris certainly was not the reason for the Cowboys midseason lull. In fact, Morris had such a good year, he may have priced himself out of Dallas. The Cowboys front office has demonstrated they do not value aging running backs, moving on from rushing champ DeMarco Murray as case and point. At 29 years old, the number will have to be extremely in Dallas’ favor to have Morris back in 2018.
Byron Bell & Bene Benwikere
Byron Bell performed below expectations when filling in for an injured Tyron Smith. With Smith having injury concerns over the past couple of seasons, I would expect the Cowboys to try and improve their swing tackle spot. Perhaps new offensive line coach Paul Alexander will push for Dallas to look at former Bengal tackle Andre Smith.
Benwikere was nothing more than depth during his time in Dallas. With the Cowboys having invested a lot of draft capital in the defensive backfield, expect Benwikere to be playing somewhere else next year.
The Cowboys will have the financial flexibility to not only keep their own big name free agents, if they so choose, but also potentially be free agent shoppers for the first time in some years.
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