Cowboys Extended: Who Could Be Next In Line?

The Cowboys will be working dilligently to see if they can work out a long-term agreement with Dez Bryant by July 15th. Here’s a look at other Cowboys that are on the one-year plan, but could be in line for more commitment from the club.

One can never have enough financial security. It’s something most everyone aspires to have whether they are making minimum wage or salaries in six, seven or eight figures. In football, where a career is usually over by the age of 28, 30 if lucky and 35 if blessed, it’s paramount for players to earn as much as possible. The changes to the CBA back in 2011 for the most part framed the opportunities for young players to get new contracts. First round players receive four year contracts with a team-option for a fifth season. Every other drafted player receives a four-year contract. Undrafted players receive three-year deals.

Players aren’t allowed to negotiate new deals until they only have one-year remaining on their rookie deals. Furthermore, teams have an additional year of control over UDFAs, as players who have only accrued three seasons or less of play become Restricted Free Agents. Teams can simply tender those players at set compensation levels and still somewhat control their movements. In essence, all quality players are under control of their original team for at least four years.

But when they come free? That’s an exciting time for the player. A chance to truly see what there are worth on the “retail” market, as we like to call it. The draft brings in players at wholesale values, while free agency is the price paid on the street.

All eyes, of course, land on star Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant. Bryant was a free agent for 2015, and received the Franchise Tag tender from the Cowboys, paying him over $12 million in salary but not giving him any kind of long-term commitment. He and the team have until July 15th to negotiate a long-term deal or sit at odds for the entire 2015 season. (CHQ has the latest on all that -- including our $100-million plan -- here.)

But Bryant isn’t the only player on the team without long-term assurances. Here are a look at a handful of Dallas’ players who are in the final year of their deals as well.

POTENTIAL 2016 FREE AGENTS

POSITION PLAYER
2015 HIT
LIKELIHOOD

DT

TYRONE CRAWFORD

$828K

High

Crawford moved over to the Under Tackle position as the season progressed last year, in his first as a 4-3 defender. His training camp injury as a sophomore robbed him of the transition a year earlier, but he more than held his own in 2014. Drafted as a 3-4 defensive end, the 3-technique suited him so well, Dallas eventually started kicking out free agent signee Henry Melton to defensive end instead of Crawford. Tyrone had 41 total pressures and 21 defensive stops for the team last year, earning the highest defensive grades (overall and pass rush) on the team according to Pro Football Focus. It’s expected that with a full offseason of work at 3T, Tyrone should blossom even more as his combination of size speed and rush techniques lead to greater things.

There will always need to be a rotation at the position, but with journeyman Terrell McClain and unproven youngsters Chris Waley and possibly Davon Coleman behind him in camp, one could easily see Dallas making a move during camp to lock Crawford up for the long-term before he drives his price up high.

POSITION PLAYER
2015 HIT
LIKELIHOOD

CB

MORRIS CLAIBORNE

$5.175M

Relatively Low

The sixth pick of the 2012 draft has moved far away from the can’t miss prospect he was during that draft season. Claiborne’s career has been marred by injury and self-doubt. The final straw occured after he was demoted due to a pathetic Week 3 performance against the Rams that coincided with the return of Orlando Scandrick from a two-game suspension. Claiborne walked out on the team briefly, just to return and suffer a gruesome leg injury in the following week’s game that ended his season. In his four years, he still has not fully participated in a single off-season program.

The Cowboys wisely chose not to extend the fifth-year option, meaning Claiborne will be free come 2016. With a new first-round corner on the roster in Byron Jones, and Scandrick receiving an extension through 2020, Claiborne now just needs to focus on getting some snaps to prove he has a place in the league. He’ll get an opportunity to prove capable, but whether in Dallas or somewhere else, it’s doubtful he can earn the cornerstone status that was envisioned for him. Both parties will likely want to see Claiborne test the open market before making any sorts of decisions.

POSITION PLAYER
2015 HIT
LIKELIHOOD

DE

GREG HARDY

$5.045M*

Moderate

Whether or not the Cowboys re-sign their star 2015 free agency catch next year is an interesting discussion. Hardy’s impact is already being felt on the practice field during OTAs, and if that translates to similar numbers as were produced in Carolina, walking away will be a tough call. Of course, this is whenever the appeals process (and possible lawsuit) determines Hardy can join the club for game action.

Hardy is definitely young enough that a multi-year deal in 2016 would be on the table if he can keep his nose clean off the field. On the flip side, however, is the fact that Dallas has spent consecutive second round selections (including use of a third-rounder) to acquire Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Will their progress in 2015 play a pivotal role in the need/desire to keep Hardy in house? It should be noted, if Hardy signs elsewhere in 2016, Dallas would likely bring in a future third-round compensatory pick to balance the loss. Due to the nature of how they secured his services, it’s highly unlikely Dallas would do any sort of extension without seeing how the entire season plays out.

POSITION PLAYER
2015 HIT
LIKELIHOOD

LB

ROLANDO MCCLAIN

$2.812M

Wetalkin’
‘bout practice!

On the field, McClain was a godsend for the Cowboys in 2014 after the loss of Sean Lee in training camp. His presence probably had as much impact as any other player on the roster. Still, the Cowboys coaches were hesitant to allow the front office to offer McClain more than a base salary deal out of their fear of how the player would react to multiple millions and whether or not they could depend on him to do what they needed him to in between games (and sometimes in-game as well). The deal structure of his one-year extension bears this out.

McClain was given just a $750k base with a $500k signing bonus, instead having $1.312 million tied to roster bonuses and another $250k in workout bonuses, which it appears he’s already jeopardized. McClain has seemed rather allergic to practicing on the same schedule as the rest of his teammates and the deal constructed with the team shows these concerns; McClain’s deal is less than Jasper Brinkley’s yearly average. McClain’s retention will have everything to do with how he buys in during the season and whether or not the coaching staff feels his contribution outweighs the headache. Of course, their view of his contributions will be framed by the health of Sean Lee and the emergence of Anthony Hitchens and rookie Damien Wilson as long-term solutions. Talent-wise, McClain has every right to demand a multi-year deal comparable to the one Sean Lee plays with. Strange situation here.

POSITION PLAYER
2015 HIT
LIKELIHOOD

DE

JEREMY MINCEY

$1.75M

Moderate

If Jeremy Mincey is your best pass rusher, your pass rush is probably in trouble. If Jeremy Mincey is your fourth best pass rusher, you have a chance to do a lot of damage to opposing offenses. That’s the difference in scenarios between Mr. Mince’s two-years in Dallas. Mincey never got the chance to rush from the interior in 2014, where he’s done the most damage in his career, because of the lack of outside rushers on the roster. That should be different this year and even in reduced snaps it wouldn’t surprise to see Mincey’s production rise in 2015.

Already 31 years old, Mincey could still have a role in Dallas as he’s developed into one of the team’s leaders. A low-risk extension allowing Mincey to end his career in Dallas seems like a reasonable possibility, but one that probably won’t be approached until near the end of the season at the earliest.

POSITION PLAYER
2015 HIT
LIKELIHOOD

LG

RON
LEARY

$585K

Up In Air

Dallas was able to snag Ron Leary as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 draft because he has a degenerative condition in his knee that someday will end his career. Dallas had him rated as a third-rounder based on talent, according to Owner/GM Jerry Jones. After redshirting a year, Leary has started two consecutive seasons for the team at left guard, and has been integral in building the consensus best line in the league. Now, his spot as a starter and his future in Dallas might hinge on another UDFA find, La’El Collins. Collins is working at both guard and right tackle, but if he settles in at guard that would take away Leary’s snaps and damage his earning potential.

Leary has already proven he is a capable NFL starter, putting in serious work in corralling the best player in the game, J.J. Watt during a 2014 matchup. Would Leary be open to signing on to stay in Dallas without knowing whether or not he has a chance at starting? It might not matter. Because of his redshirt year, 2015 will be Leary’s fourth in the league, but third accrued season, meaning that he will be Restricted in 2016 and still under team control (via tender offer). It’s a rather difficult position for a player who might be existing on borrowed time.

OTHER 2016 FREE AGENTS

POSITION PLAYER
2015 HIT
OL
MACKENZY BERNADEAU
$2.824M
LB
KYLE WILBER
$770K
DB
COREY WHITE
$1.542M
TE
JAMES HANNA
$686K
RB
LANCE DUNBAR
$1.542M
S
JEFF HEATH
$586K
DE
JACK CRAWFORD
$660K
QB
BRANDON WEEDEN
$660K
P
CHRIS JONES
$1M
LB
KEITH RIVERS
$665K
DT
NICK HAYDEN
$665K*
LB
CAMERON LAWRENCE
$585K
OL
DARRION WEEMS
$585K




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