Each Sunday I provide 10 quick hits on the Dallas Cowboys. We’re starting to wrap up the preseason game with the Miami Dolphins. We also break down the offensive line in numbers and cents and I tell you why Jerry Jones should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in this edition of First and 10.
1. The Dallas Cowboys have reached the midpoint of preseason with Friday’s game against Miami. And the Cowboys were dominant, with a 41-14 victory that marks the highest preseason output around here since 2003. They have also broken training camp in Oxnard and when they reconvene next week they’ll be working out at The Star in Frisco. Just so you know, don’t show up unannounced. Practices are not open to the public. Heck they’re barely open to the media.
More game coverage will be updated below and elsewhere on CHQ ... In the meantime, dig in!
2. Let’s talk about money — offensive line money.
Center Travis Frederick’s new contract extension — six years, $56.4 million — is the largest ever given to a center. I was in Tampa Bay when the Bucs made Jeff Faine the league’s highest-paid center at $37.5 million over six years. So an elite center costs $20 million more than it did about 10 years ago? Wow. Just, wow. But centers rarely get this kind of money because the league treats them like they’re a dime a dozen.
Clearly the Cowboys don’t see Frederick that way, and neither do his teammates. If you ask players like Dez Bryant and team officials like Stephen Jones, Frederick’s ability to break down defensive fronts makes him Tony Romo’s best friend when it comes to audibles. He’s a ferocious run blocker and an above-average pass blocker. He has the quickness to pull on run plays and the speed to lead run plays downfield. There is little Frederick cannot do and the Cowboys felt the investment was worth it.
Smith and Frederick now have two of the biggest offensive line deals in history at their respective positions — Smith’s extension came out to eight years at $97.6 million. That’s a lot of money for two players, especially ones that don’t score points. For the cap ramifications, we broke it all down for you right here:
So the natural question is can they keep the other two players that would seem to be the future of the offensive line — guards Zack Martin and La’el Collins? Our Mike Fisher indicated yes. But let’s dig in a bit. But first I have to make an assumption about cap space. The 2016 salary cap is $155.2 million. That doesn’t count cap adjustments that all teams get to make, based on a variety of factors related to the collective bargaining agreement. The 2016 cap rose $12 million from 2015 and the cap has increased by $35 million since 2012.
So, for the sake of this article I’ll assume the salary cap will increase by $8.75 million per year, and we won’t take into account any adjustments the Cowboys will get to make.
So in 2017 the cap can be expected to increase to at least $163.9 million. We’ll estimate the 2018 cap will be $172.65 million.
First we have to value Martin. With an All-Pro nod and two Pro Bowl berths already, it’s not a stretch to call him one of the five best guards in the league, which means he’ll want to be paid like one. The Cowboys carry his fifth-year option, which can be exercised next year and the Cowboys, no doubt, will. That will buy them more time to negotiate a deal.
We’ll figure the Top 5 average two ways. First, the Top 5 right guards averages $31.6 million per contract right now, while Top 5 guards as a whole average $41.5 million. The sample is skewed by the contract of Oakland’s Kelechi Osemele, which is $58.5 million. Osemele signed that deal after four years in Baltimore, where he won a Super Bowl, failed to make a Pro Bowl or to be named an All-Pro and a back surgery in 2013.
Osemele’s contract helps Martin a great deal. Say Martin makes another Pro Bowl in 2016. He and his agent come to the table with a strong case for the top deal ever given to a guard. I’ll estimate it at a six-year, $70 million extension with approximately $25 million in guaranteed money.
Let’s say Martin signs exactly that type of deal. That means the Cowboys would have $224 million tied up in three players. That’s a tremendous amount of money, an average of $30.9 million, starting in 2018 when Martin’s new deal would theoretically sync up with Frederick’s and Smith’s. That would be nearly $18 million of the Cowboys’ cap space. Right now the Cowboys have $141 million in cap liabilities for the 2018 season. We will estimate Martin’s fit at $10 million that season, pushing the Cowboys’ cap liability to $151 million for 42 players. That leaves a little over $20 million for the rest of the players.
That’s why I’m not sure if the Cowboys can keep Collins. Plus, he must be valued differently. He likely would have been a first-round pick without last year’s draft-week incident. But to this point he doesn’t have a Pro Bowl or All-Pro berth yet. Making the issue less problematic is that the Cowboys don’t have to re-sign Collins until after the 2017 season. By then Martin should have his extension and the Cowboys should know what they could spend.
So what’s reasonable for Collins? That’s impossible to project right now. If he reaches Martin’s level and commands that sort of money, then make a carbon of Martin’s deal and you get a major decision ahead for the Jones family.
Can the Cowboys handle all four? I’m not sure. Collins is certainly the player that is the most at-risk of not returning.
One thing that I won’t dispute is this — the investment is worth it in the long term. A great offensive line can solve a lot of problems offensively and keeping this group together, frankly, will lead to a far more productive offense in the long run.
3. Of course Jerry Jones should be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I’m surprised that’s a question to some people.
Owners that never served as a general manager have been elected to the Hall of Fame before, including San Francisco’s Eddie DeBartolo, Kansas City’s Lamar Hunt and the New York Giants’ Wellington Mara. Jones has the added benefit of being the “football man” in his organization (debate the use of that term all you want, but he carries the title general manager). The closest approximations, based on titles, are George Halas and Curly Lambeau, both of which served as team owners, general managers and head coaches. Jones isn’t either’s equal in talent evaluation. And even if you agree that Jones isn’t worth his weight in football acumen, you can’t argue that he made the Cowboys’ most important decision in the past 25 years — hiring Jimmy Johnson. Without Johnson those three Super Bowl wins, and all of the machinations that went into them, do not happen.
Jones’ business acumen overshadows his work as the Cowboys’ GM. Frankly no owner or team official has done more to change the financial paradigm in the NFL than Jones. He took team sponsorship to a new level. That’s how he was able to get both Coke (official soft drink of the NFL) and Pepsi (official soft drink of the Dallas Cowboys) in concession stands side by side at Texas Stadium. The Nike deal in the 1990s changed the way the NFL looked at team apparel contracts and eventually led the league to consolidate some of those rights under one umbrella. The NFLPA didn’t license players’ likenesses full bore until Jones showed them the way. He exploited loopholes I doubt the league knew existed. At the time he was criticized for thinking of himself because revenue had been shared in the NFL for 30 years. Eventually everyone joined him. His work on various league committees has helped turn the NFL into the model for generating revenue in professional sports. He was truly a pioneer in this area.
Pioneers deserve a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His contributions have helped move the league’s financial needle for more than two decades. The fact that he has three Super Bowl rings to go along with it is almost a bonus. If I had a vote I’d cast it for Jones and continue to cast it until he was voted in.
Why won’t he get in this time around? Well, Jones isn’t the most well-liked or well-respected owner or general manager in the league. Many will focus more on the football than his other contributions. That’s unfair but that’s life.
He will get into the Hall eventually. And he’ll deserve it.
4. I’m watching Benson Mayowa closely the next three weeks. The way the Cowboys paid Mayowa as a restricted free agent led me to believe as early as April they anticipate him being a big piece of what they do on the defensive line. As with most of the Cowboys’ decisions on the front four this offseason, it’s a big gamble.
For now? Dallas recorded three sacks of Miami QBs, Shaneil Jenkins, Kyle Wilber and Tyrone Crawford all getting a piece of the action that centered largely on back-seven play from Sean Lee, Orlando Scandrick and Mo Claiborne.
As Lee told CHQ late Friday night: "Our defense has a chip on its shoulder. We can be the defensive we want to be.''
5. Check out Mike Fisher’s latest 1-on-1 conversation with Dez Bryant. It’s chock full of Dez being Dez.
It’s part of the premium subscription for CowboysHQ.com and you can get one today by clicking here. Just $5 a month gets you premium access to CowboysHQ.com stories and message boards, one of the best Cowboys communities around.
6. Don’t underestimate James Hanna’s injury. I wrote in April that Hanna was a Swiss Army knife kind of player. He can play tight end, he can block, he can catch passes and compete on several coverage units. They paid him high for a back-up tight end, but not for a versatile special teams ace. Think of this like losing Dwayne Harris a couple of years ago — it’s going to take a couple of guys to take Hanna’s place until he can make it back.
In the meantime? There are a lot of weapons here, and they now include at least two QBs.
Oh, Tony Romo is still fully in charge, of course, after his 4-of-5 night in two series to open Friday. But then came Dak Prescott and he did it again, as he did in last week's preseason loss at LA: He was close to perfect, throwing for two scores and running for two more. Dak completed 12 of his 15 passes for 199 yards and exhibited a rare "cool'' for a rookie.
“Each day the games will get tougher because you move on here,’’ Romo said. “Dak knows that. And he knows he's playing great right now I suspect he’ll continue to do that.’'
7. Ezekiel Elliott can do this.
It was the last day of training camp. They were having a little fun. I tried it at home. I’m not nearly as coordinated.
And Zeke will, as planned "do it'' next week in Seattle, with a healed hammy. In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with vet Alfred Morris, whorushed 13 times for 85 and scored on a 15-yard sprint.
8. It’s our Tweet of the Week:
Great point by Claiborne. Great attitude overall this offseason. Now he must translate it into great play on the field. It’s beyond time for him to play like the player the Cowboys thought they drafted.
9. This week’s great moments in headline porn: “Do the Cowboys have a quarterback controversy” from bleedinggreennation.com
No, they don’t. But you have a quarterback problem, Philly.
Anyway, whatever. If they did, it's hard to tell with the compliments Romo dished Dak's way on Friday night:
"He's done a great job. It's been a great start for him. ... You can't ask for a better start."
10. On a non-Cowboys note, I’m the editor of College Football America and our 2016 Yearbook is out now. Our yearbook is more than 300 pages, features more than 900 college football teams and previews more than 100 college conferences. If you’re looking to get ready for the college football season there is no better way. In fact our late publication date means we have more up-to-date information than other football annuals.
The print edition is available online via Amazon.com and other major retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. Additionally, an iBooks version for iPads and iPhones is available through Apple’s iTunes bookstore and the iBooks app. A Digital PDF version is available through Lulu.com and viewable on any tablet reader or computer that will support Adobe Reader. Prices start as low as $9.99.
THE LAST WORD
"No disrespect to the Dolphins no disrespect at all," Dez Bryant told CowboysHQ after the Friday night win. "But did you see the juice on our sideline? That's planned. That's intentional. We got juice!"
Want to talk more Cowboys? Hit the CowboysHQ.com message boards or hit up Postins @PostinsPostcard or Mike Fisher @FishSports on Twitter.