The Dallas Cowboys typically focus their free agency efforts on retaining their own players with expiring contracts, trying to “get the band back together,” so to speak. Making sure that the team could play a game with the players they have going into the draft, with the belief that the NFL Draft is the place where they can upgrade the team.
A recent quote from COO Stephen Jones verifies what we already know: "I've always said, free agency is not a great way to build a football team.''
Once the team figures out exactly how much space they’re going to have to work with, as we did in Part 1 last week, their next step is prioritizing which of their own players they want to retain, determining how much they are willing to pay those players, and estimating the player’s value on the open market.
For an update on our plan for managing the cap, now that we know the official salary cap, and that the team has taken the first two steps in our plan, we’ve adjusted our numbers to match the actual adjustments to the base salaries for Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, and with the anticipation that they will adjust Sean Lee’s contract to a similar level about a half-million below the maximum available.
So with just under $16 Million in projected cap space, it’s time to go to work and pull out The Big Calculator. The first thing we’ll do is put the Cowboys' free agents into tiers grouping them according to how they should be prioritized in terms of signing.
The low priority guys on this list are guys who for one reason or another I’m comfortable (and I believe the team will be comfortable) being allowed to find a different place to play in 2017. Some of these guys, (Gachkar, Davis, Durant, Crawford, Thomas, Davis) have been quality teammates and contributors who are simply victims of the increased depth on the roster, Others (Escobar and Dunbar) were players who once showed great promise who have failed to live up to that promise on the field. And one, the enigma that has been Rolando McClain, let off-field issues cost him a long-term role at the important middle linebacker position, and now is staring at a promising young player whose talent and ability is only exceeded by his optimism.
For the remaining players, those on the mid-level, and high priority lists, we will need to assess their potential cost to retain. The primary method of determining market value for contracts are recent contracts signed around the league for similar players.
Estimated contract: 2 years $4 Million. $2 Million per yr, $1.4M Signing Bonus, $1.4M Guaranteed
Andre Holmes, Oakland Raiders: 1 year $2 Million $500k Signing Bonus, $750k Guaranteed
Ted Ginn, Carolina Panthers: 2 yrs $4.2 Million $1.7M Signing Bonus, $1.7M Guaranteed
Butler has had plenty of opportunities to prove himself capable of being a potential starter and has failed to take advantage of those opportunities. His lack of consistency both on the practice field and on game days have made the team leery about depending on him as a full-time player, but as a part-time role player at $2M per year he is worth consideration for many teams due to his size, athleticism and big-play potential.
Estimated Contract:1 year $2 Million $500k Signing Bonus, $500k Guaranteed
Matt Cassel, Tennessee Titans: 1 year $2 Million, $750k Signing Bonus, $750k guaranteed
Brian Hoyer, Chicago Bears: 1 year $2 Million, $500k Signing Bonus, $750k guaranteed
Sanchez only saw the field one time in 2016, and his performance was less than stellar to say the least. There is a lot of time separating Sanchez and his back-to-back AFC Championship games with the New York Jets, but with the overwhelming shortage of quarterbacks with 72 NFL starts, Sanchez will still have value in the league.
Estimated Contract: 1 year $775,000, No Signing Bonus, No Guaranteed
Moore has played two years in a row as a “Minimum Salary Benefit” player. The rule was designed to help veterans stay in the league by giving teams the option of signing a veteran player with four or more years in the league to a one-year contract at the minimum base salary, and a signing bonus of no more than $80,000, and having them count the same against the salary cap as a player in their second year on a minimum deal. In this case Moore would make $775,000, but only count $615,000 against the cap. He hasn’t had a signing bonus in his contract in prior years, so it’s viable to estimate that the trend would continue.
Estimated Contract: 3 year $19 Million $4.5 Million Signing Bonus $4.5 Million Guaranteed
Brent Grimes, Tampa Bay Bucs, 2 years, $13.5 Million $3.5 Million Roster Bonus Yr 1, $3.5 Million Guaranteed
Tramon Williams, Cleveland Browns, 3 years, $21 Million, $1 Million Signing Bonus, $2.3 Million Roster Bonus Yr 1, $10 Million Guaranteed
Carr has been the definition of dependable in his 9 years in the league, playing in and starting every game of his career. When he signed a 5-year $50-million contract in 2012, expectations for big plays and game-changing performances followed. However, after 6 interceptions in his first 2 years in Dallas, he had only one in the last 3 seasons. Because of his lack of big plays, while making big money, Dallas fans largely consider Carr a disappointment. But there is a significant amount of value to a player who shows up for work every day and is a solid contributor.
Estimated Contract: 2 Years $11 Million, $3.5 Million Signing Bonus, $5 Million guaranteed, Per Game roster bonuses of $125,000 per game to increase total contract to $13 Million.
Jeremy Lane, Seattle Seahawks. 4 years, $23 Million, $5 Million Signing Bonus,$7 Million Guaranteed, $11 Million Cash First Two Years.
Prince Amukamara, Jacksonvile Jaguars, 1 Year, $5.5 Million, $1.5 Million Signing Bonus ,$3 Million Guaranteed.
Claiborne will be one of the more interesting free-agent scenarios in 2017. When he’s been on the field, he’s been one of the better corners in the game, but an inability to stay healthy makes it difficult to rely on him, and equally as difficult to value him on the free-agent market. Lane and Amukamara present comparable situations with injury histories who received very similar deals, although different lengths. If Claiborne can stay healthy, he is a better player than either Lane or Amukamara, and with this deal he can be paid as such, making up to $13 million in the next 2 years, and have another shot at free agency at the age of 29.
Estimated Contract: 2 Years $1.65 Million, $100,000 signing bonus, $100,000 Guaranteed
The Cowboys added Cooper, the former top-10 pick at the end of the 2016 season, and held him through the playoffs. Cooper fits the Cowboys MO of players with high draft pedigrees who didn’t work out with their first team (or three in Cooper’s case). Another typical Cowboys move is to sign players like this to 2-year inexpensive contracts, allowing them to invest in the player’s development while increasing the odds of reaping the benefits by having the rights to the player for a second year. This contract gives Cooper a small signing bonus, and gives the team the upside of his potential, with almost no risk should he fail to develop.
Estimated Contract: 2 Years, $4 Million, $1 Million signing bonus, $1 Million Guaranteed
DeAngelo Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2 years, $4 Million, $1.13 Million signing bonus, $1.13 Million Guaranteed.
McFadden has been a quality soldier for the last two years, proved he could be a dependable lead back in 2015, and at the least provides a complete reserve back, or member of a running back committee for a team with need for running back depth. This is also a contract similar to the one that McFadden signed two years ago when he joined the Cowboys before the 2015 season, and the deal that Alfred Morris signed in 2016 to increase the teams running back depth.
Estimated Contract: 1 year, $690,000
As a 2nd year player with an expired contract, David Irving is an “Exclusive Rights” Free Agent, meaning the Cowboys only need to tender him a one-year contract at the league minimum to retain him.
Estimated Contract: 4 years, $27.8 Million, $7.5 Million signing bonus, $14 Million fully guaranteed, $14 Million first two years cash.
Darian Stewart, Denver Broncos: 4 years $28 Million, $7 Million signing bonus, $13 Million fully guaranteed $12.5 Million first two years cash
George Iloka, Cincinatti Bengals: 5 years, $30 Million, $5.25 Milling signing bonus, $6.25 Million fully guaranteed, $9.25 Million first two years cash.
With Eric Berry being tagged by the Kansas City Chiefs, many in the NFL consider Barry Church to be the best safety available in free agency, meaning he’s likely to have a robust market. At just shy of $7 Million a year he sits just under the contract Stewart signed at 28 years old, but with higher signing bonus, guarantees and first two years cash. This also puts him in a similar range of other high level starting “strong safeties” like Kam Chancellor and TJ Ward.
Estimated Contract: 3 years, $10 Million, $2.5 Million signing bonus, $3.5 Million fully guaranteed
Andrew Sendejo, Minnesota Vikings: 4 years, $16 Million, $3 Million signing bonus, $3.95 Million fully guaranteed
Chris Conte, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1 year, $3 Million
Wilcox had his best season as a pro in rotational duty in 2016, and likely made himself a few million dollars in the process. A three-year deal here helps Wilcox have some stability, while putting him back on the free agent market at the age of 29 with a chance at a third contract similar to the situation Church is in now. Just over $3 million per year puts him in the range just above where many of the higher-level rookie safeties are paid, but below the level of more established starting safeties in the league. His ability to play special teams and compete for a starting role on defense provides plenty of value.
Estimated Contract: 4 years, $19 Million, $4 Million signing bonus, $8 Million fully guaranteed, $11 Million first two years cash.
Sen’Derrick Marks, Jacksonville Jaguars: 4 years $18 Million, $800,000 signing bonus, $5 Million fully guaranteed, $10.85 Million first two years cash
Roy Miller, Jacksonville Jaguars: 4 years, $16.25 Million, $500,000 signing bonus, $600,000 guaranteed, $8.125 Million first two years cash.
The Terrell McClain contract will be an interesting one to watch. The Cowboys gave Cedric Thornton a 4-year $17.25-mil contract in 2016 and he wound up backing up Thornton. Will the team attempt to convince McClain and his agent that he should make less money than his backup to stay with Dallas? Or will they be willing to pony up close to $10 million per year to their two nose tackles, along with $9 million per year to back up under-tackle Tyrone Crawford? This feels like a situation where despite the two sides wanting to work something out, they just aren’t able to get on the same page.
Estimated Contract: 5 Years, $39 Million, $9.5 Million signing bonus, $18 Million fully guaranteed, $18 Million first two years cash
Alex Boone, Minnesota Vikings: 4 years, $26.8 Million, $5 Million signing bonus, $10 Million fully guaranteed, $13.4 Million first two years cash.
Orlando Franklin, Los Angeles Chargers, 5 years, $36.5 Million, $8 Million signing bonus, $16.5 Million fully guaranteed, $16.5 Million first two years cash.
Ron Leary has been a productive starter in the NFL for basically his entire career in Dallas. He was replaced by La’el Collins four games into the 2015 season, not due to his own performance but because of the team’s belief in Collins long-term upside. He waited (somewhat) patiently for another opportunity, and got it in 2016 when Collins was injured. He took advantage and was a huge part of the Cowboys 13-3 record. He is a dominant run blocker who is solid in pass pro and will be a tone setter for a line in 2017. All of this will result in him getting a top-5 left guard contract, as we may see a upward market reset at the interior offensive line spots this off-season.
Estimated Contract: 5 years, $37 Million, $8.5 Million signing bonus, $15 Million fully guaranteed, $18 Million first two years cash.
Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions, 5 years, $40 Million, $8 Million signing bonus, $13 Million fully guaranteed, $20 Million first two years cash.
Mohammed Sanu, Atlanta Falcons, 5 years, $32.5 Million, $7 Million signing bonus, $14 Million fully guaranteed, $14 Million first two years cash.
Both Jones and Sanu were secondary weapons in Cincinnati before hitting free agency, and each signed deals with teams with established number 1 targets, (Golden Tate and Julio Jones respectively). These deals set the market for secondary wide receivers in a very defined way, and Williams who has been up and down as a play maker but has been the ideal teammate in Dallas, should fit very nicely in this range as well.
Based on these contract estimates, along with analysis of the Cowboys depth chart, we will plan on the Cowboys re-signing 5 of these 13 players. Here’s a breakdown of those five players, and the impact of the cap on for each of the next three years.
It’s pretty clear that Brandon Carr won’t be around for the 2019 season at 33 years old with a cap number of $10.5 Million. But those types of years are pretty much standard operating procedure to lower the proration numbers in veteran contracts.
In addition to these signings, we also need to account for the salaries of the draft picks who will join the team in April. Each team is allocated a “rookie pool” based on their draft slot, usually this number sits around $5-6 Million. However, due to the top-51 rule, each player who is drafted replaces a player at the bottom end of the top-51. Those players are usually young players making the league minimum, which for this year is $465,000. The Cowboys currently hold 7 draft picks, meaning that the “net” effect of the rookie pool for 2017 will be about $2.75 million. We’ll also go ahead and account for the rookie pools for the 2018 and 2019 drafts at about $3 million each as well to make sure we cover every possible base.
So where does that leave the team overall in relation to the cap in 2017 and beyond? Let’s break it down.
So with our plan, we have $6.6 million available to spend on outside free agents, and in-season injury replacements, with a few more options to create more space in case of emergency.
Stay dialed into CowboysHQ.com for Part 3, where we put some of this to use on an outside free agent or two, and run through a draft scenario to build a Cowboys depth chart for 2017. (Remember, the draft costs money, too.) And discuss this story with @JoeyIckes on Twitter, with @FishSports on Twitter, and here on CowboysHQ.com Discussion Boards.