Every time an elite player signs a new contract, the market for his position gets reset, and while the salary cap expands every season, teams simply can’t afford to pay everyone. It sounds like a good problem to have, but it is possible to have too many good players. The Dallas Cowboys have a ton of studs on rookie contracts, and sadly, while many will be paid, someone will end up hitting free agency. Who is it gonna be?
Who Will Be the Cowboy’s Cap Casualty?
Dak Prescott is in a very strange situation. On one hand, he’s Dallas’ starting quarterback, and has led them to the playoffs in two of his three seasons under center. On the other, he’s been a bit underwhelming while doing so. To date, he’s never thrown for 4,000 yards or more than 24 touchdowns, which are both quarterback standards.
Now, that’s not to say that his job is to have a pretty statline. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees terrorized defenses during the regular season, only to choke during the playoffs while the likes of Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson, and early in his career, even Tom Brady made winning a priority.
But even if the numbers aren’t there, quarterbacks expect to be paid a certain way. Can you justify giving someone who puts up average numbers $30 million a season? Can you make Dak Prescott the NFL’s highest paid player when Blake Bortles has four times as many 300 yard games?
Sadly, I think you have to. Because as mediocre as Dak’s numbers are, you can’t argue with results. Tony Romo’s numbers dwarf Dak’s, but he only made the playoffs four times in ten years as the starter. So while I don’t think Dak necessarily deserves the money, the market dictates passers get paid, so they’ll grimace and hand Dak the bag.
The star linebacker had a long road back from a debilitating injury suffered during his junior year at Notre Dame, but now it seems like he’s finally found his footing. In 2018, he registered 121 tackles, four sacks, four pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and a touchdown as a crucial part of Dallas’ vaunted front seven next to Leighton Vander Esch.
Unfortunately for Dallas, his great play means he’s probably expecting a pretty great payday as well. People can talk about Dallas’ offense all they want, but it was their defense which turned their season around in 2018. Just look back at their game against New Orleans, where they derailed Drew Brees’ MVP season by holding him to 127 yards, one touchdown, and an interception in an ugly 13-10 loss for the Saints.
When the Cowboys re-signed Demarcus Lawrence, I think they made a commitment to their defense, and it would be a bad move to let a unique talent walk out the door. After all, linebackers like Jaylon Smith don’t come along every year.
Interestingly enough, I think that of all the players on this list, Amari Cooper is the safest pick to stay. Just a year ago, Jerry Jones and company invested a first round pick in Cooper by trading for him. They wouldn’t trade a first round pick away for a year and a half of play. In just nine games with the Cowboys, Cooper caught 53 passes for 725 yards and six touchdowns.
He’ll likely receive (pun intended) his big contract before the bye this season, and the Boys will hang on to their talented, if inconsistent star wide receiver. How often is a wide receiver’s job safer than the quarterback’s?
Sadly, I think that Ezekiel Elliott, despite being the best player on this article, might be the one who gets the axe. There are a couple of variables at play here, none of which is Zeke’s fault.
Firstly, tailbacks have a short shelf life. They get so much wear and tear on their bodies, getting tackled more than arguably anyone else on offense. The average tailback doesn’t have a lengthy career, but most backs don’t get as many touches as Ezekiel Elliott has. He’s 23 years old and he’s already had over 1,400 carries between college and the pros. Throw in nearly 100 catches, and his body has taken quite the beating.
Secondly, the highest paid tailback in professional football is Los Angeles’ Todd Gurley. Gurley is set to make $45 million in guaranteed cash, and if you’ve ever watched him play, he’s worth it. However, as we saw in the postseason this year, his body isn’t quite what it used to be. Rumors about arthritis in his knee have the Rams worried that he might not be able to keep playing at such a high level.
If he can’t go, or he can’t perform at the same level, the Rams are still stuck with his contract. This is the reality that the Pittsburgh Steelers were afraid of with Le’Veon Bell, that they’d have a ton of money invested in a player that doesn’t live up to expectations.
The Cowboys might be looking at Gurley and thinking that they don’t to end up in that same situation. With one of the NFL’s best offensive line, they might not be able to perfectly recreate his production, but they’ll be able to get a decent substitute, like the Steelers have with James Conner.