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Possible Dallas Cowboys Cap Casualties Before NFL Free Agency

With the 2022 NFL League Year starting on March 16, teams are scrambling to get their affairs in order for the upcoming campaign. Whether it’s getting under the cap or extending players getting ready to hit the free-agent market, all 32 front offices are hard at work with hopes of improving this coming season. For the Dallas Cowboys, it’s a tricky time of year considering they entered the offseason needing to create north of $20M in cap space just to get under the $208.2M threshold the NFL announced in early March.

On top of that, they also need to create additional space in order to retain several of their 22 free agents. Dallas recently restructured the deals of Zack Martin and Dak Prescott to create a little over $22M in space. However, they also placed the franchise tag on Dalton Schultz at a guaranteed price of just under $11M.

With that being said, there is still work to be done over the coming weeks, and rumors have been swirling about several moves the Cowboys are leaning towards before the New League Year begins. Let’s look at some possible Dallas Cowboys cap casualties ahead of NFL Free Agency.

amari cooper dallas cowboys cap casualties
Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Possible Dallas Cowboys Cap Casualties

Amari Cooper

This comes as no surprise, as rumors have been ongoing for weeks about Dallas moving on from Cooper’s deal, and this isn’t exactly much of a shock. This deal was designed with the possibility of both sides going their separate ways when Cooper signed it.

There is still $66M left on his deal, but only $6M is currently guaranteed. Obviously, Cooper didn’t sign the deal with the intent of not getting the back half of his contract. Still, I’m sure his representation wanted the deal designed so that if the Dallas Cowboys did want to let him go before the end of the deal, it would happen while Cooper was young enough to still demand a big contract.

Cooper won’t be 28 until June, meaning he still has plenty of quality years left under his belt. On the other hand, the emergence of Michael Gallup and the 2020 draft slide of CeeDee Lamb have made Cooper somewhat expendable.

Yes, this team is better with all three in place, but Gallup is a free agent and will come at a lower price than Cooper. In addition, the NFL Draft is always loaded with talented receivers.

By releasing Cooper before March 21, the Cowboys will immediately pay him the $6M guaranteed on his contract while saving $16M in space in 2022. In addition, it will also save $20M in space each of the following two years when stars like Lamb, Trevon Diggs, and Micah Parsons will be eligible for extensions.

Demarcus Lawrence

Demarcus Lawrence is the second name that has been reported that the Cowboys are strongly considering moving on from this offseason. However, unlike Cooper, Dallas can take their time on this decision.

The debate about whether or not Lawrence has lived up to the contract extension he received following the 2019 season is a complicated one. He’s a leader on this defense and impacts the game on all three downs in ways the stat sheet doesn’t show.

Still, this is a passing league, and sacks are the reasons defensive ends get paid high dollars. The fact is Lawrence has only delivered double-digit sacks in two of his eight seasons, and both those came in contract years. He’s only totaled 48.5 sacks in 103 career games, and 25 of them came in a two-year span.

Because of that, it’s easy to see why Dallas reportedly asked Lawrence to take a pay cut. If he, indeed, turned it down, a post-June 1 cut is the likely next step. Doing so would not only save the Cowboys $19M in 2022 but also $18M in 2023.

Of course, it would also leave a big hole in the defense. The Dallas Cowboys would likely use the space to bring Randy Gregory back or obtain another edge rusher. Still, this is going to be a tough decision to make.

Tyron Smith

If the debate on whether or not to cut Lawrence is complicated, this one is a juggernaut. Left tackle is the second most important position on the football field behind the quarterback, and Smith is still one of the league’s best when healthy.

The problem is how often he’s healthy. Tyron Smith hasn’t played a full season since 2015 and has missed 20 games over the last two years. At 31, one has to wonder if he’ll ever finish an entire season.

Still, it’s hard to cut a guy like Smith. The example he sets for young players is unparalleled. He works hard at his craft and pushes himself to improve every offseason. Smith is also in phenomenal shape, something that hasn’t changed in his 11 years in the league.

However, this move doesn’t get made until Dallas has secured a replacement. A year ago, I thought Dallas would be unable to pass on Rashawn Slater if he fell to them. While I still think that would have been a smart move, it’s hard to argue with what Micah Parsons brought to this defense.

The challenging part about drafting a tackle this year is picking at 24. I’ve got four first-round grades on left tackles in Alabama’s Evan Neal, North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu, Mississippi State’s Charles Cross, and Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning.

I’d be shocked if any of them made it to 24, and there are scenarios where I could see all four going in the top ten. A post-June 1 release could gain the Cowboys $13.5M in space in 2022 and another $11.6M in 2023. Still, it’s a long shot for Dallas to find a tackle this offseason that will make them feel comfortable moving on from the future Hall-of-Famer.

La’el Collins

While cutting Smith would be extremely difficult, Collins is a different story. The Cowboys have a replacement already on the roster in Terence Steele, who played exceptionally well when filling in on the right during Collins’ suspension.

Some wondered if Collins would even get his job back, and others suggested it would be best to move him to left guard. Then, of course, some question if Collins will ever get back to his old self after suffering a serious hip injury in 2020.

When combining the uncertainty of that hip injury and the details of his suspension last fall, it would make sense for the Dallas Cowboys to move on. Still, this line is coming off of back-to-back campaigns of being a hindrance on this offense.

If Dallas believes Collins is focused and healthy, moving on from him doesn’t seem like the right move. I would like to know if the Cowboys have discussed moving him to left guard. If so, he has to be on board heading into the offseason.

Making that move means altering techniques and adjusting his offseason plan in the strength and conditioning program. He’s certainly capable of it, and with Connor Williams hitting the open market, the position switch would allow Dallas to get their best five linemen on the field.

However, if he is unwilling to make the change, Dallas has to weigh the next step for him, Steele, and the cap situation. We’ve seen Steele handle the job on the right, and designating Collins a post-June 1 release would clear up $10M in cap space this offseason, as well as $6.55 in 2023.

Additionally, while finding a left tackle would be tough at 24, finding an option on the right or at left guard would be much more plausible.

Dallas Cowboys Roster tight ends blake jarwin dalton schultz
Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Blake Jarwin

At this point, I’m not sure if Jarwin has a future in Dallas. With Schultz receiving the franchise tag and Jarwin only under contract through the 2023 season, we know who is getting the lion’s share of the targets at the position for half of his remaining time.

In addition, Jarwin has only been healthy enough to compete in nine games over the first two years of a four-year extension. Now, it appears he will miss a chunk of 2022 with a hip injury that could even be career-threatening.

That’s a tough break for a guy the Cowboys were so eager to get involved after promising seasons in 2018 and 2019. Terminating the final two years of his contract would save Dallas $5.25M in 2022 and $6.25M in 2023.

With those figures, it is hard to imagine Jarwin not getting the ax this summer. It stinks that an injury is involved here, but you have to believe that this was a topic of conversation over the last year, considering the state of the tight end position.

Anthony Brown

Before the 2021 campaign started, I had Brown pegged as a likely cap casualty for this offseason. That stance only grew more stubborn after watching some of his early-season performances against the Buccaneers and the Chargers.

Still, Brown rebounded and had a solid season. He will never be a star at the position, but he was more than serviceable and adequate cornerbacks are a luxury on any roster.

The Cowboys have Kelvin Joseph in the fold moving forward, as well as projects like Nashon Wright and Reggie Robinson. Still, Brown can play on the perimeter or in the slot, and Quinn got the best out of him.

I could see him sticking around, but that could change based on the draft. This is a deep class of cornerbacks, and if the right guy fell into the Cowboys’ lap, Brown’s presence wouldn’t keep them from pulling the trigger.

Dallas could designate him a post-June 1 release in that scenario, saving them $5M in space this year. However, he’s not the only cornerback the Dallas Cowboys would consider moving on from in that predicament.

Jourdan Lewis

Like Brown, Lewis’ roster status could be impacted by an offseason addition or the emergence of some of the younger players at the position. However, while Brown has the versatility to play inside or out, Lewis’ experience has primarily come in the slot.

Still, it’s just not easy to get rid of cornerbacks with a proven track record of success in the NFL. Has Lewis been consistently great? No, but there have been enough flashes for Dallas to go into 2022 comfortably with him penciled in as the slot corner.

Dallas would save $3.5M by releasing him after June 1, as well as $5M in 2023. That may not seem like a ton of money in the grand scheme of things, but considering this team’s salary cap situation over the next three years, every bit helps.

If the Dallas Cowboys do add an impact player at the position, Lewis will likely be the one who sees the door. If not, I don’t think anyone would be disappointed with him returning.

Greg Zuerlein

I get that quality kickers don’t just fall off trees. Still, when your contract averages $2.5M a year, there are high expectations. In 2021, Zuerlein finished 24th in field goal percentage for kickers that attempted at least 30 kicks.

He also finished dead last in extra-point percentage for those that attempted at least 25 extra points. That’s not going to cut it. I don’t relish the idea of entering an offseason with my kicker, punter, and long snapper all heading to free agency. Still, the $2.5M Dallas can save by terminating the final year of Zuerlein’s deal can go towards filling several of those vacancies.

I know John Fassel has a good relationship with Zuerlein, but if Dallas sees the opportunity to acquire a better option, they need to jump on it.

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