How the Dallas Cowboys can keep their best free agents this offseason

Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /
1 of 3
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys have almost 30 free agents this year, including some of their biggest stars. Which ones will they be able to keep?

In past years, the Dallas Cowboys have been hampered by high salaries which kept them from signing key free agents. One notable casualty of the Dallas’ salary cap woes was Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Ware in 2014.

The front office spent so much on the salaries of quarterback Tony Romo and others, they couldn’t afford to sign Ware. So he left, signing a $30 million three-year contract with the Denver Broncos.

Dallas didn’t have a “war-daddy,” owner Jerry Jones’s cute term for an edge rusher, for several years after that. Overspending really hurt the team.

Since then, Dallas has been careful to avoid a similar situation, and they’ve been pretty good at limiting expenses. For the last few years, America’s Team has had plenty of salary cap space available.

This year, however, with many players becoming free agents, Dallas might have trouble. Let’s see who they can afford to sign, and how they can do it.

Early in December, the NFL announced the salary cap would be rising from $188.2 million in 2019 to somewhere between $196.8 million and $201.2 million in 2020.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume the final number will be $200 million. Under that number, Dallas will have $81.0 million available in 2020  before they’ve signed a single free agent, according to Over the Cap.

Of course, a lot of this will go to sign just two players, quarterback Dak Prescott, and star wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Dallas has a number of key free agents this year, including the above two, but also defensive linemen Michael Bennett, Robert Quinn, Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Kerry Hyder; wide receivers Randall Cobb and Tavon Austin; cornerbacks Byron Jones, and Anthony Brown.

There’s also safeties Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier, linebackers Sean Lee, Joe Thomas, and Ray-Ray Armstrong; tight ends Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin; and offensive tackle Xavier Su’a-Filo, plus a few assorted others. They can’t afford to sign all these players. But let’s see what we can do.

First, let’s set up some ground rules. If the decisions were mine, I would:

1. Leave at least $20 million after signing Dallas’s own free agents in order to bolster the team with other players.

2. Avoid dead money issues, which would handicap the team financially in the future. Thus, Dallas shouldn’t defer much of these salaries. One exception to this rule would be Prescott’s salary.

He’s only 26 years old, has been very healthy, and the contract term will probably be lengthy, so delaying some of his salary doesn’t seem that big a risk. Deferring the salary of someone like Robert Quinn, on the other hand, could cause real problems.

3. Renegotiate the salary of defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford or cut him. Crawford has perennially been considered the most overpaid Cowboy. Since missing most of the 2019 season due to hip surgery, Crawford has indicated he’d be willing to play for less to stay on the team.

Five million a year sounds reasonable, given his production. If he’s not willing to go that low, Dallas should cut him. If Crawford agrees to the deal, it would save the Cowboys four million in 2020 and would increase the spending limit to $85 million.