Did the Dallas Cowboys improve by signing Amari Cooper and tagging Dak Prescott? Recent NFL history would suggest the Cowboys will struggle.
The Dallas Cowboys have made a splash in the 2020 free agent pool. By re-signing wide receiver Amari Cooper and using the exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have secured the offensive playmakers that led the NFL in offensive yards in 2019.
The details on the Cooper deal appear to be a $10 million signing bonus along with a $10 million salary in the first year for a $12 million cap hit in 2020, it is safe to say that he did not come cheap with a $20 million average per year cap hit. Per Spotrac, the 2020 cap hit for Prescott on his franchise tag is $31.5 million.
That money will need to pay for the 2020 draft class and some bargain basement free agents – forget about defensive end Robert Quinn, who has now found greener pastures with the Chicago Bears. When your roster is top-heavy like the Cowboys, you need to find ways to save money.
In fact, the Cowboys 2020 roster appears to be the most top-heavy roster since the 2011 CBA was signed. Cooper’s deal puts Dallas top six players (Prescott, Cooper, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick) very close to the 2011 Raiders who allocated 54.2 percent of the cap to their top six players.
If you add running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys will have the highest top seven cap hits since the 2011 CBA was signed. The 2011 Raiders spent 58.1 percent on their top seven players.
The Cowboys will have committed 53.4 percent of the cap on six players and 58.9 percent of the cap on seven players. These seven players will need to play at a high level in 2020 should Dallas want to play in January.
Should the Cowboys make the playoffs, they would buck the trend. Of the six teams to spend more than 50 percent of their cap on six players, only one made the playoffs – the 2012 Broncos.
From 2011 to 2019, twelve teams made the playoffs from the 32 team field. This represents a playoff participation rate of 37.5 percent.
Since 2011, only four of the top twenty teams to spend the most money on six players qualified for the playoffs. That is a 20 percent success rate – almost twice as hard to make the playoffs.
The numbers do not get much better when looking at the top seven highest paid players. Only five of the twenty (25 percent) teams to spend the most on seven players made the playoffs from 2011 through 2019.
Recent history would suggest the chances of the 2020 Cowboys making the playoffs is low. By allocating so much money on so few players, the margin for error will be razor-thin.
Of course, the Cowboys could restructure some of these contracts which only will push the problem into future years – remember all the dead money former quarterback Tony Romo had when he was calling games for CBS? They could also sign Prescott to a long-term deal and reduce his 2020 cap hit but how much relief will that bring given that Prescott is seeking a four-year $140 million dollar contract.
The Cowboys have made their bed with Prescott, Cooper, Elliott, Frederick, Smith, Martin and Lawrence as the core of the team. Dallas success will depend on these seven players performance exceeding the value of their contracts. If you are hoping for playoff success in 2020, you likely will be disappointed.