Salary cap surge could save Cowboys from free agency debacle

Jan 7, 2024; Landover, Maryland, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones walks off the field after
Jan 7, 2024; Landover, Maryland, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones walks off the field after / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Jones is on the record saying the Dallas Cowboys will be "all-in" this offseason. What Jones actually meant by that declaration is open for interpretation, of course.

There's a belief among fans that Jones won't stray from his normal approach, which usually entails re-signing a couple key free agents and maybe partaking in the second and third waves of free agency once the initial frenzy has dialed down.

With more cap space to work with, though, Jones has no excuse not to be all-in. Last week, the NFL announced its 2024 salary will be $255.4 million per team.

With more cap room, the Cowboys can afford more big-ticket free agents. On the flip side, though, the cap explosion could also knock some FAs out of Dallas' price range. That could be viewed as a negative domino effect, but it could save the team from splurging on Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen.

Salary cap surge could save Cowboys from signing Ravens LB Patrick Queen

On paper, Queen's numbers are indicative of an upper-echelon linebacker. He's averaged 113.4 tackles in four seasons to go with 13.5 sacks, 37 tackles for loss, 33 QB hits, 15 passes defended and five forced fumbles. He's a splash play waiting to happen, but he's also a stat compiler.

Stats don't always tell the full story in terms of a player's level of play. That's especially true for linebackers, who are near the ball on almost every snap. This past season was Queen's best as a pro, but fans in Baltimore will tell you it was a product of the trade for All-Pro Roquan Smith

Queen's never posted a run-defense grade north of 65.0 in four seasons, per PFF. He missed 22 tackles this year and the highest tackling grade of his career was a middling 56.9 mark in 2022. The 24-year-old also allowed a 97.1 passer rating when targeted this season and has averaged a 52.0 coverage grade in his career.

Queen is a solid player who'd bring a lot of intangibles to Mike Zimmer's defense, but his strengths (rushing the passer) don't align with what the Cowboys need. He didn't flourish until Smith's arrival and yet he's going to get paid top-of-the-market money. Spotrac lists Queen's market value at a lofty $18.5 million per year.

Given his draft pedigree as a former first-round pick and gaudy numbers, Queen could threaten to reset the linebacker market. If that $18.5 million AAV projection comes true, he'd slot in as the third-highest paid LB behind Smith ($20 million AAV) and Fred Warner ($19.04 million)

That's an obscene price tag for a player who didn't play his best ball until he was paired with a perennial All-Pro. The last time we checked, the Cowboys don't have an All-Pro in their current linebacker room.

Assuming the cap surge increases Queen's value even further, it should dissuade Jerry Jones from writing him a blank check.

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