IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys' cap issues are well-documented, largely due to restructuring and large contracts not paying off.
From the dead money set to accumulate from Jay Ratliff's five-year extension in 2011 to Miles Austin's long-term extension worth $54 million, some risks taken by the Cowboys don't look fruitful in hindsight.
But it's worth noting one deal that could, and likely will, be looked back at as a major steal – a deal that locked up the team's leading tackler in 2013 through the 2016 season.
The Cowboys took a flier on an injured Barry Church during the 2012 year after the safety suffered a season-ending injury with an Achilles tear. They locked him up to a four-year extension worth $8.8 million with fewer than $4 million guaranteed and incentives that move the contract toward the $12 million range.
Church hadn't proven himself apart from a breakout training camp which earned him the starting job for the 2012 season, which he started three games of before the injury. But it was a chance they took without much risk, despite the injury he had just sustained.
If Church became the player the Cowboys envisioned, the deal would be one of their smartest in recent history. If it didn't work out, they weren't investing the type of money they'd given to other aging stars or athletes with injury histories.
A year and a half later, the deal appears to be a major steal.
Church still has work to do particularly in pass coverage, but he's already the accountable veteran presence of his position group and the one safety whose starting job appears to be safe. He's one of the team's best tacklers and was so valuable in that respect that the Cowboys' defensive coaches moved him into the box and installed a dime package to put him at linebacker. Having him there was better than any alternative, given all the injuries. [embedded_ad]
Different outlets will compile different totals on Church's final tackle tally of the 2013 season, but all of them credit Church with at least 133 combined tackles and leading the Cowboys in that category. His stellar year had many voting Church, a member of a maligned defense and secondary, to the Pro Bowl.
In addition, there doesn't appear to be any off-field dramatics or a diva personality to worry about with Church, who admittedly said he never forgets his roots as an undrafted player in 2010 still clinging on to a hope for a roster spot.
Some looked at the extension for Church as a silly move at the time, inking an undrafted player with unfulfilled expectations coming off a major injury to a multi-year deal. If Church's initial deal would have played out, he'd have been a restricted free agent before the 2013 season.
Instead, Church returned from injury and picked up where he left off, solidifying at least one spot in the secondary at a bargain for years to come.
There's plenty of reason to finger-point about questionable deals, but the Church signing's yielded immediate results and appears to be one of the team's best of the past few years.