FRISCO, Texas – Two weeks before the start of the NFL league year. Two weeks until free agency kicks in. Most important, two weeks before the salary cap comes alive.
And from the NFL Scouting Combine, Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said, "Obviously, we'll have to make some tough decisions."
A couple of days later to our guys from DallasCowboys.com, Stephen reemphasized that point, saying, "There's a lot to toggle."
No kidding. Who is staying, who is going, who becomes too expensive in free agency, who gets contracts restructured?
But there are two words in all of this that seem to get lost: dead money.
Most like to refer to how much money is saved by cutting bait with a player when the base salary outgrows production. But when money has been guaranteed or when a signing bonus or restructure bonus is paid and then prorated over the life of the contract, those cap charges don't disappear. They accumulate if parting with a player before the contract expires.
Take DeMarcus Lawrence. Most want to point out the Cowboys might not be able to afford his $19 million base salary. What they don't tell you is a Lawrence departure will charge the Cowboys' cap $19 million in dead money, either all this year or part this year and part next. A charge for past snaps.
Then there is Amari Cooper and his $20 million base salary. Depart with "Coop" and that's $6 million in dead money.
Depart with Tyron Smith? That's $12 million in dead money.
Some want to bring up La'el Collins. Depart with him, that's $13.95 million dead.
And to think the Cowboys already are carrying $7 million in dead money into this 2022 salary cap, $6.8 million of that for releasing Jaylon Smith.
See what I mean? Divorcing with players under contract who already have been paid their money is expensive. So be careful when wishing for the Cowboys to take some of these roster shots.
- Record Straight: Let's straighten out a couple of misconceptions. First, that offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is an independent contractor running the offense. Come on. You think Mike McCarthy doesn't have a say during the week in game-plan prep? Come on. Of course, he does. Remember come game day, Moore isn't just pulling plays out of a hat. It's all on the call sheet. This play or that play we like most for this down and this distance. So, when Jones was asked at the combine if he thinks McCarthy needs to be more involved in the offense, he said, "He's more involved than you think he is." And so, the next day McCarthy is asked the same question, if he'll be more involved in the offense this season. He went through a long-winded answer, but when pointing out the two-year evolution of the Cowboys offense that in the third year he needs to be where he needs to be, he said, "I can say this, moving forward, that's where I'm going to be. From a priority, that is my priority moving into year three." To me, that is not suggesting he's taking over the offense but to devote more time this offseason to that side of the ball
- Flying Flags: Said McCarthy, "One or two focuses for the team going forward is obviously the penalties and adversity football. … Definitely penalties will be. We will talk and emphasize penalties more than we have in the past." And for good reason. As we know, the Cowboys ignominiously led the NFL with 127 penalties for 1,103 penalty yards in the 2021 regular season. But get this, their opponents were flagged 121 times for 973 yards, so just a minus-6 penalty differential but a minus-130 yardage differential. Weird when you think the Cowboys committed 63 penalties on offense to their opponents' 64, then 47 on defense to their opponents' 44 and 17 on special teams to their opponents' 13. Doubly weird, the Cowboys and three of their opponents, Chargers, Raiders and Cardinals, finished in the top 4 in penalties, and seven of the top-11 most-penalized teams were Cowboys opponents, with the addition of Minnesota, Kansas City, Carolina and Philadelphia. Guilt by association? Or crews? But then seven of the 12 least penalized teams were Cowboys opponents. Go figure.
- Bottom Line: This from Jones, not ready to throw out the offense, pointing out the Cowboys did finish during the regular season as the No. 1 offense, tied for No. 2 in passing offense and finished No. 1 scoring a franchise record 31.2 points a game, topping the previous mark of 29.9 set in 1983. And get this: Their 64 touchdowns scored (9 of those on returns) in 17 games, came to a 3.76 average, better than the previous high of 60 scored in the 16-game season of 1980 (4 returns), but just barely, a 3.75 average. "We have to get better," Jones said of the offense. "We didn't win a Super Bowl. We have to get better … have to play better in big games." Like scoring just 17 points in the 23-17 playoff loss to San Francisco.
- Shocking: Maybe my eyes have been deceiving me. But I'm shocked that this very popular NFL player rating service ranked the Dallas Cowboys offensive line No. 1 for the 2021 season. Really? Maybe they did not analyze each guy for each play of each game. Or maybe this whole thing is computerized, and the computer had a program glitch. But did they not see the Cowboys inability to consistently run the football? The Cowboys inability to sufficiently pass block for Dak Prescott? Or maybe they didn't evaluate that Kansas City loss when Dak was sacked five times and hit another eight times passing. And they must not have included the San Francisco playoff game when Dak was sacked another five times and hit passing umpteen times. OK, sorry, just 14. No. 1? Maybe the league offensive line quality is down.
- Good Question: Got this question from Steve Curtis on Twitter: "What was the average points gained after a (Cowboys takeaway)? With our 160 mil QB leading the way, there were too many field goals and punts." Well, since you asked, the Cowboys finished with a league-high 34 takeaways. They turned those into 13 touchdowns, 11 field goals, five punts, four turnovers and one end of game possession. Now then, of the 15 takeaways inside the opponents' 50-yard line, where you would expect to score, the Cowboys finished with nine touchdowns, four field goals, one interception and one end of game. Then this, too: The total point differential between the Cowboys and their 17 regular-season opponents following a takeaway was a plus-87, or 122 points scored to 35 after giveaways. Also note, as I pointed out last week, the Cowboys notched zero takeaways – nada – in three of their five losses while giving the ball away seven times in the five losses for a minus-1 differential. Glad you asked.
- Good Answer: Loved this answer from Arizona GM Steve Keim at the combine on Tuesday when asked about the statement quarterback Kyler Murray's agent Erik Burkhardt sent out early in the week about how much Kyler wants to be with the Cardinals while pointing out, "It's now up to the Cardinals to decide if they prioritize their rapidly improving 24-year-old already 2X Pro Bowl QB," and on and on. In other words, campaigning for a new contract. Said Keim, "I think it's an agent doing his job." In other words, in the immortal words of Rod Tidwell in the movie Jerry Maguire, the barely fictional Cardinals receiver, "Show me the money."
- Congrats: The Cowboys training staff for the 2020 season was named winner of the Ed Block Courage Award for NFL Athletic Training Staff of the Year. And this year, staff member Greg Gaither has been named the winner of the NFC Tim Davey Assistant Trainer of the Year award, voted on by the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society. Bet Cowboys players would second those two awards.
- Shorties: Think about this, since Troy Aikman is reportedly close to signing a deal with ABC to step into the Monday Night Football booth worth $90 million over five years, well, that greatly exceeds the $55.537 million he earned in 12 years with the Cowboys … Jones said of the 23-17 playoff loss to the 49ers, "It was tough, one of the toughest ones in a while. … It took a while (to get over). I think everybody took it hard, owners, coaches, players, everybody in the organization. It was a tough one," ranking right up there with the 2006 season playoff loss to Seattle, the 2007 playoff loss to the Giants, the 2014 playoff loss to Green Bay and the 2016 playoff loss again to the Packers … Speaking of dead money, just know if the Packers decide to trade quarterback Aaron Rodgers or if he just walks away from the game, the Packers will incur $26.847 million in dead cap money.
And the last word goes to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, back from many moons gone by since last Friday, Feb. 25, marked the 33-year anniversary of Jerry buying the Cowboys.
And on that date, Jerry remarked, "This is going to be my life."
Darn sure has been right about that.