FRISCO, Texas – Not sure why (wink, wink), but have this sneaking suspicion there still is a whole lot of consternating going on out there just three days into the start of the NFL’s new league year.
Come on, Christian Covington doesn’t excite you?
But if you just need something to worry about, something to bang your head against the wall some six months before the 2019 season begins, let me be of some service. Just trying to do the right thing.
And before we go there, giving a wart to worry about, and know this consolation isn’t what anybody wants, including the folks out here on this gorgeous, basketball-loaded Friday, but allow me to remind you the Cowboys did go 10-6 this past NFL season. Won a division title. Won a playoff game. And from Game 8 on, the game after the Amari Cooper trade they did go 8-2 those final 10 games.
This also represented their fourth winning season in the past five years, their longest such stretch since 2005-09 when they reeled off five consecutive winning seasons, but only three of those ending in the playoffs. The Cowboys were, by the way, one of just 11 teams this past season with at least 10 wins.
So, they weren’t the dregs.
And I get it, the Eagles won the 2017 season Super Bowl, but the Cowboys are the only NFC East team in the past five years with four winning seasons: Philly 3, Washington 2, Giants 1. And when it comes to the entire NFC, only Seattle has more winning seasons than the Cowboys in the past five years, totaling five – and, actually last seven straight.
Now look, I know what’s coming next: But the Eagles won a Super Bowl. But Seattle won a Super Bowl.
Fine, but think about this. How long did the Cowboys’ three Super Bowl victories in four years appease you? Your thoughts when they went in consecutive seasons 6-10, 10-6, 8-8, 5-11, 5-11, 5-11, 10-6, 6-10 from 1997-2004?
Did you tell your friends after the 2004 season, the sixth non-winning season in eight years, yeah but, the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years from 1992-95?
Bet got tired of that.
Let me continue with another public service when it comes to free agency and managing the salary cap, and this comes thanks not to Jerry or Stephen Jones, or Will McClay or even me, but someone you might not be all that familiar with: Kansas City Chiefs GM Brett Veach the past two seasons.
Here is what Veach had to say about managing the salary cap after just having released Justin Houston, Eric Berry, Steven Nelson and trading franchised pass rusher Dee Ford:
“The cap was certainly a big part of these decisions. Where we were, what was going to be utilized in regard to cap space and how we can maneuver ourselves to potentially do long-term extensions with other players (played a role). I think the fact that we have a (first-round pick) and two (second-round picks) this year and then a (first-round pick) and two (second-round picks) next year puts us in a position to be aggressive from now until the start of the season.
“So, I think you start with the cap and, again, they're tough decisions, but I think it’s something that – looking toward not just next season, but the next two, three, four and five years – if you're not proactive in your approach, then you're always chasing your tail and you're always in a position where you don't have draft capital or cap space.”
Veach didn’t create the mess he’s been dealing with. He inherited it from John Dorsey, who left for Cleveland where he is spending as if there is no tomorrow – or a cap.
And as a polite reminder, the Cowboys between now and oh the next two years for sure, have to sign to long-term contracts or deal with franchise tags to keep the rights of DeMarcus Lawrence, Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones, All Pro Bowlers, adding to the Pro Bowl contracts of Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick, along with bringing back previous Pro Bowlers Sean Lee and Jason Witten on club-friendly deals.
All eating or will be eating up cap space, but then those guys are your cap priorities since they are the main reasons you have been winning.
Just can’t have a filet mignon on every plate. Sometimes you need to get by with some skirt steaks.
And here is one of those plates the Cowboys badly need to fill with one. A necessity, but not at all costs.
Ask yourself, right now, who is the backup running back to Zeke, a guy who can carry the load between the tackles if needed for two or three consecutive games, heaven forbid?
Remember Rod Smith is an unrestricted free agent, and sure feels like the Cowboys would like to upgrade that very necessary position they have gotten by with over the past couple of years with Smith and the aging Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden.
Plus, the only other two running backs on the roster right now are the unproven Darius Jackson and Jordan Chunn. Get the feeling they would like to do better than that.
Now there is the draft. But there are no guarantees the guy you want or willing to accept will be available. The Cowboys need some insurance there, more so than someone worrying about who the Cowboys’ backup punt returner will be after dealing with the loss of Cole Beasley and at least re-signing Tavon Austin to a one-year, sort of prove-it deal.
Maybe free agency?
Again, depends how much you can budget for that spot.
Catching my eye first is Isaiah Crowell, released by the Jets after signing Le’Veon Bell. He’s 26. Did average 4.8 yards a carry for the Jets in 2018, finishing with 685 yards starting six of the 13 games he played. In 2016 for the gosh-awful Browns, he again averaged 4.8 a carry, with 952 yards and seven touchdowns. Also, and this caught my eye: He caught 40 passes.
Makes you go hmmm, doesn’t it?
Then there are the reports saying the Browns have been shopping Duke Johnson (who piqued the Cowboys’ interest in the draft) and his reasonable $3 million base salary. Johnson took his 40 carries this past season for 201 yards (5.0 average) and had 47 catches (235 in his first four years). But the Browns might be changing their minds after learning Thursday of Kareem Hunt’s eight-game suspension.
But again, let’s remember, the Cowboys aren’t lining up tomorrow. Oh, and here is breaking news for some:
Free agency doesn’t end on Sunday!
And the good part is the Cowboys haven’t yet spent any cap money frivolously. And I’ll say it again, knowing contracts they must deal with either now or likely next year, they haven’t piled $32 million over these next two seasons into a 30-year-old free safety coming off a broken leg who has missed 19 of the past 48 games, no matter how good you might think he is.
Seattle didn’t budge an inch to re-sign that guy, even before he broke his leg last year. They sure didn’t think he was worth the money. And they had the guy for the past nine years. Who knows Earl better than they? Baltimore?
No matter what some think, the Cowboys will continue systematically maneuvering through free agency and building their roster for 2019. They have financial priorities and should be applauded for sticking to them.
Pay attention the next two weeks when unsigned free agents realize they don’t have jobs. Prices will drop, when bargains are to be had and any potential mistakes become less cap-crippling.
Giving the Cowboys a better chance to consistently keep knocking at the door.
Instead of drowning in the cap-hell abyss swallowing them up after winning those three Super Bowls in four years
A consolation that got old real fast.