Skip to main content

Offseason | 2024

Spagnola: Needing To Make All The Right Decisions


FRISCO, Texas – Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

If this were a political thing, we'd be calling this:

Decision 2024.

But it's not. Close, though. Just pertains to football. It's the Dallas Cowboys. And they have a slew of decisions to make over the next two months that will greatly impact this coming 2024 NFL season, and maybe more so than what they decide in the upcoming draft now six weeks aways.

And the Cowboys must be right. Can't afford to be wrong too many times. Otherwise, this goal to string together at least a fourth consecutive 12-win season, to become the first team since 2004 to win back-to-back NFC East Division titles and the first Cowboys team to advance past the second round of the playoffs since 1995 will be but no more than a pipe dream.

But that is what happens when waking up the third day of the 2024 NFL calendar year with an estimated $2.83 million of available salary cap space when counting the Top 51 salaries on the team. Good thing the NFL Draft was not yesterday. The Cowboys would not have had enough money to fund their seven picks.

And that is why the Cowboys were forced to make the two moves they made on Friday afternoon: Making seventh-year wide receiver Michael Gallup a June 1 release and cutting ties with seventh-year linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with a failed physical designation. That should free up about $10 million of cap space, enough to cover the costs of signing the veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks they did officially on Friday and re-signing nickel back Jourdan Lewis to one-year deals.

But even those moves come at a cost. While the Cowboys will gain roughly $8 million of cap space from releasing Gallup now, but not until June 2, they will eat $5.3 million in dead money this year and another $8.7 million in 2025. They can treat that windfall as a saving account to fund their rookie pool.

As for Vander Esch, who finished the 2023 season on injured reserve after suffering the second neck injury of his career and jeopardizing his future, the move probably creates the roughly $2 million to fund Kendricks' projected base salary.

But they got to be right, right, since the only wide receivers under contract after CeeDee Lamb at this time are possibly an emerging Jalen Tolbert (24 career catches) and Jalen Brooks (6 his rookie season). And the Cowboys certainly couldn't have done what the Bears did, trading but a fourth-round draft choice to acquire Chargers veteran wideout Keenan Allen while inheriting his $18.1 million base salary. No could do.

So, let's start with some tough decisions, and might as well start with QB1.

Do the Cowboys lessen the burden of Dak Prescott's $29 million base salary increasing his cap hit to $59.4 million by giving him a restructure bonus that prorates over four years, three of those voided, meaning at some point the credit card bill will come due. Or do they sign him to an extension guaranteeing him theirs for the next three or four years depending on length heading into his ninth season (how time flies).

Let's continue. Now how to replace offensive left tackle Tyron Smith, notching his fifth All Pro season in 2023. Smith, turning 34 in December, had been seeking market value for around $18 million on what surely will be his final NFL contract and seemingly found it with the New York Jets late on Friday, reportedly agreeing to a one-year deal for as much as $20 million.

Unfortunately, the cap-strapped Cowboys had to be financially judicious with this one. The cap space just wasn't available to match such an offer. Just had to grit their teeth and let the All Decade and future Pro football Hall of Fame left tackle head east.

So now comes a huge decision, what to do what to do at left tackle. Are they thinking, well, we can save some money by moving All Pro guard Tyler Smith, their 2022 first round pick originally a tackle in college, to left tackle and either draft a guard or simply decide last year's rookie free agent backup T.J. Bass can slide in starting at left guard. Or do they sign a lesser expensive veteran guard or trade for one.

Again, when talking Dak's blindside, can't be wrong here, and certainly selecting an offensive tackle in the first round isn't out of the questions unless they want to give either Asim Richards, Matt Waletzko or Josh Ball a shot at replacing Tyron, somewhat of a chancy choice. Or cover themselves by signing an acceptable free agent offensive tackle as insurance against any or all these possibilities.

But again, the Cowboys absolutely can't be wrong here.

Now then, how much to they pay Lamb on a long-term deal to lessen his $17.9 fifth-year option cap hit. And that amount will hugely impact the 2025 cap space where the Cowboys already know they will be carrying roughly $70 million in dead money and realizing if not signing Micah Parsons to an extension by 2025, his fifth-year option of $21 million will hit their cap.

Speaking of Parsons is he am undersized defensive end where he played majority of his snaps in 2023 or is he a linebacker where teams will have extreme difficulty double-teaming the Cowboys sack leader over the past three season and further allow him to use his athletic skills to run to the ball. Either way that will impact draft priority at the position he isn't playing.

Do they trust DeMarvion Overshown, last year's third-round draft choice tearing his ACL in training camp, returning ready to take on a full load at linebacker, where currently it's Kendricks and Damon Clark, or do they search for another starting quality backer. Again, got to be right with this projection since the Cowboys paid dearly for a lack of linebacker size against the run last season. (See Green Bay running for 143 yards and three TDs in that playoff loss.)

Oh, hang on, we still got ways to go.

How about defensive end. Both rotation ends Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler Jr. took the Commanders money and ran to Washington to join former defensive boss Dan Quinn. If Parsons then primarily plays linebacker, it's DeMarcus Lawrence and Sam Williams now at end. Do they trust Sam to be the starting Man, to be able to handle more than the 28.3 percent of the snaps he did in 2023. Also do they think Junior Fehoko, last year's fourth round pick, is ready to shoulder a bigger role, never active for a game his rookie season.

Probably need some help there. Decisions, decisions.

Then there is the defensive tackle spot. You know, Cowboys rotation defensive tackle Neville Gallimore signed a one-year, guaranteed $1.79 million deal with Miami and that starter Johnathan Hankins is an unrestricted free agent. Hmmm, how much do the Cowboys trust last year's first-round pick Mazi Smith to make a gigantic second-year leap and not drop below 300 pounds again. Need some beef up front.

Hey, not nearly done yet. What about center? You know Tyler Biadasz if off to Washington, too. Now must ask, do the Cowboys trust second year former 2022 rookie free agent Brock Hoffman to move from backup center to starter with all of 221 NFL snaps in 2023 and two NFL starts (one a right guard). Or is this another one of those necessary veteran insurance policies needed just in case.

Then cornerback, a position they came up short at in the playoff loss when having to adjust their defense to more zone coverage protecting veteran Stephon Gilmore's harnessed shoulder. Yep, did re-sign Lewis, but a nickel back. Can they trust corner Trevon Diggs to return to Pro Bowl level after his ACL tear last season. And if they need a fourth to join Lewis, Diggs and DaRon Bland, do they have enough cap space to re-sign Gilmore, a more than trusty hand.

So many decisions.

Now, did I forget anything?

Uh, yeah, wait. How could I forget. What about running back? The Cowboys did lose leading rusher Tony Pollard to Tennessee, three years, $21.75 million, $10.49 million of that guaranteed. And his backup Rico Dowdle is unrestricted, too. That means the Cowboys have under contract from last season still Deuce Vaughn, fullback Hunter Luepke and practice squader Malik Davis.

Got to be yearning for more, no.

But after all this, maybe you understand why the Cowboys didn't enter the first week free-agent fray for a veteran running back. They have so many roster fires to put out, they could not conscientiously go "all in" on one position at the expense of so many other needs. That now means picking over the veteran leftovers, or trading for an available veteran or using at least a Day 2 draft choice on a running back.

You know, wonder what Zeke is doing these days? Still lives out here. Probably could use some extra scratch. Should be fresh, only had 181 carries last year. Did score three rushing touchdowns for the Patriots, and that's more than anyone else the Cowboys had rushing not named Pollard, and he only had six. Just a thought, and heck, he's already costing them $6 million in dead money from last year's release.

Just an insurance policy thought.

Hope this helps out gaining some perspective on all these prime personnel decisions the Cowboys must make. All these vacancies they must fill.

In youngsters do they trust?

Count on hitting draft choices?

Do they still go Dollar Tree shopping in free agency?

Kind of makes your head spin, doesn't it, facing so many decisions.

Especially when you just gotta be right.

Related Content