Spagnola: Wisely Putting The Team Together Again

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FRISCO, Texas – Step right up, please meet the fruits of the Dallas Cowboys remaining fiscally responsible with their once – for them – bountiful salary cap funds.

Defensive lineman Kerry Hyder.

Defensive lineman Chris Covington.

Funding Amari Cooper’s fifth-year option.

Linebackers Justin March-Lillard and Joe Thomas.

Deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur.

Wide receiver Tavon Austin.

Offensive tackle Cameron Fleming.

Fullback Jamize Olawale.

Defensive lineman Daniel Ross.

Safety Darian Thompson.

Pick up option of Allen Hurns.

Tight end Jason Witten.

And . . . and . . .

Wide receiver Randall Cobb.

Defensive end Robert Quinn.

Among others.

All told, the Cowboys have signed, franchised, picked up options or traded for – i.e. acquired – 28 players during the first 16 days of free agency. And yet still they have roughly $13 million more in cap space to not only fund their draft, but likely extend a contract or three, and actually save a little more 2019 cap space if they can work out a long-term deal for the likes of DeMarcus Lawrence and Amari Cooper.

Why those two guys currently are counting $34.4 million against the cap. That’s nearly 18 percent of what the Cowboys salary cap figures to be.

And you thought the Cowboys haven’t been doing anything, that they’ve been dragging their feet since the start of the league’s new year on March 13.

Ha.

You know what they’ve been doing? They’ve been wisely putting a team together, not the touring football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. This isn’t the NBA where teams collect stars as if a new constellation is rising in the sky. This game takes 22 starters, special team specialists backups at key positions, funds for your upcoming draft class and enough depth spread around to withstand injury. Also remember, you have to keep enough in reserve to withstand those players ending on up injured reserve. Why the Cowboys finished last year paying nine guys who could not play because of injury.

Also, there might be that guy you choose to keep on the roster hoping to return from injury, yet ends up being someone too lazy to rehab from a high ankle injury, who turns out to be too out of shape at the start of the playoffs to pass a workout.

This also takes budgeting, not just for 2019, but down the road for 2020, 2021, 2022 . . . .

Some might call what the Cowboys have been doing a conservative approach. Me, it’s a fiscally responsible approach, making sure you are not investing huge amounts of salary cap dollars today and for years of tomorrows on aging, big-name hand-me-downs.

Go ahead and irresponsibly splurge, but at some point your credit card bill comes due, and the last thing we all want is mounting interest because we really couldn’t afford what we bought in the first place.

Like, go pay a $54 million package, with $32 million guaranteed for a mere aging safety, and you might not have enough money to restock your slot receiver position. Go spend another $50 million on a has-been defensive tackle, and you are probably playing with a rookie deep snapper and rookie backup linebackers and promoting some practice squad offensive lineman to be your backup swing tackle.

Do some or any of that, and guarantee you the Cowboys would not have enough cap space to trade merely a 2020 sixth-round pick for a Robert Quinn, a defensive end they badly needed for insurance against the indefinitely suspended Randy Gregory not being reinstated; against your 2017 first-round pick Taco Charlton not reaching projected potential in this his third season; and against an encouraging Dorance Armstrong not taking that next step in his second season.

 Now the Joneses insist this move for Quinn, which comes with a reported $8 million price tag, has nothing to do with the Lawrence negotiations for a long-term deal as Stephen characterized hitting an “impasse” here the end of March. And no way do the Cowboys think Quinn would be a suitable replacement for Lawrence. And nor should they ever consider that.

This defensive end became the team’s No. 1 need-position once they found out Gregory conceivably could miss the 2019 season, though there seems to be growing optimism he won’t. Sure, veteran Tyrone Crawford filled in more than admirably at right defensive end, starting the final eight games there after starting the first eight at defensive tackle.

But if the Cowboys had their druthers, Crawford would share that under-tackle spot inside with Maliek Collins. But now, just in case he had to play outside, well, enter Hyder. And then Covington to provide some backup and maybe even competition at the nose for Antwaun Woods.

This is like sandbagging ahead of the river cresting.

Now many would say, well, just draft a guy. It’s cheaper. OK, not bad thinking, except for the fact the Cowboys already used up their first-round pick, where surely the top pass-rushing defensive ends will be gone before pick 58 emerges on April 26. Plus, remember, the draft is a projection, never a sure thing no matter how smart you might think you are. Like an educated gamble.

And what if . . . .

That is why the Cowboys trading for wide receiver Amari Cooper, at still just 24 years old, should be applauded, instead of sitting still and thinking they would simply find their No. 1 receiver in the 2019 draft, a hesitation that likely would have cause a struggling offense at the time cost the Cowboys the NFC East title they eventually won.

Yep, as Jerry Jones said earlier this week about signing players to long-term deals, and could have been talking just as well about draft choices, “this is not buying pension-fund bonds which has to have absolute assuredness . . . .”

Neither is a sure thing.

Neither is signing free agents, but again the Cowboys protect themselves from acquiring faulty bonds by having signed the majority of these guys to mere one-year deals, not only minimizing investment failure, but giving these players ample incentive, knowing they are playing this season for possibly one more long-term contract with guaranteed money. Player bets on himself. Team bets on refurbishing a one-time diamond.

Savvy Cowboys business, right. Playing for today without risking bankrupting your cap for tomorrow, while all the while stockpiling funds for major investments in your own proven commodities.

The Joneses learned this lesson about ending up in “cap hell” twice since the advent of free agency as we now know it in 1994, first during the early 2000s when trying dearly to keep the band together, and then again in 2010 when they again paid the price for an aging team.

These Cowboys are close. They were close last year. No time for risky business.

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