Cowboys' Top Contracts to Consider Cutting Ahead of NFL Free Agency

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2021

Cowboys' Top Contracts to Consider Cutting Ahead of NFL Free Agency

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys should be one of the most excited teams that the salary cap looks like it will rise from its anticipated floor in 2021. 

    The cap was expected to be around $175 million around the league during the season but is now expected to be somewhere between $180-$181 million, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported. 

    That's great news for a franchise that will be walking a financial tightrope this offseason. Particularly vexing is how the Cowboys are going to afford to put together a roster while retaining franchise quarterback Dak Prescott. 

    According to Over The Cap, the Cowboys walk into the offseason with approximately $18.4 million in cap space. That number alone won't even be enough to sign Prescott whether it's to another year of the franchise tag or to a long-term extension. 

    That means Dallas' roster is about to get leaner as it prepares to sign a draft class and potentially carve out space to sign some free agents. As the Cowboys begin that process these contracts should be among the first to be considered on the chopping block. 

LB Jaylon Smith

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    David Berding/Associated Press

    Jaylon Smith was among the Cowboys who would love to move on from 2020. After making the Pro Bowl in 2019, the linebacker was often out of position in the run game and gave up a 102.2 passer rating when targeted in coverage. 

    With Mike Nolan's exit as defensive coordinator, the Cowboys might be tempted to keep Smith around to see if he can rebound under Dan Quinn's tutelage. However, there are few veterans the Cowboys can cut and save as much money as Smith. 

    Most of the big-money contracts on the Cowboys roster have too much guaranteed money to even clear cap space. DeMarcus Lawrence, Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott are pretty much untouchable because the dead cap would outweigh the savings. 

    However, letting Smith go would clear up meaningful cap space to make a new Prescott deal possible. If the team is able to designate Smith as a post-June 1 cut they would clear $7.2 million in space as they can spread his dead-cap charge across the next two seasons, according to Over The Cap

    Cutting him pre-June 1 would only save $400,000, so this is an important distinction. A franchise is only permitted to have two post-June 1 cuts, but the difference would make it worth it in Smith's case. 

    Smith's comeback from injury has been an inspirational story, and this is a little early to give up on the linebacker, but this is one of those decisions that's going to come down to what's best for business. 

CB Anthony Brown

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    The Cowboys already have some key members from last season's secondary set to hit the market. But it's a unit that was bad last season, so that might pave the way for Anthony Brown to join some of his peers on the open market. 

    Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis are both set to hit free agency. If the team plans on bringing either of them back or approaching the position in free agency, it's likely they will have to part ways with Brown to do it. 

    Cutting ties with the 27-year-old would save the franchise $2.75 million against the cap this season. It isn't much, but every dollar will count toward signing Prescott (or finding a replacement) and building a functional team around him. 

    Brown hasn't done much to convince the team he's worth keeping around either. Availability has been an issue, he's only played 19 games over the last two seasons, and his play hasn't been stellar. He ranked 85th of the 121 corners that Pro Football Focus ranked last season. 

    There aren't a ton of options to save more than $1 million with one cut, but Brown is one who stands out as relatively expendable. 

P Chris Jones

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    This is the easiest conclusion on this list and feels like a bit of cheating. Jones is a punter after all, but he's a punter set to make $2.5 million next season. That's nearly as much as the team can save cutting Brown who played an important role on the defense last season. 

    Jones missed the second half of the season with a core muscle injury and was replaced by Hunter Niswander, who is under contract for next season at $780,000. Niswander wasn't just serviceable, he technically has the franchise record for yards per punt at 47.2. 

    Granted, he only has 26 punts when former record-holder Mat McBriar had 494, but the point is, the 26-year-old has proved more than capable of taking over the punting duties regularly.

    The Cowboys can save $2 million against the cap by cutting Jones. A decision the Cowboys should take roughly the same amount of time it takes for one of Jones' punts to come down to the ground to make. 

    Dallas is in a tough spot financially because there aren't a ton of contracts out there to manipulate and create more cash. Tyron Smith is one of the few names who would generate some real savings, but he should have value as a trade chip or be worth his contract if he comes back healthy. 

    Safety Darian Thompson would also create $1.2 million in space, but the secondary is already expected to lose a lot of experience. Finding cuts like Jones, who clears meaningful space with a younger replacement already on the roster, will be key. 


    All salary-cap info via Spotrac unless otherwise noted.