The Dallas Cowboys face some very difficult decisions in the coming weeks. Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, officially become free agents this March. Both players are thought of to be at the very top of their respective positions and will command salaries accordingly. These are both financial and talent decisions that could hold dire consequences if the wrong choice is made.
If the Cowboys move on from Doug Free, Brandon Carr, and Henry Melton, they will free enough money to sign both players, but is that the wise move? Don’t get me wrong, I would like Free, Carr, and Melton all cut loose this offseason. The three players account for well over $30M against the cap, and that money could probably be better spent elsewhere. Could Bryant and Murray be “elsewhere”?
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If the Cowboys decide to pay both Murray and Bryant their market values, it will leave very little for the team to invest anywhere else. Tony Romo is already making top dollar, as is Tyron Smith and Sean Lee. Sure the Cowboys could rework the deals and convert some base pay to bonus money, but do we really want to get into that again?
If Murray and Bryant are re-signed, Rolando McClain will probably need to go, and next year Tyrone Crawford will as well. The Cowboys just can’t afford to pay everyone, and if their skill players and O-line all command (or will soon command) top-dollar salaries, everyone else will need to be cheap. I think we can all agree McClain and Crawford will NOT be cheap.
Let’s look at the top teams that played on Sunday: New England, Indianapolis, Seattle, and Green Bay. None of those four teams are paying their QB, RB, and WR top dollar, instead they are spending that money saved, elsewhere.
New England: Tom Brady is making a hefty sum at roughly $14M per season. TE Rob Gronkowski (basically a WR) is making $9M per, but the RB situation is nothing more than an inexpensive committee. The money saved there, went to pay CB Darrelle Revis $12M.
Indianapolis: Andrew Luck is making $5.5M per season (a bargain). Trent Richardson is making $5M. Reggie Wayne is at $5.8M. That leaves a TON of money to be spent elsewhere. The Colts will obviously be paying Luck huge dollars soon, but Wayne and Richardson will soon be off the books. T.Y Hilton will probably pull in a high amount but nothing ridiculous. They have money devoted elsewhere and the formula will likely continue.
Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers is making a well-deserved $22M and WR Jordy Nelson is making a very respectable $9M. Behind them though, the money is spread around. RB Eddie Lacy only makes 848K and won’t be commanding a new deal until 2017 so the Packers are financially built to tread water this way for a couple more seasons.
Seattle: RB Marshawn Lynch is playing for $7.5M per season on a deal that expires in 2016. Russell Wilson is still on his rookie contract paying him a bit under $800K per season. WR Doug Baldwin is just making a little over $4M per season. Everything else is going to the defense. Wilson will surely pull in a good deal in the offseason, but Lynch probably won’t be extended(much to his dismay). It’s doubtful Seattle will break the bank on another WR anytime soon (Percy Harvin didn’t work out so well) so the defense will remain intact.
Dec 14, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) is tackled by Philadelphia Eagles free safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) and inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks (95) during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Cowboys defeated the Eagles, 38-27. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
The Cowboys are paying Tony Romo $18M per season and have been using the savings at WR and RB to get out from some other poor contracts. Now with Bryant and Murray up for new deals, the Cowboys face a tough situation. The top teams this season cut corners at the offensive skill positions, so they could spread some wealth to their defenses. The Cowboys will need to decide to either do the same, and let one “walk”, or sign them both and keep throwing together a rag-tag defense for the foreseeable future.
There is a balance that needs to be struck. Simply worrying about money will keep you from paying players you probably should be paying – and keep you out of the playoffs altogether. If the Cowboys feel Murray and/or Bryant are at least partially replaceable with cheaper alternatives, they need to consider it.
As of now it appears the Cowboys are doing just that. They are taking their time with the Dez Bryant negotiations and seem willing to use (and threaten) the franchise tag on him. Tim Cowlishaw indicated the early offers to re-sign DeMarco Murray are pretty low (4yrs /$16M). Low-balling Murray may be just an indirect way of letting him loose.
We will have to see what happens but we won’t know what the smart move was until we’re a couple more years down the road. What we all need to keep in mind is how the top teams have built their rosters.
With a hard salary cap in place, this is about money as much as it is about retaining talent and the Dallas Cowboys are weighing them both.