We knew this was going to happen. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has more money than you can shake a stick at, but thanks to the NFL salary cap, Jones hasn’t been able to sign all his free agents. And there were a lot of them this year. Suffice to say your 2014 Cowboys will look a fair bit different than the 2013 model – for better or for worse.
The bloodletting has already begun in Big D. As expected, seven-time Pro Bowl DE DeMarcus Ware has been released, and it didn’t take long for the Denver Broncos to scoop up Ware for three years and $30 million. Ware would have cost Dallas $16 million on the salary cap in 2014, which is a mountain of money for a player who’s about to turn 32 and missed three games last year with a strained quad – and had offseason surgery on his elbow.
Also to no one’s surprise, the Cowboys decided not to retain the services of DE Jason Hatcher, who instead signed a four-year, $27.5-million deal with Washington. But Jones believes the defensive line will be better in 2014 despite their absences. It could hardly be worse; the 2013 line placed No. 29 in the league in stuffing the run (as per Football Outsiders) and No. 26 in the pass rush.
This year’s line may or may not include free agent DE Anthony Spencer, but it will feature former Chicago Bears DE Henry Melton, as well as DE Jeremy Mincey and DT Terrell McClain. The Cowboys are also eagerly awaiting the return of DE Tyrone Crawford from the torn Achilles tendon that kept him out all of last year. With Crawford, the Dallas D-line does indeed look better on paper, and Jones looks pretty sharp for making those tough decisions on Ware and Hatcher.
So, naturally, Jones spent some of that money on another back-up quarterback. Brandon Weeden (71.8 career passer rating) signed a two-year deal with the Cowboys after he was cut loose by the Cleveland Browns. The deal’s only for the league minimum – about $1.5 million total in his case, if my lawyers have read this correctly. But what has Weeden been hired to do? Kyle Orton (85.3 passer rating in 2013) is still under contract. Hmmm.
Perhaps Weeden is just there to hold the ball for Dan Bailey, who was given a seven-year, $22.5-million contract ($7.5M guaranteed) and a healthy $4-million signing bonus. Bailey, who’s connected on 89 of his 98 field-goal attempts since joining the NFL in 2011, is one of a wave of kickers who have been handed some of that sweet, sweet cash this offseason. Also re-signed for 2014: punter Chris Jones, at a reasonable $645,000. Not every team will spend this much on special teams, but this is really a drop in the bucket compared to what Ware or Hatcher would have cost Dallas.
Miles to Go
As for the salary-cap casualties on offense, say good-bye to center Phil Costa (now with the Indianapolis Colts) and WR Miles Austin – actually, Austin has been designated to be released after June 1, which lets the Cowboys spread the salary cap hit over the next two seasons. Austin made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2010, but has been dogged by hamstring injuries over the past three years.
We’ll see what the Cowboys have up their sleeve on Draft Day. In the meantime, the Cowboys are available at 40-1 on Bovada’s Super Bowl XLIX futures market, so there’s clearly a lack of confidence out there in America’s Team. The more things change, the more they stay the same.