Ahead of the start of free agency, we set up offseason checklists for a few NFL teams. One of those teams was the Dallas Cowboys. One of the first items was restructuring the contract of star center Travis Frederick.
The Cowboys essentially built yearly restructures into Frederick’s contract by artificially lowering his future base salaries. They clearly intend to restructure this contract in order to lower his base salary (and thus his cap hit) this season and guarantee him greater payouts in the future. Given his enviable combination of consistent excellence and durability — like Martin, Frederick has played and started every game of his career and has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last four seasons; he’s also been an All-Pro three times — the Cowboys should be fully confident that he will be a stalwart in the middle of their line for years to come. Dallas can re-do Frederick’s deal this offseason to knock his cap hit down to around $6 million, creating an additional $7.235 million in space.
A little more than a week later, the Cowboys have indeed restructured Frederick’s contract, clearing almost the exact amount of space as the restructure we recommended last week, per Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
The problem here is that the Cowboys have already used up more than half of that space, and they used it on two players who are, well, extremely unlikely to be valuable contributors. The Cowboys’ first signing was former Packers linebacker Joe Thomas, who inked a two-year deal worth up to $4.6 million, according to Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. The second signing was former Bills wide receiver Deonte Thompson, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract, per ESPN’s Todd Archer. That’s s sub-package linebacker who could barely get on the field for Green Bay last season and struggled badly as a full-timer in 2016, and a journeyman wide receiver with 77 career catches.
You can say the players they brought in will fill the roles vacated by departing linebacker/special-teamer Kyle Wilber and unsigned free-agent wideout Brice Butler, but (a) Wilber and Butler combined to cost the Cowboys only $300,000 more last season than Thompson alone will cost them this season, indicating that those types of players are available on the market for less money than the Cowboys just gave them; and (b) neither Wilber nor Butler played large enough roles to justify paying their replacements this much money, especially ahead of the draft process. Butler played only 24 percent of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps last season and, if things work out the way the Cowboys want them to, Thompson should be — at best — their fifth-best wide receiver option in 2018 behind Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, and Ryan Switzer. Meanwhile, Thomas seems incredibly unlikely to fill Anthony Hitchens‘ near every-down role, meaning they’re still going to have to find another linebacker either in the draft or in free agency.
Add to all that the fact that they are once again pushing guaranteed money into the future by restructuring Frederick’s deal, giving them even less cap space to take advantage of Dak Prescott’s minuscule cap hit while it’s still that low. They’re basically the only team with a quality starting quarterback still on his rookie deal that isn’t pushing all its chips to the middle this offseason, and it’s largely because they can’t. Their previous restructuring of deals in order to push guaranteed money to the future and fill holes with mid-tier free agents has left them pushing up against the cap every offseason, and it’s no different this year. They should finally get some breathing room next offseason but they just pushed some of Frederick’s money back, they will have to pay Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, and David Irving at some point, and Prescott is extension-eligible next year. The championship window in Dallas may not be open for long, despite the fact that they have one of the most valuable assets in all of football.