The Dallas Cowboys have spent a lot of money over the last few years. They currently sit with the ninth least amount of cap space for the upcoming season and will jump to second-worst in 2022. The good news is that they no longer have any upcoming expiring contracts for any of their star players.
While every team is up against the same budget restraints, the real crux of the salary cap dilemma is - are team's getting their monies worth? Are team's eating a lot of dead money to where they are just wasting away their cap allocations (the Philadelphia Eagles have a $49.2 million dead money hit in 2021)? And are the team's biggest investments going to the right place?
Today, we'll take a look at the five most expensive players on the Cowboys in terms of average annual salary and ask ourselves - are these guys really worth the scratch?
1. Dak Prescott, $40 million
After a long song and dance, the Cowboys finally managed to sign their star quarterback to a four-year, $140 million extension back in March, locking him in with the team through the 2024 season. With nearly 70% of that money guaranteed fully guaranteed (90% if he's still on the team this time next year), the Cowboys are all-in with Prescott.
Is he worth it? Once deemed nothing more than a "bus driver," Dak has demonstrated he has the skills to air it out and take the offense to the next level. He's now throwing for over 300 yards a game, including a shortened 2020 season where he averaged 371 yards per contest. Despite the extra passing attempts, Prescott continues to make good decisions, posting lower interception rates than all of the true greats to ever quarterback this team. Combine that with the maturity and drive of this remarkable person, I'd say hell ya he's worth it!
2. DeMarcus Lawrence, $21 million
Like Prescott, Lawrence's contract was an ongoing saga that never seemed to end as the team slapped the franchise tag on him twice before a long term deal was reached. Lawrence actually had to leverage holding off shoulder surgery to get the team to budge, but ultimately they did and Tank signed a five-year, $105 million deal in April of 2019. Lawrence's cap hit has been around $10 million over the past two years, but it's going to cost the Cowboys an average of $27 million over the next three years.
Is he worth it? Fans are quick to dogmatize Lawrence's worth to the team as they cling to those unexceptional sack numbers, but don't let that misguide you. He's one of the top talents at a premium position, and he's worth every penny. Tank is a relentless disrupter on this defense. Don't take your frustrations out on him. If you want to be mad at someone, be mad at the front office for not putting the proper pieces around him and not maximizing his prime years.
3. Amari Cooper, $20 million
From the moment the front office traded away first round draft capital to acquire the Oakland Raiders star receiver, it was always their plan to offer Cooper a second contract. Yes, it did come down to the final hour, and yes, the team did have us worried for a moment, but in the end Amari was inked to a five-year, $100 million deal. After 2021, Cooper will have received all of his $40 million in guaranteed money, so the team is not married to his contract after the season. This gives the front office options in case they didn't feel his play warranted his price going forward.
Is he worth it? I can't think of a better return on this team's investment than Amari Cooper. He's already put up over 3,000 yards receiving in just two and a half seasons with the Cowboys. He's only 27 and he's one of the most fundamentally sound route-runners in the league. Those things don't grow on trees. You betcha he's worth it!
4. Ezekiel Elliott, $15 million
Like everyone else mentioned above, Elliott signed his deal in the witching hour as a holdout had him bouncing to Mexico while the rest of the team was at training camp in Oxnard, California. The Cowboys organization finally would succumb to his demands right before the 2019 season began and signed him to a six-year, $90 million contract that kept him in Dallas through the 2026 season. On the surface, that seemed like a heavy commitment, but truthfully speaking, it was actually a pretty contract-friendly deal for the team as it gave them a nice escape clause after the 2022 season before the star running back turned 28 years of age. And should he play at a high level, the team has him locked down for several years that will become more and more affordable with each new season.
Is he worth it? Historical data shows that the production of a running back slows down as their mileage increases and more wear and tear is put on that body. Elliott certainly could fall in that small group who defy the odds, but he's already showing signs of slowing down, so the jury is still out on this one. The contract itself is still low risk, and while some fans don't like throwing high draft/cap resources at the running back position, Elliott is still talented enough to earn that paycheck. Don't underestimate the value of a strong rushing attack that can wear defenses down.
5. Zack Martin, $14 million
If you ever had questions about whether some of these contract negotiation stalls were attributed to the front office's personal feelings about a player or just general greediness of that player, the Zack Martin situation should answer them for you. Martin is the epitome of a class act, has elite talent, and was as reliable as they come, starting in all 64 games during his first four years in the league; all of which were All-Pro seasons by the way. So, why did the front office drag out his negotiations for a second contract? Why did Martin hold out and choose to skip organized team activities? Well, the answer is simple - it's just business. Both sides are pushing for what they want and when it comes to the Cowboys front office, it just takes a lot of time. In the end, the Cowboys signed their star guard to a six-year, $84 million deal and all was right with the world again.
Is he worth it? There is zero debate about this one. He is 30 years of age and did miss six games last year as the team used him everywhere they needed him with a decimated offensive line. Martin remains one of elite offensive linemen in the league regardless of where you stick him, and now he's just the fourth highest-paid guards in the league. Most definitely he's worth it.