Cowboys paid Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, but a lot of talent has departed

The problem with a salary-cap sport is you can’t keep all your players. Even if you have a seemingly endless revenue stream like the Dallas Cowboys.

No, the salary cap is not a myth. When the Cowboys put the exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Dak Prescott for about $33 million, according to the team (the non-exclusive tag was about $28 million), and signed receiver Amari Cooper for $100 million over five years, other parts of the roster were going to suffer. That’s just reality.

And since the so-called legal tampering period began, the Cowboys have seen a lot of talent leave, without adding any outside help themselves yet.

Cowboys lose some key players

The Cowboys lost five key players in a little more than 24 hours, after the so-called tampering period began.

Cornerback Byron Jones agreed to the largest deal for a cornerback in NFL history, agreeing to an $82.5 million contract. Defensive end Robert Quinn also got an enormous deal, with the Chicago Bears agreeing to terms with him on a $70 million contract. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins and tight end Jason Witten, who each started all 16 games for the Cowboys last season, both left for the Las Vegas Raiders. Receiver Randall Cobb, who had 828 yards last season, got a deal from the Houston Texans worth $9 million per season.

None of those players have the star power of Prescott or Cooper. No one player in that group was going to make or break the 2020 Cowboys. But added all together? That’s a lot to lose, and free agency hasn’t even officially started yet.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones shelled out big contracts to Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones shelled out big contracts to Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Dallas’ big deals create cap dilemmas

The Cowboys’ priority was obvious as free agency approached. They couldn’t lose Prescott. They traded a first-round pick for Cooper in 2018, and weren’t going to let him go. Dallas also re-signed tight end Blake Jarwin, which was worth up to $24.25 million over three seasons, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. That eats up even more cap space.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones likes big deals. Prescott, Cooper, defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, tackle Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin, center Travis Frederick and running back Ezekiel Elliott all have cap numbers over $10 million this year. Defensive tackle Tyron Crawford isn’t far behind at $9.1 million. Dallas has held onto some of its biggest stars. That won’t help the depth of the roster.

There are still a lot of good players available in free agency, and while the cap is not a myth as some claim, teams are shrewd when it comes to restructuring contracts to create space. Maybe the Cowboys are going to get creative and add some significant talent.

As free agency got going with the tampering period, the Cowboys accomplished their biggest goal, which was to retain Cooper and Prescott. But that came at a hefty price beyond the money Jones had to lay out.

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