Follow the money: How the Cowboys first three draft picks immediately fill voids of free agents lost

The salary cap is a real thing. That statement is heavily debated as everyone has their own idea of how the financial operations of the NFL work. There’s an understanding that contracts can be structured and again restructured to push the money owed down the road, making the salary cap very flexible. Believing in it or not as a real limitation is a personal choice.

For the Dallas Cowboys, the salary cap is a real thing. While they are also pushers when it comes to kicking the proverbial financial can down the road, they are very judicious about which cans get kicked and how far they want to kick it. They want a chance to be competitive each year so they are reluctant to indulge in overspending in any given year at the expense of future seasons. Some call that responsible, others call it boring. Regardless of what anyone on this big round planet thinks, this is the Cowboys’ way.

That’s why it shouldn’t be that surprising to see that the team’s first three draft investments are positions that conveniently replace their three most expensive free-agent losses. Did they make the right choice? Let’s examine.

Instead of paying Tyron Smith up to $20 million…

…get Tyler Guyton on a cheap five-year rookie deal

In the team’s most controversial move this offseason, the Cowboys allowed their beloved veteran left tackle to leave in free agency. Tyron Smith has been a controversial person in his own right due to his inability to stay healthy. When he’s able to stay on the field, he’s a very useful commodity. The problem is, it’s been a real struggle for him to make himself available. The Cowboys covered themselves last year by reworking a playing time incentive deal, but they opted not to try that again this season, allowing the New York Jets to swoop in and sign him to an incentive-laced deal. Smith will earn a minimum of $6.5 million, a likely to be earned salary of $12.5 million, with total incentives up to $20 million for the season.

The Cowboys’ new left tackle, Tyler Guyton, will only run them $3 million and change over the next four seasons with an option for a fifth year of team control if things work out. Guyton is a two-year starter at Oklahoma where he’s played almost exclusively at right tackle, but that’s because the Sooners’ quarterback, Dillion Gabriel, is left-handed. Guyton played on the right side out of necessity but says he feels more comfortable at left tackle. We should expect some growing pains early on, but he’s the future at left tackle for the Cowboys and that future starts now.

Instead of paying Dorance Armstrong $11 million…

…get Marshawn Kneeland on a cheap four-year rookie deal

Dorance Armstrong was a valuable depth piece to the Cowboys’ edge rotation during his time in Dallas, and it sucks to lose him. After his rookie season expired, the Cowboys were lucky enough to tack on a couple more years at $6 million annually. Their luck ran out however as teams recognized his value, earning a nice payday this offseason worth $33 million over three years. Of course, it helps when your former defensive coach is now your new team’s new head coach.

Not only would retaining Armstrong cost money, but the Cowboys also have one more season with DeMarcus Lawrence under contract. He carries a cap hit of over $20 million for the upcoming season, second only to Dak Prescott. And coming down the pike is Micah Parsons’ new deal which should happen sometime next year. Expect that one to be quite expensive.

That’s why investing in edge rusher Marshawn Kneeland makes sense. He’ll have a year to work under the leadership of Tank and will only cost the Cowboys roughly $2.25 million per season. The Cowboys feel they can’t ever have enough pass rushers as this makes the fourth year in a row where they have taken a defensive end within the first two days of the draft. Kneeland, Parsons, and two more cheap years from Sam Williams continue to give the team a fresh group of young edge rushers.

Instead of paying Tyler Biadasz $10 million…

…get Cooper Beebe on a cheap four-year rookie deal

Losing Tyler Biadasz isn’t fun regardless of how good/not good we thought this “lucky to make the Pro Bowl” player was. Whatever we thought, Biadasz was a solid player and he could be relied on to hold things down at the center position. It would’ve been nice to keep him, but for eight figures, the Cowboys were smart to look for more affordable options.

When we thought that option was Brock Hoffman, some were concerned. Nothing against Hoffman, it’s just we haven’t seen him in action enough to feel comfortable about that transition. But that feeling changes when we introduce Cooper Beebe into the mix. A four-year starter at Kansas State, this guy’s more decorated than a Griswold Christmas tree. Beebe is a do-it-all player with the athleticism to handle the edge like he did his first two years in college, but is more suited to excel inside. He didn’t play center at Kansas State but did practice there so making this transition shouldn’t be an issue for this multi-year All-American.

The Cowboys have replaced the three most expensive free agents they’ve lost who would cost up to $41 million in cap space for just $7 million, for a net gain of $34 million which just so happens to be roughly how much CeeDee Lamb will cost annually when he signs his new lucrative deal. Now, none of these players have stepped on the field yet so we can’t say how this will ultimately play out, but if the Cowboys’ front office hits, they will once again show how their standoffish approach in free agency pays dividends when they go about the draft the right way. They’ve done it before, and they’re doing it again.


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