This off-season, the Dallas Cowboys have been hellbent on creating cap relief and keeping the team under. Opting to avoid big signings and stick primarily through the NFL Draft to acquire talent.
Without a doubt the best way to stay under the salary cap is to use players on their cheap rookie deals. Especially first round picks with their fifth-year options.
The good news is the Cowboys have a lot of players that fit this bill. Even more so, they have veteran players under contract who’s deals are incredibly favorable to their output.
These are not, objectively the best players on the Dallas Cowboys roster, but who possess the most valuable contracts. Valuable in terms of what they’re paid, as opposed to the rest of the league and their overall value to the team itself.
(cap numbers courtesy of Spotrac)
10) P Bryan Anger
Never underestimate the value of having an All-Pro on your team. Even if they’re a punter. Bryan Anger led the league in net yards average, while also fourth in overall average yards per punt.
It was a close call in the off-season, as the Cowboys seemed to drag their feet in re-signing Anger. Given his value on special teams, giving opposing offenses less starting field position, special teams coach John Fassel is recreating the elite ST core he had with the Rams. Headlined by arguably the best punter in the NFL.
Cap Number: $2,200,000
9) DT Osa Odighizuwa
The injury to Neville Gallimore last season opened the door to the young wrestler to take on the starting 3-technique position. He finished sixth on the team in sacks and fifth in total pressures.
His rookie year was a roller coaster, as he would often follow a good performance with one well below his standards. Considering he was only a rookie, and stayed as the primary 3-tech for much of the season, even with the eventual return of Gallimore, is an encouraging sign. Undoubtedly, he was the Dallas Cowboys’ second-best rookie performer in 2021. Behind only one other name who we’ll mention a bit later.
Cap Number: $1,155,952
8) S Malik Hooker
For much of 2021, Damontae Kazee was the primary single-high free safety. This prompted Hooker to play a lot in the box, with Jayron Kearse playing near the line of scrimmage in a hybrid role. Not only is Hooker’s flexibility enticing, but he allowed less yards per completion and yards per target than Kazee, who he now takes over for.
Hooker seems to have broken past the injury stigma, and has found a role in Dan Quinn’s defense. His two-year extension is very team-friendly for an organization that has been in need at the position for a long time. If he can continue to carry over into 2022, we might be mentioning him as one of the best players on defense.
Cap Number: $2,591,180
7) Edge Dorance Armstrong
Speaking of breakout years. Dorance Armstrong played plenty as a starter and in rotation with Randy Gregory, yielding a career high five sacks and 22 pressures. As a result, the Dallas Cowboys rewarded him with a two-year deal to be the primary starting right edge, across from DeMarcus Lawrence.
Regardless of our feelings for Armstrong versus Gregory, Armstrong has earned an increase in playing time. It’s never a bad deal to get a starting edge rusher for what’s an inexpensive deal, in a favorable rotation.
Cap Number: $3,382,356
6) RB Tony Pollard
The Dallas Cowboys Swiss army knife. Pollard is a fourth-year running back who has gotten more touches each year he’s played alongside Pro Bowler Ezekiel Elliott. Despite his often inefficient use, he managed to average over five yards per carry and the highest catch percentage (84.4%) among qualified Cowboys pass catchers.
There is a likelihood that both he and Elliott are both gone by next off-season, but having a player who can be used as a runner, a receiver out of the backfield and in the slot, as well as the team’s deadliest home run hit as a kick returner needs to be given the ball more. Especially at his price tag.
Cap Number: $1,131,945
5) WR CeeDee Lamb
Simply put, the Dallas Cowboys are thin at wide receiver. At the same time, third year play-maker CeeDee Lamb could be gearing up for an All-Pro season.
Michael Gallup is recovering from a torn ACL and likely to miss the start of the season. Jalen Tolbert and James Washington will both be key players this year, but are already missing practices, though precautionary. Lamb will have big numbers due to ability and necessity.
The losses of both Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson will be felt in the passing game, but QB Dak Prescott still has one of his Pro Bowl WRs. Lamb put up higher numbers in 2021 than he did his rookie season, and is probably going to eclipse them again. He’s going to earn a large payday eventually, but for now is outplaying his contract.
Cap Number: $3,820,912
4) S/LB Jayron Kearse
A to Z Sports writer and primetime host Mauricio Rodriguez’s breakout player of the year. Jayron Kearse has found a role that has eluded him for his career. Playing the STAR position, a hybrid safety/linebacker that saw him leading the team in tackles, being a tight end neutralizer and one of the best players on the team. Regardless of position.
It’s going to be a big year for Kearse and prove 2021 wasn’t lightning in the bottle. The return of Quinn helps, but now other team’s have tape and experience going up against him. If he continues to play as he has been, this will be looked at one of the best value deals among NFL veterans.
Cap Number: $3,720,576
3) QB Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott has the highest cap hit of any Cowboys player. However, your franchise QB is exactly who should occupy that spot on the salary cap. Especially considering it’s 10th in the league behind names like Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.
Prescott had a career year in 2021, leading Dallas to win the NFC East while throwing the most touchdown passes in a single season in franchise history. A year removed from his season-ending injury in 2020, his season was up and down following the bye week.
Now, he’s reportedly moving the best he’s looked since before the 2020 season. If this continues, he’ll continue to be one of the 10 best QBs in the NFL, with the returned dimension of his legs.
Cap Number: $19,730,000
2) CB Trevon Diggs
In only his second season, Trevon Diggs cemented himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the game. Earning All-Pro honors, displaying what might be the best combination of instincts and ball skills in the game.
#DallasCowboys CB Trevon Diggs was targeted 103 times. Of those targets:— Shane Carter (@ShaneCarterTx) May 19, 2022
– Made a play on the ball (INT/PBU) on 32 attempt (31.1%)
– Gave up 54 rec (52.4%) but never allowed 100+ yds in a game
– 8th most targeted DB
– 7th best passer rating allowed (55.8)#CowboysNation
11 interceptions and 21 pass breakups is hard to replicate, but the way Diggs plays the position allows him many opportunities to get his hands on the ball. Playing off the receiver, giving enough space to fool opposing QBs to look his way. This year, the focus has been for him to better adapt to playing shut down in coverage.
Don’t forget, he’s only played corner since 2017, switching from WR while at Alabama. Earning under $2 million this year while playing alongside the elite at his position is one of the more favorable contracts in the entire league. He’s still under his rookie deal for the next two seasons and is only going to get better.
Cap Number: $1,723,884
1) LB Micah Parsons
Who else would it be? Micah Parsons was a draft pick met with mixed responses after bullying allegations raised questions about his character. Not only has he broken through that stigma, he has become one of the game’s elite overall players after just one season, displaying his skills as an off-ball linebacker, edge rusher and roaming defender.
His rookie year saw him earn All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, Defensive Rookie of the Year, and finish second in voting for Defensive Player of the Year, compiling 13 sacks and the highest pressure rate in the NFL. Not only is Parsons the best value contract on the Cowboys, he’s their best overall player.
He’ll one day become the highest paid defensive player in the game. For now, he’s only 23 and just getting started.
Cap Number: $3,881,771
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports