On Monday, the Dallas Cowboys were rocked by the announcement that their long-term Center, Travis Frederick, was retiring. The loss of Frederick is a big blow to a Cowboys line that has been considered one of the best in the league in recent years.
In his seven years as part of the Cowboys organization, Frederick started 96 games and played 100% of the Cowboys offensive snaps in six seasons. The former first-round pick missed the entirety of the 2018 season with Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system.
Frederick was under contract until 2023 with the Cowboys and therefore, remained a huge part of their plans entering 2020. However, while the physical loss is concerning Frederick’s retirement will also have a financial effect on the Cowboys.
One big hit or two smaller ones?
Frederick’s retirement means that the Cowboys will not have to pay him any more of his salary, as none of his remaining money was guaranteed. However, there is still a salary cap hit to negotiate for the Cowboys.
Fredericks’s contract has been somewhat complicated by two restructures, which have seen him convert his base salary to a signing bonus in order to create more cap space for the Cowboys. In both 2017 and 2018, restructure by Frederick opened up $10.34 million and $6.96 million respectively. Those two restructures have meant that he still has $11.04 million in prorated signing bonus remaining on his contract as he enters the 2020 season.
That signing bonus should, in theory, accelerate onto the Cowboys cap this season. However, there are two elements to consider. Firstly, due to none of his $7 million in base salary being guaranteed, his cap hit would actually be lower in 2020 following his retirement than it would have been had he of been active. The downside is that it does leave the Cowboys paying more than $11 million on their cap for a player who will not be active and will need to be replaced.
That brings option two into play, which would give the Cowboys the ability to spread the cap hit across the next two seasons. They could do this by waiting until after June 1st to designate Frederick as officially retired, which would be the equivalent to cutting him after that date. The effect of this is that only Frederick’s 2020 prorated signing bonus, $4.975 million, would count against the cap this season. That would then push the remaining two years’ worth of prorated signing bonus onto the 2021 cap space and would cost the Cowboys $6.065 million next season.
If they take the first route, then the Cowboys’ cap space would remain around the $22 million range this season. However, if they take option two, then they would have close to $30 million in cap space this season. That extra space would be extremely useful if the team is serious about extending Dak Prescott as early as this offseason. However, they would first need to decide what they are planning to do about replacing Frederick, as high-quality center play is hard to find without paying serious money.
A unit that has been highly invested in
The Cowboys have made investing in their offensive line a real priority over the past few years. Including the $11.975 million that Frederick was set to count against the cap, the Cowboys offensive line’s total salary cap hit was due to be $46.967 million. That would be nearly a quarter of the Cowboys 2020 salary cap and contained three players costing over $10 million in cap space. Right guard Zack Martin was due to count $15 million against the cap, with left tackle Tyron Smith set to cost $13.545 million.
Of the remaining two players, La’el Collins is set to cost just $4.95 million in 2020, but his price is set to jump to $12.05 million in 2021 as his extension really kicks in. The left guard position will be a competition between Connor McGovern and Connor Williams, both of who have cap hits in 2020 below $1.5 million as they remain on rookie deals.
Currently, the projected starter at the Center position is Joe Looney, who has spent time with the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans but has been with the Cowboys since 2016. Looney has experience stepping in for Frederick, having been the starter for all 16 of the Cowboys games in 2018. However, with some interesting options available at the position in the upcoming NFL Draft it is possible the Cowboys may prioritizing finding Frederick’s replacement.
If the Cowboys do decide to invest heavily in a center in the draft, then Looney will provide veteran competition in the preseason. Perhaps even more importantly, with Looney having a rapport with Prescott already, his presence allows the Cowboys to consider selecting a center who would require some developmental time in 2020, with Looney stepping in to cover the starting role left vacant with Frederick’s retirement.
Either way, the Cowboys are now going to go from having a line that is steeped in experience with four highly-paid veterans, to one that may have a weakness that opponents can exploit on the left side. If the combination of Looney and either McGovern or Williams does present a weak spot, then it could have a profound effect on both the passing and rushing efficiency of this Cowboys offense. It is safe to say that Travis Frederick’s retirement has left some pressing questions for the Cowboys to answer, both on the field and on their finances.