Philadelphia Eagles 7.5 Over (+130) / Under (-160) — The Sam Bradford issue looms large. The hypothetical situation where Bradford refuses to play or retires and Chase Daniel has to start and then Carson Wentz has to start … It’s a scary situation. It’s also a major red flag to see this price where it’s at — the reality is this thing could crash and burn. Wait until the number drops (at -160, it seems likely to eventually move down to 7.0 wins) and then take the under.
Washington Redskins 7.5 Over (-115) / Under (-115) — The only reason to not jump on this team is because the Redskins’ history says they won’t be consistent. But Scot McCloughan’s past tells us he can pull off back-to-back years of quality performance. The running back situation (Matt Jones/Chris Thompson/Keith Marshall) is questionable, and Kirk Cousins won’t do what he did last year, even with the addition of Josh Doctson. The defense is secretly tough. They should be the real favorite to win this division given how the team is built.
Arizona Cardinals 9.5 Over (-140) / Under (+110) — For the third straight year, the world doesn’t give Bruce Arians’ team any respect. This is maybe the most dangerous team in football, and they only got better this offseason with adding Chandler Jones and Robert Nkemdiche to bolster the pass rush. Carson Palmer is aging well, there’s tons of talent at receiver (Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown are the NFL’s best trio) and David Johnson could be scary if he builds on his rookie breakout. The defense will be stout again. The over price is steep but this is a double-digit win team and title contender. Huge bonus that they might not have to deal with Tom Brady in Week 1. They might have six or seven wins before their Week 9 bye.
Los Angeles Rams 7.5 Over (+115) / Under (-140) — The addition of Jared Goff at quarterback and the move to Los Angeles has everyone all aflutter. Goff could be a very good NFL quarterback but does he really fit what the Rams want to do on offense? Todd Gurley is the truth and Aaron Donald somehow remains underrated. The defense flies all over the place and will create turnovers. If Goff is great, the Rams will break .500 for the first time under Jeff Fisher. If he’s a rookie quarterback playing in a difficult division, it’s entirely possible they could end up winning seven games again.
San Francisco 49ers 5.5 Over (-115) / Under (-115) — Personally I’m a big fan of Chip Kelly. He got a bad rap in Philadelphia because of how he ran the front office, and he should be better in San Francisco. But there’s not as much talent here. Carlos Hyde is going to blow up next year in his offense and Torrey Smith could do damage as well. But the quarterback situation is a major issue. Have you seen their opening schedule? The Rams at home, the Panthers and Seahawks on the road and then the Cowboys and Cardinals at home. 0-5 is a very real possibly to start. It’s hard to find more than four wins for this rebuilding team.
Seattle Seahawks 10.5 Over (-140) / Under (+110) — No sleeper business here from Las Vegas. Seattle is the favorite to win the NFC West and is tied with Green Bay and Carolina for the highest win total in the NFC. Unlike last year, there shouldn’t be a slow start (the Dolphins, Rams, 49ers and Jets open things up) before the Week 5 bye. Ten or 11 wins is well within range, which means you’ve got to trust the better schedule here and assume a quality team will win the games it should. No drama this offseason or early on as people wonder if the “Seahawks’ dynasty is dead.”
Atlanta Falcons 7.5 Over (+110) / Under (-140) — Good gravy, look at their opening set of games. Bucs at home, Raiders/Saints on the road, Carolina at home and then Denver/Seattle on the road. Good bet that Dan Quinn, even if this team is better, has a reverse opening from last season. 0-6 is a real possibility, and that’s before home games against San Diego/Green Bay and road games against Tampa and Philadelphia. At least there are only six games after the bye, and four of those are at home.
Carolina Panthers 10.5 Over (Even) / Under (-130) — Carolina’s NFC defense opens up on Thursday night in the first ever Super Bowl opening night rematch, but things get much easier before their Week 7 bye. The 49ers, Vikings, Falcons, Buccaneers and Saints offer up a strong early slate to beef up the schedule. The real tester are all the West Coast trips. Eleven wins feels like the best case for Carolina, even with plenty of talent remaining.
New Orleans Saints 7.0 Over (Even) / Under (-130) — Another team with a tough early bye (Week 5), the Saints finally have decent preseason expectations. Drew Brees and Sean Payton are desperate, and the team definitely made the defense better in the offseason. Coby Fleener is an upgrade at tight end, but Brandin Cooks/Michael Thomas/Brandon Coleman/Willie Snead are the wideouts here. It’s possible to buy into defensive improvement but difficult to accept a massive leap forward.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7.5 Over (+105) / Under (-135) — The shift on defense without Lovie Smith will be the telltale sign here. If the defense can get better — and they can, given the talent of Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David — this team could make a jump forward. Jameis Winston is a legit candidate to “take a leap,” and the offensive line will be more cohesive and experienced. Doug Martin and Charles Sims are dangerous, and Mike Evans is getting slept on as a guy who could have a big-time season.
Jerry Jones isn’t a considered a football guy. Yes, he played at the University of Arkansas, but he made his money in the oil business and bought the Cowboys in 1989. The team won three Super Bowls — in 1992, 1993 and 1995 — though, depending on who’s telling the story, Jimmy Johnson was responsible for building those rosters.
Jones and Johnson have differing accounts about who deserved credit for what, but the reality is this: Since 1997, Dallas has made the postseason seven times and managed a 2-7 record — including a stretch from 1998-2008 where they were winless.
Jones isn’t afraid to take risks others wouldn’t if it means getting the Cowboys back to the Super Bowl, but it’s also hard to take the man seriously when he admits that he really wanted to use a first-round pick on Johnny Manziel. Or that he said of Brandon Weeden last season, “You won’t see a more gifted passer.” Or that he’s now kicking himself for not overpaying to land Paxton Lynch in last week’s draft.
But it’s also why the Cowboys owner and general manager isn’t solely responsible for player-personnel decisions. In fact, much of that falls to Jones’ son, Stephen, who has done a masterful job of keeping his old man in check while also forcing other executives around the league to take notice.
One NFL general manager even went so far as to tell BleacherReport.com’s Mike Freeman that “The Cowboys are starting to scare me.”
And it has everything to do with Stephen’s voice (of reason) being the loudest in the room.
1. Ezekiel Elliott is already being paid like a Top-10 running back
The rookie wage scale implemented by the current Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2011 is designed to prevent top draft picks from being paid like highly productive veterans as unproven commodities. Ezekiel Elliott, the fourth overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys, may be the one exception because of the economic downturn with running back salaries.
The Ohio State product is expected to sign a fully guaranteed four-year, $24,956,338 contract, which includes a $16,350,064 signing bonus. Elliott’s $6,239,085 average yearly salary makes him the NFL’s ninth highest paid running back by this metric. His expected contract is slightly more than the reported best offer the Cowboys gave DeMarco Murray in 2015 as a free agent. Dallas was unwilling to pay Murray more than $24 million over four years with $12 million fully guaranteed after a 2014 season in which he lead the league in rushing by gaining 1,845 yards on the ground on 392 carries, the eighth-most ever in an NFL regular season.
This dynamic with the running back market didn’t exist in 2012 when the Cleveland Browns selected Trent Richardson with the third-overall pick. Richardson’s fully guaranteed four-year, $20,489,796 contract made him the NFL’s 16th-highest paid running back by average yearly salary. There were ten running backs signed to veteran contracts averaging over $7 million per year in 2012. Only five running backs currently top the $7 million per year mark.
Teams have a fifth-year option with first-round picks that must be exercised after the third year of a rookie contract. The decision on the option year wouldn’t need to be made until 2019 in Elliott’s case. As a top-10 pick, Elliott has the worst value for a fifth-year option relative to the salary structure at the various positions. His option-year salary, which will be the same as the running back transition tag, should be north of $10 million. This year’s running back transition tag is $9.647 million.