Wild Card Round - Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles
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There's fantasy and then there's reality, and the two things don't often meet. Take the situation with Jadeveon Clowney for example, a three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher who's still sitting in free agency as the calendar readies to turn to July. There's an ongoing fantasy that fuels rumors of a potential marriage between he and the Dallas Cowboys, but the reality is far less romantic, optimistic or even possible. In March, at the beginning of 2020 free agency, a source told CBS Sports the Cowboys had zero interest in Clowney at his initial asking price -- noting specifically he was "not in the plan" for 2020.

Three months later, the same source reaffirms Clowney still isn't, even if reports are accurate that the former first-overall pick is eyeing Dallas. The first and biggest hurdle is Clowney's asking price, which began at around $20 million per year. When he couldn't find any takers, he reportedly reduced it to roughly $18 million -- give or take a million -- but those prices were and remain a non-starter for the Cowboys; and that was at a time when they had the cap space to make it work. 

That space has now evaporated due to free agency signings like Dontari Poe, Gerald McCoy, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix along with a five-year, $100 million deal awarded to wide receiver Amari Cooper, but there's also the matter of a $31.4 million franchise tag set to be paid to Dak Prescott if a deal can't be reached by July 15.

All told, the Cowboys have only $11.25 million in cap space at the end of June, per Over the Cap, and that's about six to eight million dollars less than what they'd need to add Clowney, unless he obliterates his asking price, which is unlikely to happen. That number is also set to be reduced by the eventual signing of the 2020 draft class, which has been delayed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, at a cost of approximately $3.1 million. So, in reality, the Cowboys are operating with an understanding they actually have only $8.15 million in cap space -- increasing the size of the canyon between what they can afford and what Clowney wants to be paid. 

It also needs to be said that even if he did suddenly and unexpectedly tank his own contract demands simply to land in Dallas, it wouldn't guarantee him a spot on the Cowboys. The team could free up the money to land him, but given everything they're assessing regarding the potential union, they don't want to give him a contract that pays him a higher salary in 2020 than DeMarcus Lawrence; who has two double-digit sack seasons under his belt and is perennially one of the best run-stopping edge defenders in the entire league.

That brings me to the other challenges for a possible Clowney-to-Dallas scenario, and ones not being discussed with every eye-grab of a headline that finds a way to tie both sides together.

The added issues are roster-based, which is to say the team looks markedly different on the defensive line than it did three months ago when they already has no interest in an expensive Clowney. The aforementioned signing of Poe and McCoy bolstered the front in a big way, and rolling the dice on Aldon Smith has paid off -- at least thus far -- with the former All-Pro having been reinstated to the league for this coming season. The Cowboys then used two draft picks in April, one to grab Neville Gallimore and the other on a hyper-promising edge rusher in Bradlee Anae, and the expectation remains Randy Gregory will follow Smith in receiving reinstatement approval this summer from league commissioner Roger Goodell.

And for his part, in an exclusive talk with CBS Sports, Gregory noted he'll be "back for good" this time -- the new collective bargaining agreement aiding him in that mission. 

As it stands, a separate source confirms he has officially applied, and is simply waiting on a verdict. The source added that the delay appears to be more red-tape based than anything that hints at a negative outcome for Gregory, but time will tell one way or the other. Assuming Gregory is back as expected, he'll rejoin a team that now also boasts All-Pro talent in McCoy and Smith opposite DeMarcus Lawrence, and a promising rookie in Anae, along with the return of locker room and on-the-field leader Tyrone Crawford.

This is the moment many of you say "cut Crawford!", but that's not going to happen, and here's why.

Now fully recovered from injury that prematurely ended his 2019 campaign, Crawford is only one year removed from delivering 5.5 sacks in a season and has proven mostly durable over the course of his career. One of the more consistent pass rushers the Cowboys have fielded in the past several seasons, Crawford rarely missed time prior to 2019, and entered the year with 22 sacks on his resume over the previous five years (4.4 per) -- one of the better marks of any who've cashed a check with Jerry Jones' name on it since 2014. So yes, it's true Crawford will hit the Cowboys salary cap for a robust $9.1 million in 2020, he's also a key part of what they're looking to do this coming season, given his ability to flex across the defensive line.

The team also saw just how important he was in his absence, both on the field and in the locker room, deepening his value to the club. Additionally, the Cowboys don't need the space that would be created by releasing Crawford, unless they truly felt a more expensive Clowney would be of greater value, but it's not a foregone conclusion he would be -- all things considered.

Clowney is coming off of an unimpressive season that saw him land only three sacks in 11 starts, and he's not logged a double-digit sack season since entering the league as the first-overall pick of the Houston Texans in 2014. That isn't to say Clowney doesn't impact games, because he does, but it's instead to point out his price tag isn't commensurate with the current market value at the position versus his production. In other words, with a current projected value of $17.1 million (per Spotrac) on the open market, his initial ask of $20 million per year was far too high, and teams could argue they'd like to see more before even meeting him at the $17 million mark. It wouldn't be jaw-dropping to see a team pony up the $17 million, but that team won't be the Cowboys.

And that's even if they secure a lessened cap hit from a Prescott extension, as is expected to happen. 

Dallas is simply unwilling to cut out a large piece of the team's locker room leadership -- who also consistently produces on the field and has often redesigned his body to accommodate positional needs -- to add a player who they feel is extremely expensive when they could've simply paid Robert Quinn to stay put at an average of $14 million per year (a guy who posted a team-high 11.5 sacks for them only months ago and has four double-digit sack seasons in his career). They also don't enjoy being up against the cap wall, so to speak, preferring to leave a few million available going into any given season as "just in case" money.

Fact is, there is nothing that indicates the Cowboys view Clowney as the final piece that gets them to Super Bowl LV, which is what he better be if they're going to bring him in at his asking price; and at the expense of Crawford, no less, whom the front office and locker room both adore. To further drive home just how much they value Crawford while hinting at a possible increase in utilization in 2020, the team has thus far waved off any idea of asking the veteran to take a pay cut, instead being totally fine with his coming salary. It was initially a consideration, but it doesn't appear they'll look to do it, and haven't had any talks with Crawford in that regard.

That's quite revealing, in and of itself. 

Also, it's unlikely the Cowboys want to pay more than $15 million for what might devolve into a rotational piece -- which could very well happen if Smith fires out of the gate alongside Crawford and/or Gregory. Instead, Clowney would be tasked with beating out others in camp for that nod, but that's also not the situation he's looking to enter. The 27-year-old is open to a one-year deal because he wants to set himself up for a contract year and massive 2021 payday before he nears the wrong side of 30, which means he wants to be promised the role of starter, making it odd he'd be googly-eyeing the Cowboys, assuming the reports are true.

After seeing Quinn leave for Chicago, Jerry Jones and Co. have taken the necessary steps to not only replace him but arguably upgrade at the edge (if all goes to plan), leaving them presumably more than fine as the team readies for a striking new hybrid defense under Mike McCarthy and Mike Nolan. They'd be more inclined, sources tell CBS Sports, to look at someone like Everson Griffen, but even that is contingent upon any injuries and, you guessed it, Griffen's asking price. The team had strong interest in Griffen early in free agency, much unlike Clowney, but the aforementioned signings and draft moves have caused the interest to cool considerably, albeit not disappear fully. 

When it comes to Clowney, though? The fantasy of rumors isn't married to the reality of fact. Hell, they haven't even gone out on a date yet.