Cowboys Pay Massive Bonus to Team’s Worst Offensive Lineman

Cowboys OL Terence Steele

Getty Cowboys OL Terence Steele

The NFL Players Association on Tuesday announced 2020 performance-based bonuses for each of the league’s 32 teams and its qualifying personnel.

These bonuses, which don’t count against the salary cap, are awarded to those who outperformed their contracts from the previous season, relative to playing time. Put another way: The less a player makes and the more snaps he logs, the bigger his bonus.

Concerning the Dallas Cowboys, offensive tackle Terence Steele was the top beneficiary, banking a team-high $487,135 after playing in all 16 games — 970 offensive snaps (84.57%), 78 special teams snaps (16.96%) — as a rookie undrafted free agent.

ESPN’s Todd Archer obtained the following list of the most notable 2020 Cowboys performance-based bonuses, sorted from highest to lowest:

$487,135 – OL Terence Steele

$412,911 – TE Dalton Schultz

$389,758 – OL Brandon Knight

$386,617 – S Donovan Wilson

$386,481 – WR Michael Gallup

$382,238 – OL Connor Williams

$288,143 – S Darian Thompson

$260,498 – DE Dorance Armstrong

$247,760 – OL Connor McGovern

$238,898 – CB Trevon Diggs

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Background on Steele

The 23-year-old Texas Tech product wasn’t supposed to have his name called last season. Then disaster struck with injuries decimating Dallas’ elite offensive line, which lost stud tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins and prompted several musical-chair configurations — none overly successful.

The Cowboys’ duct-taped front-five allowed 2.8 sacks per game, the seventh-worst rate in the NFL. Backup quarterback Andy Dalton, filling in for Dak Prescott, made 11 appearances yet absorbed 24 sacks. This unit was a sieve, and it started along the edges with Steele and Knight as the primary culprits.

“Dallas struggled to replace Smith and Collins at the tackle position, in particular. Cowboys tackles combined to post a 57.2 pass-blocking grade on the year, beating out only the Giants to avoid the worst mark in the NFL,” Pro Football Focus reported in January. “Brandon Knight and Terence Steele especially struggled to hold up, as both allowed pressure rates north of 7% for the season.”

But the performance-based system isn’t a reward for good play; just play itself. And it worked to Steele’s advantage after he took home only $610,000 in base salary for the 2020 campaign.

In other words, Steele duplicated roughly 80% of his entire salary by virtue of being a healthy body who survived a certain amount of snaps. What he did during those snaps — not much, unfortunately for Cowboys quarterbacks — is immaterial.

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Latest Power Rankings

Remodeling the defense and retaining their franchise QB was not enough for the Cowboys to avoid bottom-half placement in ESPN’s newest power rankings. Slotted at No. 18, the Cowboys improved just one spot from the Four Letter’s previous rankings, released in early February.

“Really, it’s Dak Prescott signing a four-year, $160 million deal, but we knew Prescott would be back in some form in 2021,” wrote ESPN’s Todd Archer. “Given how the Cowboys have operated in free agency so far, especially on defense, it is clear they are putting their biggest reason for improvement on Quinn. He will be installing a defense similar to what the Cowboys ran from 2014 to ’19 with the hopes that it allows key players such as DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to bounce back and the newcomers in free agency (Keanu Neal, Brent Urban, Damontae Kazee) and the draft to play fast without overthinking.”

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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL