Cowboys Offseason, so far

The Cowboys have already had a pretty nice offseason, notable as much for what they haven’t done as for what they have. Let’s take a look

Cowboys Offensive Free Agents

  • TE Dalton Shultz – has not been re-signed, after being held onto the team last year with the franchise tag. After trading away Amari Cooper, and with Michael Gallup coming off an injury, they were almost forced into using the franchise tag on Schultz a year ago to keep Shultz around as a receiving option for their offense. But they spent a 4th round pick on another TE last season, and he looks like he can be just as good as former 4th round pick Schultz in 2023. Along with a couple of undrafted players in Hendershot and McKeon, the Cowboys have a solid, but unproven TE group. Allowing Schultz to test the market is a good choice – and there is still an outside chance he could come back to the Cowboys next season. If they take the best available player in the 2023 draft, they could add a blue chip prospect at TE in the 1st or 2nd round in April.
  • QB Cooper Rush – Rush has been re-signed to a modest contract to be the back-up to Prescott. He proved that he can make good decisions and help keep the team in contention this past season, albeit with a scaled back playbook, and a lot of help from the Cowboys defense.
  • WR T.Y. Hilton and Noah Brown – former 7th round pick Noah Brown, drafted the same year as Prescott and Elliott, has surprised a lot of people by sticking around with the Cowboys for 7 seasons. This past year, he had his best season in his career, and got paid off by the Texans. For his draft position, he had a remarkable run in Dallas, and we should all be happy that the Texans gave him a modest 1 year deal to help them out while they rebuild. But the Cowboys were wise to let him go. Hilton was a late season addition, but there is no reason to rush to re-sign him. If the Cowboys want him back, that can come much later in the year – or they can move on without him.
  • Offensive Linemen Terrance Steele, Connor McGovern, Jason Peters – Steele just keep improving at Right Tackle, especially in the run game, so offering him a 2nd round tender as a restricted Free Agent was a no brainer. He’s not yet a Pro Bowl level player, but his trajectory is heading in the right direction. Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys attempt to lock up Steele with a long-term contract sometime later in the year. There is no great danger to losing Peters. Like Hilton, if he still wants to play, the Cowboys might re-sign him later in the year – after the draft. But with both Smiths and Steele coming back, the Cowboys have a solid 3-man rotation to play Tackle. McGovern was going to get paid more than he’s worth – especially if Tyler Smith is going to start at Guard. The Cowboys have already addresses the back-up tackle position in the last two drafts, with Ball and Waletzko. They still need more help in the interior line with the departure of McGovern to Buffalo. They specifically need someone who can play both guard and center. Tyler Biadazs had his best year, and was rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection. But the Cowboys need a backup. Look for the Cowboys to draft an interior lineman or two in the next couple of years.
  • TRADE – The trade for WR Brandin Cooks is a homerun for the Cowboys. Some want to say keeping Amari Cooper would have been better, but the Cowboys needed to allow Lamb to be elevated to the #1WR role, and Cooks’ CAP hits of $12.5M and 16.5M the next two seasons allows the Cowboys to time the contract extension for Lamb in such a way as to maximize CAP value for the future. I think too many people are down on Michael Gallup, because he didn’t have a good year in 2022. But it often takes a year to overcome the type of injury he sustained at the end of 2021, and I expect him to get back into the form that earned him a contract extension this coming year. This allows the Cowboys to keep trying to develop other Wide Receiver options – including last year’s 3rd round pick.
  • Running Backs – The Cowboys finally cut ties with Zeke. Zeke was a very good player early in his career, but hasn’t lived up to his $90 million contract extension. It was time to let him go. This may be the most problematic position in the offense. Even with using the Franchise Tag for Tony Pollard, the Cowboys have no guarantee he’ll return to form. As with Gallup last season, it may take some time for Pollard to fully return to form, and it might be 2024 before Pollard can produce at the same level he has the last two seasons. We’ll see what role Malik Davis plays in 2023. He did some good things in his rookie season.

Offensive Take-aways – the Cowboys still need offensive help at Running Back, Tight End and on the interior offensive line. Hopefully, they will find some help in the draft.

Cowboys Defensive Free Agents

  • Safeties – The Cowboys re-signed Donovan Wilson to a big contract. He was an impact player for the Cowboys last year, and many expected him to move on to another team. It was a coup for the team to retain him for 3 more seasons. With both Malik Hooker and Jayron Kearse also under contract, and a couple of other young players, the Cowboys group of safeties is as good or better than at any time since the Cowboys fielded Darren Woodson and Roy Williams two decades ago.
  • Cornerback – Losing both Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis had a big impact on the quality of the defense later in the season. Despite how many disparaged Brown, he’s a solid player and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Cowboys find a way to bring him back on a new contract. Jourdan Lewis is still under contract for another year. TRADE – The Cowboys also hit a homerun trading for former defensive player of the year, Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore played really well last year, after finally healing from a bad leg injury in the 2020 season. He’s going to be a huge asset for the Cowboys, but he’s only under contract for this coming season. The Cowboys also re-signed C.J. Goodwin to a 1-year deal, but he’s more of a Special Teams Ace, than a cornerback. The Cowboys have huge questions to answer with recent 2nd & 3rd round pick Kelvin Joseph, and Nahshon Wright. Neither has played well. But both DaRon Bland and Israel Mukuamu had some shining moments in 2022. With a starting trio of Diggs, Gilmore and Lewis, the Cowboys are likely in a better situation than at the beginning of last season. This is a contract year for Diggs, so the Cowboys will likely try to sign him to a long-term deal later this season.
  • Linebacker – the Cowboys re-signed starting MLB Leighton Vander Esch, and lost back-up player Luke Gifford to the Titans. They are not likely to bring back Anthony Barr after a so-so season. That leaves the Cowboys with a bunch of young players who haven’t fully stepped up yet – Damone Clark, Jabril Cox, Devin Harper and Davonte Bond. Of course, Micah Parsons is still listed at LB, even though he rushes the passer from the DE position more often than not. Damone Clark is the most talented of the young guys, and he flashed this last year – in a year when many thought he wouldn’t play at all. Still the Cowboys could still use some more talent at the LB position. It will be interesting to see who emerges in training camp this year to play alongside Vander Esch.
  • Defensive Line Edge – Of course, Parson is a premier player, and Lawrence is very solid – even if over paid. The Cowboys have 2nd round pick Sam Williams who flashed last year, but didn’t get a lot of playing time. The reason Sam Willaims was limited is that Dorance Armstrong had a career year. Overall the Cowboys are pretty solid on the edge, and word is that they are trying to work out a new contract with former 3rd overall pick Dante Fowler, Jr. who played well for the Cowboys last year, also.
  • Defensive Interior – the Cowboys have a trio of young 3-tech players that were recently drafted in Neville Gallimore, Chauncey Golston, and Osa Odighizuwa. They also have recent draft pick Quinton Bohanna. But despite the investment of draft picks, the play in the interior needed help this past season, which is why the Cowboys traded for former 2nd round pick Johnathan Hankins last season. Hankins is a free agent, and there is no word on if the Cowboys are attempting to re-sign him. The Cowboys definitely need help in the run defense on the interior of their defensive line. But so far, there hasn’t been a lot of movement.

Defensive Take-aways – The Cowboys are set in the secondary and at the pass rushing positions, but need help on the interior defensive line and at linebacker. Also, with the flame out of Kelvin Joseph, the pending Diggs contract, and Gilmore only under contract for 2023, don’t be shocked if the Cowboys go hunting for cornerbacks again in the draft.

Based on what the Cowboys have done so far, it appears to me that their focus in the draft will likely be on these positions, in no particular order: Tight End, Running Back, Interior O-line, Interior D-line, Linebacker and Cornerback. Jerry Jones has also said the Cowboys will be looking to draft a QB this year. It would be interesting to know how the Cowboys grade out the players they already have on their roster at these positions – particularly at Tight End and Linebacker. Here are some questions I have:

  • Are the Cowboys counting on Jake Ferguson and Damone Clark to fill starting roles in 2023? Or will they spend premium draft capital at TE and LB?
  • How soon in the draft will the Cowboys address the hole in the roster created by cutting Zeke Elliott?
  • How high will they draft another Offensive lineman?
  • Will the Cowboys finally spend a high pick on an interior Defensive Lineman to be a run stopper? Will they re-sign Hankins?
  • The Cowboys will have two starting outside CB’s and their starting nickel CB on the final year of their respective contracts in 2023. They could conceivably lose all three players in 2024. How will they address the future at the CB position?

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