ARLINGTON— The Dallas Cowboys had an unusual free agency this offseason but need another strong draft to get back to the playoffs next season.
This has been a very unusual offseason for the Cowboys as they’ve made a few trades and signed some veterans to favorable contracts. It’s unusual because, in the last few seasons, Dallas hasn’t made really any big moves during the offseason and has focused on resigning their own guys.
This time, they made trades for Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore, two very good players who play positions the Cowboys needed help at. Last season, Dallas went into the year short at receiver, with every pass catcher needing to prove themselves.
Ceedee Lamb jumped up the depth chart to be “the” guy after the Cowboys traded Amari Cooper to the Browns. Michael Gallup started the year off on injured reserve, as did James Washington. That left Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko, rookie Jalen Tolbert, and undrafted rookie Dennis Houston along with Lamb, as the receivers to start the season.
Cooks bounced around the NFL the past few seasons but always seemed to be a hot commodity. Teams who traded for the receiver usually gave up a top-tiered pick (1st or 2nd round) to get him. The New Orlean Saints drafted Cooks in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft with the 20th overall pick. During the 2017 offseason, the New England Patriots traded a first-round pick, plus other draft ammo, to the Saints for Cooks. Then, a year and a month after New England traded for him, the Patriots moved him to the Los Angeles Rams for a first and sixth-round pick.
As of now, the count is at three first-round picks that have been moved around when involving Cooks. In April 2020, the Houston Texans traded for Cooks, but this time it involved a second-round pick (57th overall). After being dealt around to four different teams, one would think something must be up with Cooks. But after nine seasons, Cooks has averaged 70 catches a season and 957 yards each year. He also has six 1,000-yard seasons, two of those with the Texans, who really didn’t have a quarterback since he joined the team. Cooks also has 49 total touchdowns since entering the NFL.
Stephon Gilmore is another player the Cowboys have to be excited about. He is a former Defensive Player of the Year and a Super Bowl Champion. Gilmore had 127 passes defended and 29 interceptions over his 11-year career so far. With Trevon Diggs across from him, the Cowboys have a couple of ball hawks at corner.
Then, Dallas did what they usually do in free agency, fill gaps in the roster with 3rd and 4th-tier free agents and then re-sign some of their own guys. The Cowboys re-signed running back Tony Pollard, who recently signed his franchise tag, offensive tackle Terence Steele, safety Donovan Wilson, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, special teams ace CJ Goodwin, backup quarterback Cooper Rush, running back Rico Dowdle, and defensive ends Dante Fowler and Takk McKinley.
Players they’ve brought in with Cooks and Gilmore are running back Ronald Jones, offensive lineman Chuma Egoda, and long-snapper Trent Sieg.
All these players are planned to offset the losses the Cowboys have suffered this offseason which include Conner McGovern, a part-time starter in Dallas at guard, to the Buffalo Bills, backup linebacker Luke Gifford to the Tennessee Titans, Noah Brown, who stuck around Dallas for a while because he did everything right, to the Houston Texans. Tight End Dalton Schultz signed with the Texans as well. The Cowboys also released Ezekiel Elliott and long-snapper Jake McQuaide.
Dallas will probably be quiet until the draft, where everyone seems to be expecting a top 5 player, Texas running back Bijan Robinson, to still be around when the Cowboys pick at 26th overall. Another player fans and media members seem to be high on is Utah tight end, Dalton Kincaid.
Both Robinson and Kincaid make sense for the Cowboys, and both would give the offense another potent weapon to add. The Cowboys are a little thin at both positions, even though Pollard, Jack Ferguson, and Peyton Hendershot all played their roles pretty well last season.
Other offensive players that make sense for the Cowboys are Ohio State receiver Jaxson Smith-Njigba, TCU offensive lineman Steve Avila, Georgia tight end Darnell Washington, Florida offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence, and Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer.
While the offensive side of the ball seems like a popular pick for the Cowboys, maybe following the money wouldn’t be the worst idea.
There are five money positions:
- Left Tackle
- Wide Receiver
- Defensive End
The Cowboys currently have:
- Dak Prescott
- Tyron Smith
- Ceedee Lamb
- Micah Parsons
- Trevon Diggs
These five positions cost a lot to hold onto, and Dallas won’t be able to keep everyone. Diggs is the only one still playing on a rookie deal that doesn’t have a fifth-year option which means Dallas will probably use the franchise tag on him when the time comes. But then it will be Lamb and Parsons who will want new deals one right after the other.
Lamb, Parsons, and Diggs will all soon be looking for a new contract, and won’t come cheap.
Fans would want to resign Parsons in a heartbeat, and he’ll more than likely become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL when his contract comes due, especially if he continues to put up the numbers he has the past couple of seasons. Diggs led the NFL in interceptions one season, and Lamb is the guy in Dallas.
Drafting another “Micah-like” linebacker would make sense, or even another edge player.
Looking behind Parsons in the Dallas front seven, who do they have? Parsons had 13.5 sacks last season. Sacks for the other players in Dallas’ front seven:
- Dorance Armstrong- 8.5
- DeMarcus Lawrence- 6
- Dante Fowler- 6
- Osa Odigihizuwa- 4
- Sam Williams- 4
- Chauncey Golston- 1
- Neville Gallimore- 1
- Anthony Barr- 1
- Leighton Vander Esch- 1
Besides Diggs and Gilmore, who are the other corners on the roster for the Cowboys? Cornerback is one of those positions that cost money, and this seems to be a decent year for corners.
- Jourdan Lewis
- Kelvin Joseph
- DaRon Bland
- Nahshon Wright
In fact, the Cowboys were heavily linked to both Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn in 2021. They went back-to-back before the Cowboys even picked and worked out for both the Panthers and Broncos. Gilmore only has one year on his deal, and like above, Diggs will want a new contract. Players like Christian Gonzalez, Joey Porter Jr., and Devon Witherspoon are expected to be gone by the time Dallas picks, but Deonte Banks or Kelee Ringo could be on the Cowboys' radar.
Who are the other linebackers behind Parsons?
- Leighton Vander Esch
- Damone Clark
- Jabril Cox
If your team loses a top-five defensive player, they’ll suffer without him. Also, if a linebacker goes down, who do the Cowboys have? Vander Esch, Clark, and Cox have all had injuries, and Vander Esch is on a one-year deal.
The Cowboys run a rotation up front on the defensive line, but adding an edge or tackle makes sense.
- It frees up Micah to do Micah things.
- It gives Dallas another pass rusher to add to the rotation.
Players the Cowboys could look at are Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith, Iowa State edge Will McDonald, Iowa edge Lucas Van Ness, or Wisconsin defensive tackle Keenau Benton.
Even adding another linebacker makes sense, like Arkansas backer Drew Sanders or Clemson backer Trenton Simpson. Both Sanders and Simpson were “do everything” players meaning they blitzed, dropped, and covered. Adding another player “Micah-like” at a position the Cowboys need quality depth at makes sense.
Back to the linebackers, Vander Esch has dealt with injuries the past couple of seasons, Clark had a spine injury in college that dropped him to the fourth, and Cox injured his knee his rookie season.
Either way, the Cowboys know what they’re doing in the draft. Since Will McClay entered the war room, the Cowboys nearly always hit in the first round. He has been with the Cowboys since 2009
- 2022- Tyler Smith
- 2021- Micah Parsons
- 2020- Ceedee Lamb
- 2019- Traded for Amari Cooper
- 2018- Leighton Vander Esch
- 2017- Taco Charlton
- 2016- Ezekiel Elliott
- 2015- Byron Jones
- 2014- Zack Martin
- 2013- Travis Frederick
- 2012- Morris Claiborne
- 2011- Tyron Smith
- 2010- Dez Bryant
- 2009- Traded for Roy Williams
Outside of Claiborne and Charlton, all of these players played at a high level for the Cowboys, and in the last three seasons, McClay is 3/3. From 2017, when McClay became the Vice President of Player Personnel, the Cowboys have drafted Chidobe Awuzie, who went to a Super Bowl with the Cincinnati Bengals, Noah Brown, Conner Williams, who was one of the highest-rated centers last season with Miami, Michael Gallup, Dorance Armstrong, Dalton Schultz, Mike White, who forced Jets’ first-round quarterback Zach Wilson to the bench last season.
Other players include Cedrick Wilson, Tony Pollard, Donovan Wilson, Trevon Diggs, Neville Gallimore, Tyler Biadasz, Sam Williams, DaRon Bland, and Jake Ferguson, with plenty of others who might not have stuck around Dallas but found homes elsewhere.
Over the past five seasons, the Cowboys have had 44 draft picks, and only eight are out of the NFL at this point, with none in the last two seasons. From 2021 and 2022, 19 of 20 are still with the team, and only one, John Ridgeway, is on another.
So, wherever Dallas does decide to go with the 26th overall pick, fans should trust the process because, in the end, the Cowboys have a team of people putting in countless hours both on the road and researching all of these players. Players who have been poked and prodded and weighted, worked out, and measured.
Also, fans are stupid and don’t know what they want. Half of the Dallas fan base wanted Johnny Manziel and threw temper tantrums when Zack Martin’s name came across the screen. The same Zack Martin who has more All-Pro seasons than holding penalties in his career.
Another good indicator of where the Cowboys will look is to watch their Dallas Day and their Top-30 visits. Whichever way the Cowboys decide to go, they’re in good hands.