The Dallas Cowboys saw their promising 2022 season end at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round. Dallas doesn’t enter this offseason with a glaring need. That means the mission this offseason is to make enough improvements around the edges to get over the hump and reach the NFC Championship for the first time since 1995.
The problem? The Cowboys don’t have much financial flexibility right now. The Cowboys salary cap is a bit complicated, as they are currently $7 million over. And their most important free agent priority might be keeping some of their own, as dynamic running back Tony Pollard is set to hit the open market this month. Tight end Dalton Schultz and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch are also free agents.
The Cowboys also would benefit from adding a more reliable WR2 to take some pressure off of CeeDee Lamb in the passing game. They also could afford to bolster the interior of the offensive line and add some depth at cornerback if they can’t retain Anthony Brown.
Much of Dallas’ productivity in free agency will come down to how many of their own free agents they retain. Here’s a wish list of things to accomplish during this year’s round of free agency.
Find a way to keep Tony Pollard
Good news: it appears the Cowboys intend to do so, based on recent reports, whether that’s with the franchise tag or a new deal.
The success of Dallas’ offseason begins with how they navigate the Pollard situation. There is no doubt that Pollard is a better running back than Ezekiel Elliott right now. Pollard outgained Elliott by nearly 200 yards despite carrying the ball 38 fewer times.
The problem is Elliott’s hefty contract makes it difficult to move on from him. But the only way to keep Pollard might require getting rid of Elliott.
The Cowboys could save nearly $11 million by designating Elliott as a post-June 1 cut. That could give Dallas the financial flexibility needed to at least franchise tag Pollard, which would cost roughly $10 million in 2023. Cutting players such as Tyron Smith ($13.6 million in cap savings as a post-June 1 cut) and Jourdan Lewis ($4.6 million in cap savings) could give Dallas just enough wiggle room to compete in what should be a highly-competitive free agent market for Pollard.
Get Dak Some Help at Receiver
CeeDee Lamb is clearly a stud, as he caught 107 balls for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns in 2022. But the Cowboys need to surround Dak Prescott with more weapons. Schultz was the team’s second-leading pass catcher and could be headed out this offseason. Noah Brown was third with 43 catches, but is a pedestrian wideout who is also set to hit the open market. Neither player will be a priority this offseason.
The Cowboys need to do better than Michael Gallup, who just hasn’t lived up to his potential due to injuries and inconsistency. And Jalen Tolbert is an uncertainty after an uninspiring rookie season.
Unfortunately, this year’s free agent class isn’t loaded with a ton of talent. The best Dallas could do would be adding someone like JuJu Smith-Schuster or Jakobi Meyers, and those two will likely be overpaid given the scarcity of the free agent class.
They could also add a cheaper veteran like Robert Woods, Allen Lazard or Marvin Jones, but none of those options offer a ton of upside as a WR2.
Another option could be finally signing Odell Beckham Jr., after months of rumors and courtship. Beckham is a total wild card, but he offers as much upside as anyone in this class. Either way, Dallas needs to get Prescott some help if he’s to reach his ceiling.
Bolster the Secondary
Similar to wide receiver, the Cowboys have a true No. 1 cornerback in Trevon Diggs. The problem is Dallas lacks depth, and that could be exploited if not addressed.
The Cowboys could focus their efforts on re-signing Brown. If not, they’ll have some options available. Marcus Peters, Bradley Roby, James Bradberry, Jonathan Jones, Bobby McCain, Emmanuel Moseley, Eli Apple and P.J. Williams are just some of the names that could hit the open market. Those names will certainly vary in terms of the price tag, but Dallas should be able to add at least one or two corners in a crowded free agency class.
Shore Up the Trenches
Dallas is pretty strong on both the offensive and defensive lines, but they have needs up the middle on both sides of the ball. The Cowboys might be seeking a replacement for guard Connor McGovern. This year’s top free agents at the position are Isaac Seumalo, Ben Powers, Dalton Risner and Nate Davis.
Defensively, the Cowboys could use a run-stuffer up the middle. They likely won’t be able to spend what’s necessary to win bidding wars for Javon Hargrave or Daron Payne. But some more cost-effective run-stuffing options include Dalvin Tomlinson, Sheldon Rankins and A’Shawn Robinson.