The Dallas Cowboys will look a lot different this season compared to what we saw in 2021.
Some key pieces on offense were traded away and walked in free agency, as well as an established player on the defensive line.
Here is a breakdown and grade of all the offseason movement to this point:
Dallas made good selections in the 2022 NFL Draft that promise to become impactful starters and roleplayers from the first snap of the regular season..
The Cowboys first round pick was offensive lineman Tyler Smith from Tulsa. Smith was a tackle in college but only appeared in 18 games. Because of his inexperience, he’ll likely start the season at guard and when the time is right down the road, kick out to offensive tackle.
In round two, Dallas took defensive end Sam Williams out of Ole Miss. Williams caused headaches for opposing offenses during his time as a Rebel, recording 12.5 sacks in 2021 which is the most in a single season in school history. Williams and Micah Parsons will be fun to watch this year.
In round three, the Cowboys addressed a position group that was lacking depth by selecting wide receiver Jalen Tolbert from South Alabama. Tolbert tore up the Sun Belt Conference, ranking sixth in the NCAA in receiving yards in 2021. He’s been getting rave reviews from teammates and coaches, and will likely be Dallas’ WR3 behind CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup.
Free agency acquisitions
Dallas’ additions via free agency have left a lot to be desired.
They signed wide receiver James Washington to a one-year deal, which will help with depth at receiver. Washington has been with the Pittsburgh Steelers the past four seasons where he also served as a depth piece. In that time, he’s averaged 407 yards and just under three touchdowns per season. While he won’t be a game-changer, he’ll be a good veteran to have on the roster if the receivers above him miss games to injury.
Linebacker Dante Fowler signed a one-year contract following some disappointing seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. In the last two seasons, Fowler’s recorded 7.5 sacks after tallying 11.5 sacks in 2019 with the LA Rams. The 27-year-old has clearly regressed and can no longer be looked as a team’s top pass rusher. But under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, he could certainly be a solid complementary piece to Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence.
Fullback Ryan Nall signed a one-year deal that would allow Dallas to easily cut him without experiencing any detriment to the team’s salary cap. Nall signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2018. He spent that season on the practice squad but has made the team’s 53-man roster each year since 2019. In that time, he’s had only 83 yards from scrimmage. Considering the Cowboys didn’t utilize a fullback in 2021, it’s likely he won’t make Dallas’ 53-man roster this season.
The biggest holes left on the Cowboys roster are at wide receiver. Dallas had to part ways with two of its top three wideouts from 2021 to keep salary cap flexibility in the future.
Dallas traded Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns to free up salary cap space. Cooper led the Cowboys in receiving yards in three of the last four seasons and has led the team in receiving touchdowns the previous four seasons. His absence will be the most impactful as Dallas now has to rely heavily on unproven wide receivers.
Cedrick Wilson left Dallas in free agency following a career year with the Cowboys. Wilson’s 602 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns were each the fourth-most for Dallas in 2021. Wilson got a $22 million, three-year deal with the Miami Dolphins, an offer the Cowboys couldn’t match.
Randy Gregory left the Big D in free agency to join the Denver Broncos. The defensive end’s six sacks were the second most on the team last year and he did so in just 12 games. Avoiding injury has been tough for Gregory since being drafted by the Cowboys in 2015. In that time he’s missed 31 games. Gregory is certainly a valuable player when healthy, but drafting Williams could allow for a young player to come in and fill his shoes.
Dallas released La’el Collins after six seasons with the team and the right tackle is still a free agent. Collins missed all of 2020 with a hip injury and was suspended five games in 2021 for missing a drug test. Even when Collins returned from suspension, he didn’t start immediately. Rather, Terence Steele started in his place before Collins took the job back at the end of the year. Releasing Collins was both a sign of tension between he and Cowboys ownership as well as a vote of confidence that Steele can be a solid starter in 2022.
Overall grade: C
Dallas parted ways with some impactful players from the 2021 season. Relying on young and unproven players to fill some big shoes could be risky and will likely cause regression into this season.
Dallas finished with a 12-5 record last year and we’ve predicted they’ll have the same record after this season. But facing the second-easiest schedule based on opponents’ 2021 win percentage will be the biggest reason for that.
We don’t see regression in the team’s record, but in the quality of play which could hamper them when the playoffs roll around.
While there is a lot of excitement surrounding the class of rookies, it’s hard to imagine they won’t have some growing pains as they make the transition to the professional ranks.