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How the Cowboys dramatically reshaped their roster in just one offseason.

A comprehensive look at the Dallas Cowboys’ new roster, with salary cap numbers, projected over the next three years.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

On March 3rd, we wrote this post to get a snapshot of the Dallas Cowboys’ roster.

It’s intended to provide an overview of the Dallas Cowboys roster as it stands now, projected over the next several years, including the salary cap hits for all players, when their contracts expire, their current age, and approximate value according to Pro Football Reference. This endeavor was made possible by Spotrac, which provides most of the data in the tables below.

If you compare this article to that earlier one, you can see how dramatically the Cowboys reshaped their roster this offseason. We are going to show you exactly how the Cowboys addressed their issues, and assess where they still have work to do.

(Table notes: AV is approximate value, cap numbers are by season, RFA, UFA and ERFA is restricted, unrestricted, and exclusive rights free agent, xx under AV denotes the player didn’t play for the Cowboys last year. Players are sorted by most to least expensive in 2017 within their groups. Suspended players are also included.)

Quarterbacks

QUARTERBACKS AGE AV POS. 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Dak Prescott 24 16 QB $635,848 $725,848 $815,849 UFA -
Cooper Rush 24 xx QB $465,000 $555,000 $645,000 RFA -
Total $1,100,848 $1,280,848 $1,460,849 $0 $0

The quarterback position is the number one reason why the outlook for the Dallas Cowboys is amazing over the next several years. Not only do the Cowboys have a new franchise quarterback coming off the best rookie season in NFL history in Dak Prescott, who led the team to a 13-2 record, and is the NFL’s most valuable player when you consider his playing ability and contract, but now they have a rookie backup who tore up pre-season in Cooper Rush. Over the next three seasons, if they don’t add anyone, this will be the cheapest position group on the roster - by far! It will be the cheapest quarterback group in the NFL - by far!

The Cowboys still owe Tony Romo $19,600,000 in dead money over the next two years, but even if you added that money back into this group, it’s well below what most of the Cowboys’ NFC rivals are spending on this position.

Most teams struggle to make the transition at quarterback - what are the Giants going to do as Eli Manning ages? What is Washington going to do when Kirk Cousins walks next year? Is Carson Wentz really the answer at Philadelphia?

Meanwhile, the Cowboys are set. In 2020, Dak Prescott is going to cost a lot of money. But for now, he’s going to allow the Cowboys to build a stronger and stronger roster.

Back in March, we identified the need as a backup quarterback who could win games. By a bit of luck, they’ve now landed another young quarterback who has looked poised, and is locked up for several years. The need has been addressed.

Position Grade: A+ The Cowboys have a young franchise quarterback who is going to get better and better, and now have a viable backup who is also likely to keep improving.

Wide Receivers

WIDE RECEIVERS AGE AV POS. 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Dez Bryant 29 8 WR $17,000,000 $16,500,000 $16,500,000 UFA -
Cole Beasley 28 9 WR $4,000,000 $4,250,000 UFA - -
Terrance Williams 28 6 WR $2,250,000 $4,750,000 $4,750,000 $5,250,000 UFA
Brice Butler 27 2 WR $1,100,000 UFA - - -
Ryan Switzer 22 xx WR $606,496 $696,496 $786,496 $876,499 UFA
Noah Broan 20 xx WR $482,984 $572,984 $662,984 $752,986 UFA
Total $25,439,480 $26,769,480 $22,699,480 $6,879,485 $0

Looking at this group, you can see why the Cowboys decided to keep Noah Brown after drafting him, and drafted Ryan Switzer. Dez Bryant is 29, and Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams are both 28. They will all be over 30 when their current contracts run out. Brice Butler is a year younger, but he’s only signed for this year. Brown gives them a receiver they have four years to develop, and Switzer is insurance and the potential heir to the role that Cole Beasley plays.

Meanwhile, the ability to re-sign Terrance Williams for several years and Brice Butler for this year gives the team great continuity. Dez can be expected to have a bounce-back year, and Brice Butler has looked much better in training camp and preseason. The only setback is that Ryan Switzer missed most of camp and pre-season, though he did get time during OTAs.

Back in March, we said the need was two big wideouts and competition for Lucky Whitehead’s job. The Cowboys re-signed Terrance Williams and Brice Butler and drafted Noah Brown to more than cover the first part, and Ryan Switzer supplanted Lucky Whitehead to more than cover the second part.

Position Grade: A. This group is now set for several years. One of the team’s strengths.

Running Backs

RUNNING BACKS AGE AV POS. 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Ezekiel Elliott 22 16 RB $5,671,895 $6,806,274 $7,940,655 - UFA
Alfred Morris 29 2 RB $2,137,500 UFA - - -
Darren McFadden 30 1 RB $695,000 UFA - - -
Rod Smith 23 0 RB $465,000 $555,000 ERFA - -
Keith Smith 25 0 FB $690,000 RFA
Total $9,659,395 $7,361,274 $7,940,655 $0 $0

The Ezekiel Elliott suspension saga has thrown a potential crimp in what had been one of the Cowboys’ major strengths. It’s possible Zeke will have his suspension reduced. It’s also possible he can tie things up in the courts and postpone any suspension.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys re-signed Darren McFadden to a cheap one-year deal and plan to use him as the lead back if Zeke is forced out for any games. Alfred Morris might have been cut, but came back looking slimmer and quicker in pre-season, and is good insurance if Zeke misses time. Rod Smith also came in slimmed down and seized the last running back position, showing surprising power as a tailback. His real value, though, is as a core special teams player.

The group is very deep for this year, but is going to have to add someone next offseason to back up Elliott.

Back in March, we said the need was at least one backup, and preferably a complete back. Re-signing Darren McFadden checked off that box. A rejuvenated Alfred Morris and surprising Rod Smith provide better depth than last year, which is needed due to Zeke’s looming suspension.

Position Grade: A-. We have to downgrade this because of the Zeke suspension uncertainty, and the fact that the Cowboys only have Zeke and Rod Smith signed beyond this season.

Tight Ends

TIGHT ENDS AGE AV POS. 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Jason Witten 35 7 TE $12,262,000 $6,500,000 $6,500,000 $6,500,000 $6,500,000
James Hanna 28 xx TE $3,000,000 $3,500,000 UFA - -
Geoff Swaim 24 1 TE $628,683 $718,685 UFA - -
Rico Gathers 23 xx TE $465,000 $555,000 ERFA - -
Total $16,355,683 $11,273,685 $6,500,000 $6,500,000 $6,500,000

Jason Witten continues to roll along. He has looked better this pre-season than he has in many years, with Dak hitting him on some down-the-field looks that had almost been lost from his game. He signed a multi-year extension that will reduce his cap hit going forward, and let him play until he decides to retire.

James Hanna and Geoff Swaim are both back from injuries, and that should help the Cowboys running game. Meanwhile, Rico Gathers wowed us all in the first two pre-season games with long touchdown receptions, but then was hit in the head by Kavon Frazier in practice and is still in the concussion protocol. Rumor is he may be placed on IR which would force him to miss at least eight games.

Back in March, we said the team might consider drafting Witten’s eventual replacement. They didn’t, but Witten was extended and the team learned that Rico Gathers could be a stud. Hanna and Swaim also returned. Everything but the concussion for Gathers has been positive.

Position Grade: B+. Witten is steady if unspectacular, and Hanna and Swaim are solid blockers and special teams players, even if they won’t catch many passes. The key to improvement in this group rests with Rico Gathers, whose concussion is concerning. Let’s hope it clears before too long, as he’s a mismatch for any defender.

Offensive Line

OFFENSIVE LINE AGE AV POS. 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Tyron Smith 27 13 LT $8,820,000 $17,545,000 $15,545,000 $13,545,000 $12,245,000
Travis Frederick 26 13 C $4,514,200 $13,239,200 $9,239,200 $10,239,200 $9,389,200
Zack Martin 27 13 G $2,853,391 - UFA - -
La'el Collins 24 1 RT $2,340,333 $5,833,333 $7,333,334 UFA -
Jonathan Cooper 27 xx G $1,656,250 UFA - - -
Byron Bell 28 xx G/T $1,775,000 UFA
Joe Looney 27 2 C/G $850,000 UFA - - -
Chaz Green 25 1 G/T $786,467 $877,245 UFA - -
Total $23,595,641 $37,494,778 $32,117,534 $23,784,200 $21,634,200

The core strength of the Cowboys is going through a transition. The team still needs to lock up Zack Martin on a longer term deal, but one expects it will happen. Doug Free retired and has been replaced by La’el Collins, who moved out from left guard. This seems very smart, as Collins has youth and strength on his side. Other than some unfortunate penalties, he went against Khalil Mack recently and more than held his own. The Cowboys also extended Collins through 2019 on a very reasonable deal.

The biggest question has been who will start at left guard. It looks like Jonathan Cooper will get the nod, mostly because his chief rival, Chaz Green, hasn’t been able to stay healthy. The Cowboys signed Cooper to a one year deal. They also added veteran Byron Bell, who has played every position except center.

Back in March, we said the team needed to add a future right tackle and have competition at left guard. La’el Collins answered the first issue, and there was lots of competition at left guard, with Jonathan Cooper appearing to emerge as the winner. Once Martin is extended, the Cowboys will only need to address the left guard position and depth next year.

Position Grade: A. Still the best offensive line in the NFL. As Collins grows into his right tackle role, it may actually get better.

Defensive Line

DEFENSIVE LINE AGE AV POS. 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Tyrone Crawford 28 7 DE $10,350,000 $9,100,000 $10,100,000 $9,100,000 UFA
Benson Mayowa 26 4 DE $2,600,000 $3,850,000 UFA - -
Taco Charlton 23 xx DE $1,823,343 $2,279,179 $2,735,015 $3,190,851 -
Stephen Paea 29 xx DT $1,906,250 UFA - - -
DeMarcus Lawrence 25 2 DE $1,752,116 UFA - - -
Maliek Collins 22 7 DT $832,788 $975,288 $1,071,816 UFA -
Damontre Moore 25 xx DE $733,823 $825,000 UFA - -
Charles Tapper 24 xx DE $694,470 $784,470 $874,470 UFA -
Brian Price 23 xx DT $600,000 $600,000 UFA - -
David Irving 24 3 DT $470,294 RFA - - -
Total $21,763,084 $18,413,937 $14,781,301 $12,290,851 $0

The Cowboys did quite a bit to address this group this offseason. Taco Charlton was drafted in the first round, Damontre Moore and Stephen Paea were added as free agents, and Charles Tapper returned from injury. DeMarcus Lawrence is healthy again, and Maliek Collins is making great strides in year two. Overall, it appears to be a stronger group, even though David Irving (4 games) and Damontre Moore (2 games) are suspended to start the year.

Yesterday, the Cowboys continued to churn their roster to better this group. They claimed big defensive tackle Brian Price from Green Bay and cut Cedric Thornton, who had been a huge disappointment. They also traded for outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott from the Packers. He’s discussed in the linebacker group, but the Cowboys may use him as a situational pass rusher with speed as he recorded a sack every 77.5 snaps in Green Bay.

Back in March, we said the Cowboys needed an impact edge rusher, and two-three players overall. Several guys will compete to fill the former need: Taco Charlton, Damontre Moore, DaMarcus Lawrence, and perhaps Jayrone Elliott. The Cowboys also added Stephen Paea and Brian Price, and Charles Tapper returned from injury. No War Daddy, unless Maliek Collins turns into one, but a more solid group overall.

Position Grade: B. There is every hope this group is better, but they are going to have to show it on the field. They also suffered two suspensions, for a loss of six games.

Linebackers

LINEBACKERS AGE AV POS. 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Sean Lee 31 16 OLB $12,450,000 $8,450,000 $7,500,000 UFA -
Kyle Wilber 28 2 OLB $1,750,000 UFA - - -
Jaylon Smith 22 xx ILB $1,476,129 $1,771,355 $2,066,584 UFA -
Jayrone Elliott 25 xx OLB $1,121,875 UFA
Anthony Hitchens 25 7 ILB $798,716 UFA - - -
Damien Wilson 24 3 OLB $731,578 $821,581 UFA - -
Justin Durant 32 1 ILB $695,000 UFA - - -
Total $19,023,298 $11,042,936 $9,566,584 $0 $0

The big news here is that Jaylon Smith is playing, and Anthony Hitchens starts the season recovering from a knee fracture. Smith looks amazing compared to where he’s come from, but still has a ways to go to return to dominance. Justin Durant was re-signed as insurance, and it’s a good thing with the Hitchens injury. On the day after rosters were trimmed, the Cowboys traded for Jayrone Elliott from Green Bay and cut Mark Nzeocha.

The team is set for this year, but will need to keep adding players going forward, with only Sean Lee and Smith signed through 2019.

Back in March, we said the team had no needs, but we found out Smith can play, signed Justin Durant as a free agent, and traded for Jayrone Elliott.

Position Grade: B+. A solid group that will be better when Hitchens returns, and as Smith continues to heal and get better. Potential Wilson suspension is concerning.

Secondary

SECONDARY AGE AV POS. 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Orlando Scandrick 30 4 CB $5,281,021 $5,281,021 $5,600,000 UFA -
Byron Jones 25 6 S $2,345,984 $2,736,981 - UFA -
Nolan Carroll 30 xx CB $2,000,000 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 UFA -
Jeff Heath 26 3 S $1,921,000 $1,950,000 $2,450,000 UFA -
Chidobe Awuzie 22 xx CB $778,834 $973,543 $1,168,251 $1,362,960 UFA
Bene Benwikere 26 xx CB $690,000 UFA
Jourdan Lewis 22 xx CB $653,357 $768,357 $863,357 $963,357 UFA
Anthony Brown 24 4 CB $573,736 $663,736 $753,739 UFA -
Kavon Frazier 23 1 S $565,089 $655,089 $745,089 UFA -
Xavier Woods 22 xx S $504,972 $594,972 $684,972 $774,972 UFA
Total $15,313,993 $17,623,699 $16,265,408 $3,101,289 $0

This group saw the biggest turnover of any this offseason. Brandon Carr, Barry Church, JJ Wilcox, and Mo Claiborne all left as free agents. To replace them, the Cowboys signed Nolan Carroll, promoted Jeff Heath to starting safety, drafted Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods, and recently traded for Bene Benwikere.

It’s too early to tell how well these moves will turn out, as Awuizie, Lewis, and Woods didn’t stay healthy enough in training camp and preseason to prove their reliability. That’s largely why Dallas gave up a conditional pick for the veteran Benwikere.

The good news is that Orlando Scandrick appears healthy and back in form.

Back in March, we said the Cowboys needed four players, and at least two starters. Nolan Carroll and Jeff Heath are the new starters, and the Cowboys added Carroll, Awuizie, Lewis, Woods, and Benwikere.

Position Grade: C+. With so much uncertainty, it’s hard to give a higher grade for now. This group could, however, show steady improvement over the year as the rookies get acclimated.

Specialists

SPECIAL TEAMS AGE AV POS. 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Dan Bailey 29 4 K $4,000,000 $4,200,000 $3,400,000 $3,400,000 UFA
Chris Jones 27 2 P $1,550,000 $1,700,000 $2,300,000 $2,400,000 $2,500,000
L.P. Ladouceur 35 1 LS $1,220,000 UFA - - -
Total $6,770,000 $5,900,000 $5,700,000 $5,800,000 $2,500,000

The Cowboys extended Chris Jones through 2021. Only the long snapper isn’t signed for multiple years.

Back in March, we identified the only need as extending Chris Jones, which was done.

Position Grade: A. Bailey remains super accurate, and Jones is a very good punter and great athlete.

Dead Money

DEAD MONEY 2017 2018
Tony Romo $10,700,000 $8,900,000
Cedric Thornton $4,250,000 $2,500,000
Brandon Carr $2,717,000
Doug Free $2,500,000
Total $20,167,000 $11,400,000

For completeness, we included this chart on dead money. Because of Romo’s deal, it’s pretty significant, but not that damaging to the team because of how ridiculously cheap Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush are. On the plus side, the Cowboys saved $54 million with Romo’s retirement.

Recap

  • Quarterbacks: A+ The Cowboys have a young franchise quarterback who is going to get better and better, and now have a viable backup who is also likely to keep improving.
  • Wide receivers: A. This group is now set for several years. One of the team’s strengths.
  • Running backs: A-. A great group for this year, but we have to downgrade it because of the Zeke suspension uncertainty, and the fact that the Cowboys only have Zeke and Rod Smith signed beyond this season.
  • Tight ends: B+. Witten is steady if unspectacular, and Hanna and Swaim are solid blockers and special teams players, even if they won’t catch many passes. The key to improvement in this group rests with Rico Gathers, whose concussion is concerning. Let’s hope it clears before too long, as he’s a mismatch for any defender.
  • Offensive line: A. Still the best offensive line in the NFL. As Collins grows into his right tackle role, it may actually get better.
  • Defensive line: B. There is every hope this group is better, but they are going to have to show it on the field. They also suffered two suspensions, for a loss of six games.
  • Linebackers: B+. A solid group that will be better when Hitchens returns, and as Smith continues to heal and get better. Potential Wilson suspension is concerning.
  • Secondary: C+. With so much uncertainty, it’s hard to give a higher grade for now. This group could, however, show steady improvement over the year as the rookies get acclimated.
  • Specialists. A. All three players excel at what they do.

Final Thoughts

The Dallas Cowboys are in very good shape with this roster. They are now 14th in the NFL in average age of their players at 25.91 years, and 14th in cap space at $11,851.000. They are still spending a lot more on offense than defense, with about 50% of their cap dollars going to offense, and 33.5% to defense. The rest is going to the dead money hits for Tony Romo, Cedric Thornton, Doug Free, and Brandon Carr, but this is offset by Dak Prescott’s super cheap contract.

The offense is stronger than it was in March, with a viable backup quarterback, a stable and solid set of wide receivers, depth at running back, and the offensive line coming together in its transition.

The defense also looks stronger on paper, but we haven’t seen enough of it yet, so it remains a bit of a mystery.

Is this team good enough to compete for the Super Bowl this year? Yes, if things fall well and the team gels on defense. But that will have to be the subject of another post.