The Dallas Cowboys will be addressing roster needs over the next few months as free agency and the draft are slowly approaching. A lot of the choices they make will be significant towards improving the 2019 team, however some of these decisions will help them down the road as well. Some additions may not make sense at first, but it may make perfect sense if you take a closer look at the team’s salary cap breakdown over the next few years. What position groups will be running thin on resources in 2020? Is the team set at certain positions to where adding more bodies isn’t very helpful? That is what we’ll take a look at today as we start dialing in what positions are most pressing for the future of this franchise.
We are going to primarily focus on the players that are most relevant, that is - players seeing a decent amount of snaps or who could see additional playing time in the future. Nobody is losing any sleep wondering how long backup running back Jordan Chunn is under contract for (answer: two years, in case it was driving you crazy). We are also going to prognosticate a few new contract extensions that are likely on the horizon. That type of speculation is very important because those decisions play a big part in how the team will proceed in sustaining their roster.
How does the layout of the Cowboys roster look? Let’s take a look (salary cap figures are courtesy of Spotrac.com):
The Cowboys are committed to Dak Prescott. If something were to ever change, it wouldn’t reveal itself for a while, so for now - let’s just say they are set at quarterback.
The backup quarterback position isn’t set in stone, but the team does have two young arms on the roster. The front office made a commitment to Mike White when they drafted him in the fifth round. While he didn’t wow anyone in preseason, the Cowboys used a roster spot to keep White on ice.
There is no reason to believe the Cowboys will be spending any resources on a new quarterback. A veteran arm could be brought in for competition for the backup spot, but it won’t be anyone pricey.
Ezekiel Elliott is under contract for 2019. The team also can exercise his fifth-year option in April which is almost a foregone conclusion. That locks Zeke up for the next two years. When the Cowboys drafted him fourth overall in 2016, they were hoping he would be the next running back star for years to come. Elliott has won the divisional title in two of the last three years so there is no reason to believe the organization feels any different about their investment. Elliott will get a long-term deal signed eventually.
As far as who’s backing him up - that’s open. Darius Jackson is under contract, but look for the team to keep their eye out for a nice rookie running back on Day 3 of the draft that can add some talent to the running back position group.
The first order of business is whether or not the team decides to bring Geoff Swaim back. He started to show some ability as a receiver before he got hurt last season. If they can work a cheap deal similar to what they did with James Hanna a couple years ago, he could be worth bringing back. Of course, the team also has Dalton Schultz on a rookie deal and he showed a lot of improvement within his first year. He could be a cheaper version of what Swaim gives them.
The team may also look to the draft to find a better tight end. This new draft class is deep with talent at the position and it’s possible their first selection at 58 is one of the athletic tight ends that slides in the second round.
With Amari Cooper getting an extension soon and Michael Gallup on a rookie deal, the team has a couple of their top receivers locked down for at least the next three years. Even if Cole Beasley leaves in free agency, the team still has a few receivers under contract for the 2019 season. The Cowboys can still look for players to upgrade the group. Good talent can typically be found on Day 2 of the draft and the team may look to the draft to get a young player on a cheap four-year deal.
With the news that the Cowboys have declined the option for Terrance Williams, that leaves a potential hole at wide receiver. What happens in free agency and the draft could dictate what the team does with Allen Hurns. He could be a cap casualty should the team decide to move on from him, but his chances just got a little better with Williams out of the mix. We still don’t know what they have in Cedrick Wilson. He was a great value pick last year, but a shoulder injury shelved him for the year. He’s still an unknown, but he could surprise some people.
While there isn’t any sense of urgency to get a receiver, that shouldn’t deter the Cowboys from going after one in the draft if a talented player falls in their lap.
It was supposed to be where the Cowboys had the core offensive locked down for the next several years as Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin all have long-term deals. Unfortunately, health issues have reared their ugly head. All three of them missed game action last season. Frederick’s health is still in question, although he is optimistic that he’ll be able to return this upcoming season. Smith is having trouble making it through the season without missing time. After missing just one game over his first five seasons, he’s now missed three games in each of the last three seasons. Smith is only 28, but it feels like he’s been in the league forever and eight years worth of mileage is taking his toll. Even Martin missed the first game ever of his NFL career.
The team should still have their core group available, but as they learned last season, it’s good to have quality backups. Four different reserves saw action last year, including backup center Joe Looney who played more snaps than any Cowboys player last season.
With the three All-Pro’s signed long term and Connor Williams still just beginning a rookie deal, the Cowboys have most of the pieces set for a while. They will need to figure out what they want to do with La’el Collins. The team needs a swing tackle and it would be ideal if they can bring back Cameron Fleming. He was signed as insurance last year and ended up playing in 232 snaps when Smith missed time. Or the Cowboys could draft a young tackle and kill two birds with one stone. He could serve as a swing tackle in 2019 and then replace Collins in 2020.
The team traded backup corner Charvarius Ward for former 2016 fourth-round pick Parker Ehinger. It’s still unclear what he has to offer, but he’s had a lot of trouble staying healthy.
Should the team go after another offensive lineman in the draft? It may not be a position of need right now, but if a starting caliber tackle slips to the right spot, they could stay a step ahead in case Collins eventually leaves.
The Cowboys have themselves one of the top edge rushers in the league in DeMarcus Lawrence. They only real questions are how much is it going to cost the team to keep him and how long will he be under contract? Now, they just need to find some others to go with him. They have options. Randy Gregory had a good season after essentially a two-year hiatus. If he builds upon last season, he can really turn into a nice piece to the defensive line. Unfortunately, by the time they figure it out, he’ll be up for a new contract. The team also has Taco Charlton for a couple more years, but he’s yet to get rolling. However this plays out, the team should have some options for the next few seasons. It’s just going to come down to how good are these other guys.
Defensive tackle is another thing altogether. They don’t have a lot of bodies and the ones they do have are running out of time. Both Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods are in the last year of their contracts. And Tyrone Crawford only has a couple years left on his. It would serve the Cowboys nicely to be able to find a young defensive tackle in the draft under a cheap, four-year deal. Or maybe they re-sign Collins or Woods to a new deal.
Regardless of what the team does with Sean Lee, the defense can rely on the Van Jaylon duo to hold things down. Both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are coming off a great season and are the future of this team at the linebacker position. While Smith only has one more deal left on his rookie contract, he’s only 23 years old and keeps getting better with each new snap. The team should re-sign him to a second contract.
The Cowboys are likely to lose Damien Wilson in free agency and a release of Lee will leave them a little light on depth, but Dallas still has Joe Thomas and a very raw Chris Covington on the roster. The Cowboys will peruse through some of the cheaper free agents to add depth like they did with Thomas a year ago. The Cowboys are expected to get a fourth-round compensatory pick for losing Anthony Hitchens, which they can turn around and use for a linebacker. Both Hitchens and Wilson have been solid depth linebackers the team has landed with fourth-round draft picks.
The Cowboys recently overhauled the cornerback position and they’ve gotten younger. They let veterans like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne walk in free agency and released Orlando Scandrick last offseason. The team now relies on four young corners who are all on rookie deals. Byron Jones had a strong season in his first full season at the position and is playing under his fifth-year option, but the team will give him a new deal soon. He’s a young, high character guy who has now showcased talent at the position. You don’t let players like that get away.
Anthony Brown has served as a solid corner in two of his three years so far. Another quality season and he’ll likely price himself out of Dallas next offseason. They still have the 2017 Day 2 draft picks - Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis - under contract for a couple more years, but it’s a good idea to keep a look out for some young talent in the draft. The Cowboys didn’t take a corner last year and even though it’s not a pressing need for 2019, it’s good to be prepared if the talent available presents itself.
The Cowboys got plenty of use out of Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods last season. Both finished in the top five for defensive snaps for the team. Backup safety Kavon Frazier only played in 18% of the team’s defensive snaps. And that’s is pretty much all they needed from their safety group. Ibraheim Campbell and Darian Thompson had just one defensive snap a piece on the year which shows how reliable the main group was.
It’s great the team didn’t have to rely on much help from their backups, but is that how they want to operate going forward? Both Heath and Frazier are in the last year of their contracts so it would behoove the team to start looking ahead to the future. Of course, this could all be resolved with a quick little free agent signing of a certain someone from the Seahawks. The front office may not be big spenders in free agency, but you could make a pretty good case that adding Earl Thomas would be a great way to shore up one of their thinnest positions on the team.
Doe seeing the layout for the future change how you feel about how the Cowboys should approach the offseason? Let us know in the comments.