clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

As free agency rolls along, let’s revisit the Cowboys roster priorities

All eyes are on Earl Thomas and DeMarcus Lawrence, but those are just two questions Dallas still has to answer.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As NFL free agency gets really underway and deals have been announced during the legal tampering period, the Dallas Cowboys are, as usual, quiet. The only big developments have been the surprise return of Jason Witten, the loss of Cole Beasley to the Buffalo Bills, and a re-negotiated contract for Sean Lee that freed up some cap space. Meanwhile, the team remains in a stand-off with DeMarcus Lawrence, who is not planning on signing his franchise tag, and the pursuit of the great white whale, Earl Thomas, is still unresolved.

But those two big stories have overshadowed the other roster questions that face Dallas. Free agency is used by the team to plug holes in the roster prior to the draft, to provide both a safety net and some clarity. The latter is badly needed with the first-round pick already spent in the trade for Amari Cooper.

Here are the other things that are pending, by position.

Wide receiver

Beasley’s departure to get a well-deserved payday leaves the slot position very much up in the air. The Cowboys have a lot of wide receivers already under contract, and are reportedly going to bring Tavon Austin back into the fold. That still does not leave them with a clear picture for the slot. They might risk going with a “by committee” approach, with Cooper and second-year player Cedrick Wilson as options. Jerry Jones has also mentioned using Allen Hurns in that role, but at first glance, he seems a better outside receiver.

This could be a place they grab a third-tier free agent for some of that insurance, and it is highly likely they will use one of their six draft picks to try and add talent.

Running back

They have to do something with only Ezekiel Elliott and Darius Jackson currently on the roster. They almost have to add some depth from the free agency bargain bin, but that is already looking a bit shallow. This is not only going to be a target for the draft, but also will likely see some UDFA candidates brought in from what looks to be a pretty deep college crop.

There is a related question, and that is whether the team will still carry a true fullback. This is one place where Kellen Moore may have a different idea for the offense, perhaps using a tight end like Dalton Schultz when they want a lead blocker - if that is even part of his plans. It will be worth watching to see just how much control Moore has over structuring his offense. Jason Garrett has a fondness for the fullback position, but that is not the way the league is heading.

Tight end

The unexpected return of Witten puts this in much better shape. Consider him a suitable substitute for getting a TE in free agency. The Cowboys may now be more in an either/or situation between that and the draft. Witten may be past his prime, but he is excellent depth. Dallas still needs at least one more unless this becomes the year Rico Gathers finally shows something. The signing of Codey McElroy is not an answer, and they may want to carry five if the fullback position is not filled.

Quarterback

They have their starter in Dak Prescott and just need to figure out when they will officially make him a rich man. Both backups are still there. Probably nothing to see here other than a UDFA camp arm or two being picked up eventually.

Offensive line

Barring a truly unexpected setback for Travis Frederick, the interior of the line is in pretty good shape with Joe Looney back as the multi-role depth player. That leaves swing tackle as a high priority, and one that is more likely to be addressed with a free agent than going into the draft. Cameron Fleming is still a possible re-signing, or they may go with a one- or two-year deal for another vet. Watch for something to get done in the next week or so.

Defensive line

If the Lawrence extension falls through, we are in Defcon 1 (that is the highest state of alert before Armageddon, just so you know). But the assumption is that the Cowboys will finally bite the financial bullet and pay the man something like $100 million with a big guaranteed amount, so let’s cross our fingers and go with that. His deal will also free up more cap space by pushing money out.

The Cowboys still need depth at end, and will be looking at both free agency and the draft for the best addition.

Defensive tackle also needs more, although the re-signing of Daniel Ross is underrated, at least in my opinion. The draft is the best avenue here with the available talent in this year’s pool, but there are a lot of veterans still available. This is another place to really expect one of their patented bargain signings, one that comes with little to no cost if it doesn’t work out.

Linebacker

Like Witten, Lee provides quality depth, and with one of the elite duos in the league in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch in place, the team doesn’t have a pressing need here. They will probably pick up one more cheap free agent here, but the six they have under contract already look pretty good.

Cornerback

Again, they look to be in good shape here, with all their corners returning from last year. They were a solid if not spectacular unit, and they are pretty young. It seems unlikely they would spend much on a free agent corner, but if the right one falls to them in the draft, it is hard to not pull the trigger for one of the money positions like that.

Specialists

The Cowboys are reportedly planning on re-signing long snapper L.P. Ladouceur, AKA Mr. Perfect. They still have to decide if Brett Maher is the answer going forward as their place kicker. Expect to see someone, or maybe someones, brought in for camp to compete for the job.

Safety

I saved this for last, because the answer to the ET question will drive so much. As things go on, the chances of landing him actually seem to be improving. The market for his services has not led to him getting grabbed early, and lots of other free agent safeties are getting paid out there. But the pool was so big, talent is still available, so if the quest for Thomas fails, there are fall-backs.

It seems certain the Cowboys will sign a safety in free agency, and then will also be looking for a draftee. They have to have an upgrade to go with Xavier Woods. Jeff Heath is still a great special teams asset, but should be a backup safety, not a starter.

Paying for it all

There are a lot of spots where free agents need to be added, but how do the Cowboys pay for it all? Well, there’s always this.

And that current cap figure is actually $22 million after Lee’s restructure (per Spotrac), and as mentioned, the presumptive extension for Lawrence will add more. The Cowboys can do whatever they need to do.

Which is good, because there is a lot to be done still.