It’s the offseason, so everyone is coming up with plans for the all 32 NFL teams to perform in order to have a successful 2020. ESPN is breaking their efforts into articles on each division, and the NFC East was the latest to go under the microscope. Bill Barnwell is handling the duties and has five moves the Cowboys need to make this offseason. You can already guess what topic number one is for Dallas.
Lock up Dak Prescott
Barnwell takes the approach that the Cowboys really don’t know how to draft/sign quarterbacks, and since they hit on Prescott, they better stick with it. Barnwell lists the QBs between Troy Aikman and Tony Romo as an example.
Quincy Carter, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner, Chad Hutchinson, Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson and Drew Bledsoe.
He notes that the QBs kind of stumbled into Tony Romo since they were unwilling to risk even a late-round draft pick on him. He also notes that they wanted to draft Johnny Manziel, and almost traded up for Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook before finally settling for Dak Prescott. In other words, if the Cowboys don’t sign Prescott and have to start over, history suggests the odds will be against them of finding a capable quarterback.
But he also doesn’t want to leave you with the idea that the Cowboys should keep Prescott because they are incompetent in finding a replacement. He also notes that Prescott is good, and the Cowboys should keep him.
While there are other quarterbacks available in free agency, none of them are in Prescott’s league. The 2016 fourth-round pick finished fourth in the NFL in Total QBR.
It would cost the Cowboys $59.2 million to franchise Prescott twice and $105.6 million to get him a third time, which is right in line with the league’s highest-paid quarterbacks. They might not want to pay that much, but after years of signing their homegrown talent to massive extensions, they can’t suddenly expect Prescott to take a discount. No, Prescott isn’t Patrick Mahomes. If the Cowboys decide to play hardball or actually move on from Prescott thinking they can just find another quarterback, their chances of finding another Hutchinson or Cook are far greater.
There’s nothing earth-shattering here. Just a common sense notion that the Cowboys really need to re-sign Prescott, and that they will have to pay top dollar to do it.
On to the other moves.
Transition tag Amari Cooper on the way to an extension
Barnwell rightly notes that the Cowboys offense is just better when Cooper is on the field. Prescott’s yards per attempt and his quarterback rating are significantly better when the Cowboys have Cooper. Considering they spent a first-round pick to get him, and he has produced, there is no reason not to keep him. If need be they can tag him, with the franchise tag if Prescott gets signed, or the transition tag otherwise.
3. Rebuild the defensive line around DeMarcus Lawrence
This is where things get more interesting. The first two moves, re-signing Prescott and Cooper, are pretty much no-brainers. It’s after that where things get tricky for the Cowboys who have a long list of free agents. Near the top of that list is last season’s sack leader, Robert Quinn. While the Cowboys and Quinn have both made noises about getting a deal done, once the money start’s flowing in free agency, Quinn might be priced out of the Cowboys range.
With the Cowboys under new defensive management, you could see some of the other free agents let go like Maliek Collins, Michael Bennett, and Kerry Hyder. Then there’s the Tyrone Crawford situation which seems to be inevitably heading to a re-worked contract or an outright release. The Cowboys are going to have some holes to fill on the defensive line.
Barnwell suggests players who have previously worked under/with Mike Nolan or Mike McCarthy could be targets. He mentions David Onyemata from the Saints and Mike Daniels form the Lions (previously Packers) as examples. Then Barnwell kind of contradicts himself by saying you can’t count Dallas out of the pursuit of Jadeveon Clowney. Which makes no sense if you have previously said that Quinn might be priced out of the Cowboys market. Certainly Clowney will command a lot of money, too.
Sign a star defensive back
Ah, the Byron Jones situation. Barnwell comes right out and says the Cowboys seem to have very little interest in re-signing Jones. But instead of pursuing a star replacement at corner, Barnwell suggests the Cowboys need to fix their safety position. That generally tracks as the safety position has been an issue for a long time, and while the Cowboys have flirted with fixing it, they never close the deal. The Cowboys could go into the season with Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis as their starting corners, and then add a third corner in free agency or retain Anthony Brown. That unit would be a step down without Byron Jones and would be a situation to watch.
The general consensus is that the Cowboys have to find an upgrade to pair with Xavier Woods at safety. Whether in the draft or in free agency, it needs to happen.
Find a solution at tight end
Interestingly, Barnwell doesn’t even mention Blake Jarwin in his write-up. He discusses the return of Jason Witten as a probability, and notes that Witten’s 2017 year was basically duplicated in 2019. Witten is good for 60+ catches, 500+ yards and around four touchdowns. I’m not sure how keen the Cowboys are about bringing Witten back, but they should be very keen about getting Blake Jarwin back (he’s a RFA) and they should be giving him the majority of the snaps. Jarwin has proven he can be a dynamic pass-catching tight end, so let him do that regularly.