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For Cowboys and their own free agents, don’t forget all the rest

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There are a lot of players to consider outside the big four.

NFL: DEC 22 Cowboys at Eagles
He’s kinda important, too.
Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There is a big focus right now on the top free agents the Dallas Cowboys have from their own roster. We all know that Dak Prescott is the top priority, that Amari Cooper will likely get signed as well, Byron Jones now looks to be testing the market which almost certainly means he is gone, and Robert Quinn may get an offer to return. But there are more players the Cowboys have to make decisions on - a lot more. The team has 32 total free agents of all types, and with only 49 players currently under contract, including a lot of futures deals and others that are marginal to make the team, at best, Dallas needs to bring several more of them back.

Here is a look all the others.

Option years

Fullback Jamize Olawale and swing tackle Cameron Fleming both have an option year per DallasCowboys.com that the team can exercise. Technically, they are not true free agents, since the team has control and the cap number at Over the Cap already has their salaries included. Although the new coaching staff may change the plans, it is anticipated that Olawale will return. Mike McCarthy’s talk about two back sets is not exactly a discouraging sign for him. He’s hardly expensive in any case.

Fleming may be a bit of a different case, however, because his base salary jumps from $1 million to $4 million. If the team is willing to risk going a different route, that is some cap money that could be applied elsewhere. He is reliable, but not necessarily the best option available. Dallas has Brandon Knight and Mitch Hyatt already and may seek to groom one or both of them, especially with the expected roster increase from 53 to 55 if the players approve the new CBA. If the concerns Stephen Jones is publicly discussing about Byron Jones’ cost are legitimate (at least in Stephen’s mind) then dropping Fleming may be the choice.

Exclusive rights free agents

Defensive tackle Antwaun Woods and interior offensive lineman Adam Redmond fall in this category. The team can tender a qualifying offer, and then they can either sign or sit out the year. It is another case where the team has full control. Redmond is probably not going to be offered with Connor McGovern and Marcus Henry already under contract. But Woods was the best interior defensive lineman for the Cowboys last season, and he is probably going to be retained.

Restricted free agents

Dallas has a little less control over this trio, quarterback Cooper Rush, tight end Blake Jarwin, and defensive tackle Daniel Ross. If they make qualifying offers, the players can still negotiate with other teams if they choose. But Dallas could match any offer and keep the player, and could receive draft compensation if they don’t.

Rush is pretty much an unknown at the moment. It all depends on what Mike McCarthy thinks, with input from Kellen Moore and Doug Nussmeier. Ross will likewise depend on Mike Nolan, Jim Tomsula, and Leon Lett giving their evaluation. But Jarwin is a must keep. He is frankly the best receiving tight end the team had last year, and they need to retain his services, since Dalton Schultz is the only other experienced tight end they have, and that is a fairly limited body of work.

Unrestricted free agents

That leaves 21 other free agents outside the big four mentioned at the beginning. Not all are going to receive serious consideration, but here is what the staff has to decide.

Jason Witten wants to play, and would reportedly prefer to stay in Dallas. But his value has certainly declined and it is reasonable to expect that McCarthy puts less value on blocking tight ends. The smart move appears to let him walk. If so, his agent’s first call will probably be to the New York Giants for a possible reunion with Jason Garrett, who still thinks tight ends are important if you have a stud running back like Saquon Barkley.

Sean Lee and Joe Thomas are both set to hit free agency, and linebacker depth is certainly a need. Lee looks like he will be a target, with Thomas more of a fallback option if that falls through. Don’t count out either Justin March or Malcolm Smith, given that the Cowboys only have Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch under contract. Either of the former two might be a low-cost depth move. Ray-Ray Armstrong would appear to be a long shot.

Byron Jones’ anticipated departure leaves a serious hole at cornerback. Anthony Brown and C.J. Goodwin are also free agents. The Cowboys will probably look to bolster this group in the draft, which has some enticing options. Brown may be a possible return because of his experience, but Goodwin showed something as well in limited work. They may be another either/or situation.

At safety, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, and Darian Thompson are all set to enter free agency, and arguments can be made for all of them. With the emphasis on improving special teams, it is likely that the team will seek to re-sign one or two of them. Heath may want to test the market first, however.

Defensive tackles Maliek Collins, Christian Covington, Michael Bennett, and Kerry Hyder all are free to seek new contracts. Collins did not live up to expectations last season and is probably not coming back. Bennett may just be too expensive or too old. Hyder and Covington were role players who might get a look.

Wide receiver Tavon Austin never seemed to find a real place in the offense and doesn’t appear to be returning. Randall Cobb, however, has been mentioned by McCarthy as someone he’d like to retain, and that is not unimportant.

Interior offensive lineman Joe Looney and Xavier Su’a-Filo both have been very valuable in the past. Looney is a better bet to bring back because he can back up all three spots in the interior. And it doesn’t really matter, but he is also arguably the most entertaining member of the team.

Kicker Kai Forbath should come back to at least compete for his spot. And unless long snapper L.P. Ladouceur elects to retire the team would be foolish not to lock up Mr. Perfect.

You look at all the players here who the team can use next season, and you realize why the Cowboys need every bit of the approximately $80 million in cap space they are projected to have. Some probably will have to be missed on just to make things fit. Once the big ones are dealt with, expect to see a lot more action.