The Dallas Cowboys have roughly 20 free agents of their own to deal with as the 2021 offseason starts to come into view. We previously took a look at the free agents on the defensive side of the ball, and the offensive side of the ball, to make a first prediction of who would be re-signed who would be let go.
But how does the outside world view the Cowboys free agents? We don't have a complete list, but a recent ranking of the Top 50 free agents on the market for 2021, courtesy of ESPN, gives us a quick peek at how others view the crop.
You might already guess who the Cowboys top free agent is, but did you know he is viewed as the top overall free agent on the market in 2021? Dak Prescott would be a highly-coveted commodity if he hit the open market. That is how much other organizations and observers think of him.
1. Dak Prescott, QB
2020 team: Dallas Cowboys | Age entering 2021 season: 28
To this point, there has been no reason to project long-term health implications from Prescott’s season-ending ankle injury. Assuming that remains the case, Prescott remains what every quarterback-needy team dreams of: a signal-caller who is highly productive, under 30 years old and universally respected as a leader. And if anything, he elevated those credentials in five games this season, averaging a career-high 371 passing yards per game. He also produced a Total QBR of 78.4, which would have been among the top five in the league if he had enough plays to qualify. But through another franchise tag or via a longer-term deal, it’s difficult to imagine the Cowboys letting him depart.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, the front office has already made it clear that Prescott will not be going anywhere. The only real issue here is will the Cowboys finally get a long-term deal done, or will they have to destroy their salary cap by franchise-tagging Prescott again. It would be malfeasance on an incredible scale if the Cowboys front office doesn’t get Prescott signed to a long-term deal.
So who is next for the Cowboys in that Top 50 ranking? It might be kind of surprising.
39. Chidobe Awuzie, CB
2020 team: Dallas Cowboys | Age entering 2021 season: 26
Awuzie hasn’t been much of a playmaker in terms of interceptions, having recorded a total of four in 49 career games, and he missed half of the 2020 season because of a hamstring injury. But he has been a reliable player when on the field. So it will be worth watching if the Cowboys — whose defense allowed 29.9 points per game in 2020 — decide he is part of their solution or has been part of their problem.
There is always a market for corners if they are in anyway competent. Awuzie fits that bill. He has shown he can stay in phase in coverage, but lacks the ball-hawking skills that really set corners apart from their peers. It’s not just interceptions either, it’s the ability to get one’s head turned toward the ball and break up passes. If Awuzie ever learned to to that with regularity, he could move up a level in the cornerback pecking order. Still, there will be a market out there for him, so the Cowboys may decide to pass on meeting his contract demands and look to the draft and other bridge veteran free agents (Richard Sherman?) to fill in.
The final Cowboy player in the ranking? It’s a quarterback.
48. Andy Dalton, QB
2020 team: Dallas Cowboys | Age entering 2021 season: 33
It went largely unnoticed, but Dalton turned in an above-average performance for a backup after returning in Week 12 from a stint on the COVID-19 list. Over that span, he led the Cowboys to a 3-3 record, throwing 10 touchdown passes to four interceptions and ranking No. 15 in QBR (61.4). He’s not likely to receive a starting job outright in free agency, but of the quarterbacks who are currently available, he might be the best bet for a role as either a short-term starter or a backup who would compete in training camp.
As we noted on these pages earlier, getting Dalton back, or someone of his quality, just might not be doable with respect to the Cowboys salary cap situation. Garett Gilbert, or someone like that, might be how the Cowboys have to roll in 2021.
The next couple of players who might have been ranked had this list gone on for longer would be Aldon Smith, Xavier Woods and Jourdan Lewis. Of those, Smith is probably the most highly sough after given his talent, the position he plays, and the potential he showed in 2020 after being away from football for so long.