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Another ranking of top NFL free agents includes several Cowboys

PFF goes deeper than ESPN’s recent top 50 list.

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
Will Chido be back?
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To-may-to, to-mah-to. That is konda how lists and predictions go this time of year. A few days ago, ESPN put out a list of the top 50 NFL free agents this year, and three Dallas Cowboys made that one. Now PFF has a deeper look at this year’s crop, and their top 100 includes those three plus two more. Additionally, PFF predicts who will sign each and for how much. That is just a juicy topic for discussion.

Here are the five Cowboys who made the list, and my own prediction for each one. And of course, we are very interested in your takes on all these.

1. QB DAK PRESCOTT

The prize of the free agent market, Prescott went down with an unfortunate injury after just four-plus games in 2020. With four full seasons under his belt, Prescott has finished in the top 10 of PFF grades twice while ranking closer to 20th in the other two seasons. However, Prescott’s 85.2 PFF grade this season would’ve been a career-best, and his 2019 and 2020 work is the most productive of his career.

From a macro view, Prescott’s play dipped as his supporting cast took a step back, but a revamped receiving corps has had Dallas’ offense moving the ball efficiently with Prescott at the helm. With solid accuracy, decision-making and mobility, he has proven capable of putting up high-end production, and he appeared on his way to establishing himself as an annual “top-eight” quarterback prior to his injury.

Contract Analysis: A second franchise tag would be valued at $37.7 million for Prescott, so the two sides finally agree to a long-term extension just above that on an annual basis.

Prediction: Cowboys sign Prescott for four years, $158 million ($39.5M APY): $115M total guaranteed, $75 million fully guaranteed at signing.

We are seeing a consensus emerge, with the only real variance among projections being just how fulsomely to praise Prescott. PFF is quite enthusiastic. Like them, I believe that the team will sign him to a multi-year deal, because anything else would be football malpractice. My only quibble is that I suspect the price is going to be a bit higher. Patrick Mahomes currently has the richest contract in the history of the league any way you look at it. He signed for ten years at a whopping $45 million per, with $141 million in guarantees. Second on the list is Deshaun Watson’s four year deal averaging $39 million. While I agree that Prescott will slot in between them, I think he will demand and get over $40 million, most likely in the $41M to $42.5M range. I do agree he will win the four- versus five-year battle, unless the Cowboys are prepared to put the annual value even higher than the Mahomes deal. It is important to remember that getting a long-term deal allows the Cowboys to push a good chunk of the cap hit to later years, which is likely to be crucial. And if they could get him at the PFF numbers, it could be a bargain in the long run.

Poll

Would you sign Prescott to the PFF contract?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    Yes
    (1182 votes)
  • 33%
    No
    (583 votes)
1765 votes total Vote Now

35. QB ANDY DALTON

Dalton finished 24th in PFF grade among quarterbacks with at least 150 dropbacks in 2020, and that’s about where he stands in today’s landscape of NFL signal-callers. He is one of the league’s best backups and can start if needed, but he disappointed with three PFF game grades under 55.0 for the Cowboys this season. Over the course of his career, Dalton has been a mid-tier starter who can produce with an excellent supporting cast, and that general premise still applies to him, albeit in a backup role.

Contract Analysis: Dalton signed a one-year, $3 million deal to return to the Dallas area and serve as the backup to Dak Prescott, but he was thrust into a starting role in the middle of Week 5. To make matters more interesting, future Hall of Fame left tackle Tyron Smith and starting right tackle La’el Collins were not available for a single snap with Dalton. He did his best to keep the ship afloat and certainly proved he could make a great backup for a team going forward, but odds are his days of starting in the NFL are very much over.

Prediction: Broncos sign Dalton for two years, $10 million: $8 million total guaranteed, $6 million fully guaranteed at signing.

PFF concurs with ESPN on Dalton being a top 50 free agent, but is even higher on his value, with ESPN just having him 48th on their list. Given how many teams are sorely in need of a new quarterback around the league, they may have a very good point. They only rank 3 QBs between Prescott and Dalton. They have Ryan Fitzpatrick at 17 and landing with the New England Patriots. Jameis Winston rates the 28th spot on the list with the Indianapolis Colts snagging him on a one-year deal. And Cam Newton is one spot ahead of Dalton, with the Cincinnati Bengals his predicted new team.

I think the Cowboys are intrigued by what they have with Garrett Gilbert as Prescott’s potential backup, and are not ready to give up on Ben DiNucci just yet. So yeah, Dalton is gone.

Poll

Would you consider re-signing Dalton in Dallas for that money?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Yes
    (465 votes)
  • 70%
    No
    (1135 votes)
1600 votes total Vote Now

42. CB CHIDOBE AWUZIE

After earning a coverage grade that ranks right in the middle of the league’s corners since 2017, Awuzie epitomizes the league-average cornerback. He’s done his best work in zone coverage, ranking in the 61st percentile in PFF grade, but he’s in just the 35th percentile in single coverage. That matches our scouting report of Awuzie coming out of college, where he looked like an excellent fit in a zone scheme, and that’s likely his best bet once again as he hits free agency.

Contract Analysis: The Cowboys prioritized Dontari Poe, Everson Griffen and Gerald McCoy over retaining CB Byron Jones this past offseason. All three players are no longer on the roster, and Dallas has one of the worst defenses in NFL history. Dallas must now realize they have to invest in coverage to get this unit back on track, just like Miami did with Byron Jones.

Prediction: Cowboys sign Awuzie for three years, $27M ($9M APY): $15.5M total guaranteed, $10M fully guaranteed at signing.

Here, PFF has Awuzie a bit lower than ESPN, who had him at 39. Dallas obviously has a lot of holes to fill in the secondary, so the Cowboys re-signing him makes sense. The question here is whether that is a price Dallas is prepared to meet with the uncertain cap situation this year, or if another team is willing to offer him more money than the often parsimonious Stephen Jones is prepared to part with. Even if the Cowboys are targeting a CB high in the draft, including the first round, they could still use a veteran to mix in with second year player Trevon Diggs. They also have what should be a lower cost option in Jourdan Lewis to weigh, although he clearly is not seen as being as valuable as Awuzie. However, they might prefer to go for an outside free agent if the price is right. In his article linked above, Dave Halprin mentioned Richard Sherman, whose connection to Dan Quinn makes it a consideration. I would probably make that kind of offer to keep Awuzie.

Poll

Would you make that offer to Awuzie?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Yes
    (647 votes)
  • 60%
    No
    (997 votes)
1644 votes total Vote Now

50. CB XAVIER WOODS

Woods entered the league as a versatile safety with slot coverage skills and a sixth-round draft steal as he’s developed into a solid free safety. He ranks in the middle of the pack from a coverage standpoint when lined up deep, but he’s been excellent when lined up closer to the line of scrimmage, making him a good fit for teams that play with interchangeable safeties. He can still dabble in the slot at times, and the Cowboys are doing more of that in 2020, but it hasn’t been Woods’ strong suit to this point in his NFL career. His four season grades have ranged from 65.0 to 73.0.

Contract Analysis: This much talent at one position could have the effect of suppressing contracts for everyone. Or, particularly because of the salary cap situation in 2021, it could have the effect of eroding the middle-tier market. Teams may decide that unless they can land a premier free safety who is an impact player, they might as well just go to the bargain bin and sign a cheap veteran. For this reason, Woods’ next contract could truly fall within a very wide range.

Prediction: Cowboys sign Woods to a four-year, $25 million extension ($6.25M APY).

This is the first new name on PFF’s list, with him just making the top 50 for them. Safety is just as much a need as cornerback, but I think that four years is too long for the Cowboys’ taste. Something in the range of three years at about the same per year cost seems more likely for them to offer. I just don’t see his market as being that strong.

Poll

Do you think the Cowboys would be smart to make PFF’s offer to Woods?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Yes
    (422 votes)
  • 74%
    No
    (1213 votes)
1635 votes total Vote Now

74. EDGE ALDON SMITH

Smith’s return to the NFL is a miraculous comeback story after a four-year absence from 2016-19. While he hasn’t quite been the superstar he was with the 49ers, he’s still generated a 70.0 pass-rush grade while playing at least 40 snaps in every game so far in 2020 — a testament to his conditioning. He’s been moved all over the defensive front, and his 50 pressures tell a better story than his four sacks, as he was a solid pass-rusher in his return to the NFL.

Contract Analysis: Arguably the most impressive aspect of Smith’s return was that he did not sign a veteran minimum contract, negotiating a deal with a maximum value of $2 million in Dallas. At 31 years old, Smith has proven to just be a different type of human, and one final payday as a veteran will be a great end to his story.

Prediction: Cowboys sign Smith for two years, $15 million ($7.5M APY): $10 million total guaranteed, $8 million fully guaranteed at signing.

This is one where I don’t agree with PFF. Smith was cited as one of the reasons Bradlee Anae never saw the field last season, despite some strong endorsements of what the team was seeing in practice. I believe they will let Smith go elsewhere to give Anae a chance, and will look to the draft to add some depth. This is another place where cap management is going to be a big consideration. Going young and using those rookie deals is what I expect, with Smith finding a new team.

Poll

Do you think Smith is worth keeping at that prioe?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Yes
    (1046 votes)
  • 37%
    No
    (641 votes)
1687 votes total Vote Now

Obviously, the Cowboys have a lot to decide about their own free agents before they can start shopping for outside help. Given how that has not gone so well in recent years, it may just put more pressure on them to pay players they already know.