Out of the Cowboys’ 18 unrestricted free agents, just seven are offensive players. Dak Prescott, Blake Bell, Joe Looney, Jordan Mills, Noah Brown, Andy Dalton, and Cameron Erving make up the list. With the current state of the salary cap and the impending Prescott extension or franchise tag, Dallas will likely be forced to pick one or two players from this group to bring back.
As we open our three-part series on the Dallas offense, we’ll break down one player the Cowboys should retain, trade, and cut this offseason. For the purpose of this exercise, Dak Prescott will be excluded from the conversation, as he is the clear and obvious choice for who Dallas should retain.
The offensive player the Cowboys should retain is Andy Dalton.
Good quarterback play is everything in this league, just look at how many teams are looking to upgrade at the position this offseason. There’s a realistic chance that eight to ten teams will have a new signal-caller come September. The Los Angeles Rams just paid a king’s ransom to acquire Matt Stafford from the Detroit Lions, and if he is traded, Deshaun Watson may bring back the biggest return in a trade in NFL history.
Quarterback is king in the NFL, and the Cowboys currently have a huge question mark at the position. According to all accounts, Prescott seems to be rehabbing well and on track to make a full recovery, but you never can be completely sure with an injury of that severity. Even if Dak goes down in 2021 and is forced to miss a few games, Dallas needs to have a clear backup plan. They can have that by bringing back Andy Dalton.
The 33-year-old free agent to be started nine games for Dallas in 2020. Despite a 4-5 record in those starts, Dalton threw 14 touchdown passes and had an average quarterback rating of 87.3. Pro Football Focus graded Dalton out with a 69.6 offensive grade on the season, including a seven-week stretch where he received an offensive grade of 72 or higher in all but one game.
In the final four games of the season, Dalton threw seven touchdown passes to just two interceptions and had a quarterback rating above 96 in three of the four games.
Andy Dalton to CeeDee Lamb looks even better from this angle pic.twitter.com/nysGeEGqDH— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 23, 2020
Now Dalton wasn’t great, that’s for sure. He played his best against sub-par competition, and he did turn the ball over 10 times in his nine starts. (Eight interceptions and two fumbles)
But despite the turnovers, he did keep the Cowboys in most of the games he played in and was able to keep their playoff hopes alive until the final week of the season. The case for retaining Dalton is not so much about how good he is, but how important the position is as a whole.
Bringing the veteran back would assure Dallas they could still be somewhat competitive if Prescott went down. If the Cowboys go with someone unproven like Garrett Gilbert, even if Dak missed only three or four games, they could lose all of them and watch their season slip away.
In the end, it all will come down to money, but with all the movement at the position this offseason, Dalton may find himself unable to find a starting gig. If so, the Cowboys should be all over bringing him back to Dallas on another one-year deal to back up Prescott once again.