Oh, how things can change in a week. A short seven days ago, the Cowboys were in disarray. They had yet to answer their biggest question mark of the offseason, were they going to franchise tag Dak Prescott for a second straight season? If so, how would they make it work and get under the salary cap? Now, flash forward one week and the Cowboys still have their fair share of questions to answer, but they did put to rest a few of the biggest ones facing their offseason.
As we all now know, the Cowboys reached a long-term agreement with their star quarterback, helping lower his cap hit from the franchise tag mark. Dallas also went out and restructured the deals of Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins, opening up almost $17 million in cap space.
Deadlines make deals, and the timing of these transactions was very fitting. As the 2021 legal tampering period begins today, the Cowboys put themselves in a position to have some money to work with. After the Prescott deal and three restructures, Dallas currently stands with about $18 million in cap space, according to Over The Cap.
So, as the offseason picks up pace, the Cowboys now must answer their second-biggest question of this spring. How will they spend their limited resources?
It’s extremely unlikely the Cowboys are going to be big spenders early on in free agency. We’ve seen over the past few years it’s simply not the way that they operate. But, that does not mean they cannot acquire some players who can make a real impact. In fact, John Owning of the Dallas Morning News published an article on Monday morning detailing three players he believes the Cowboys will sign in free agency.
The first player he believes will be a Cowboy is defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. The 325-lb nose tackle spent the last three years with the Raiders, and likely would be an affordable option to address the interior of their defensive line. Here’s what Owning had to say about the big tackle.
Still, a player with those strengths and weaknesses would provide a considerable upgrade over what the Cowboys had in 2020, when teams were running through the middle of their defense with less resistance than a hot knife through butter. Plus, the Cowboys love using free agency to fill holes with cheap veterans so that they can attack the draft free (or as free as possible) from being tied down by needs, and Hankins’ presence would not only fill the nose tackle need (for now) but he also wouldn’t prevent the Cowboys from grabbing a nose tackle in the draft (like NC State’s Alim McNeill), which they should still do regardless of who they sign in free agency.
The Cowboys need a nose tackle, but have proven that they don’t want to pay what’s required to get a top-tier one, leaving them to hunt for bargains. It didn’t work out well with Dontari Poe this year, but I do think Dallas would get a better outcome with Hankins.
The second player Owning mentioned is cornerback, Ahkello Witherspoon. The 26-year-old has spent all four years of his career with the San Francisco 49ers, and has posted some solid production. In 2020, Witherspoon had an 80.9 Pro Football Focus coverage grade in nine games. Owning noted how Witherspoon’s experience in cover 3 defenses could make him a good fit in Dallas.
The former 49ers defensive back is still young (will be 26 next season) and has a lot of experience in the Caroll Cover 3-style defense the Cowboys will incorporate due to his time playing under Robert Saleh (another Pete Carroll acolyte), and when combined with PFF’s projection that Witherspoon will only receive $2.5 million per year in free agency, it almost makes too much sense for the Cowboys to target the 6-2, 195-pound CB.
For his final prediction, Owning went big. He predicted the Cowboys will sign Richard Sherman or Patrick Peterson, but not to play their normal cornerback spot. Owning predicts Dallas will sign one of the two veterans and move them to safety.
The idiom “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” usually rings true, but that’s not always the case in the secondary, as there have been a few cases of cornerbacks switching to safety late in their career and thriving — namely Rod and Charles Woodson. Interestingly enough, Cowboys secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. was Charles’ CB coach in Green Bay when he made the switch from CB to safety, so he knows first hand what is necessary to be successful when making that switch.
Sherman’s familiarity with Quinn from their time in Seattle together makes him the more likely of the two to be signed, but I don’t think Dallas should turn its noses up at Peterson either. While it’ll take a little bit of time to get comfortable, I think Peterson and Sherman are both willing able to make the switch and play well. Given the safety and leadership voids in the Dallas secondary, signing Peterson or Sherman would be a great way to fill both.
Signing either Sherman or Peterson would qualify as a big splash in free agency. They may not be the All-Pro caliber players they once were, but they would add much-needed veteran experience and leadership to the Cowboys’ secondary.
How would you feel if the Cowboys walked away with these three players in free agency?