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Cowboys 2022 free agents: Dallas has 5 players in the Top 50 rankings by ESPN

Cowboys have some big decisions to make in free agency for 2022.

Syndication: The Record Danielle Parhizkaran/ / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Dallas Cowboys have a pretty extensive list of free agents heading into the 2022 offseason. We have the whole list here, but the top line number is that 24 Cowboys are free agents with only three of those restricted or exclusive rights free agents. So that’s 21 that the Cowboys have no rights to unless they place a franchise tag on someone.

It’s not always quantity that’s the problem, instead it can be quality. It looks like Dallas has issues in both areas this offseason. Of those 21 free agents, ESPN ranks five of them in their Top 50 NFL free agents list for 2022. Cowboys players represent 1/10th of the list, that is an out-sized representation for one team. Let’s check in on the list and the Cowboys players on it.

15. Randy Gregory, DE

2021 team: Dallas Cowboys | Age entering 2022 season: 29

Five suspensions and a total of 54 missed games delayed Gregory’s first chance at free agency by four years. Even after probably his best season and amid indications he has moved past the off-field issues that would have ended most players’ careers, it’s difficult to assess how much interest he would generate on the open market. At his best, Gregory is the kind of high-end pass-rusher whom teams spend years looking for.

Gregory probably represents the Cowboys highest-valued free agent, so not much to quibble about here. For a player that has been in the league as long as Gregory, he has less wear on the tires than other players with equivalent service in years due to missing so many games by way of suspension. The Cowboys also have a player that could replace Gregory in house should they choose to do that. There is plenty of debate about how the team should best utilize Micah Parsons going forward. That could alter their thinking around re-signing Gregory.

23. Dalton Schultz, TE

2021 team: Dallas Cowboys | Age entering 2022 season: 26

Only three NFL tight ends caught more passes during the past two seasons than Schultz: Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews and Darren Waller. Schultz was also among the most efficient during that period, catching 74.2% of passes thrown in his direction, fifth-highest in the league. At the moment, he is part of a big tight end class that would test the demand for pass-catchers at the position.

Schultz has quietly entered the conversation of one of the better tight ends in the league. He has not reached Travis Kelce or Darren Waller status, but he is a weapon. Just look at his production over the last two seasons. The Cowboys still have Blake Jarwin who they are paying a lot of money to, but has yet to live up to the contract, mainly because of injury. This decision might come down to how much faith the team has in Jarwin to live up to the potential they saw in him when they signed the big contract.

33. Connor Williams, G

2021 team: Dallas Cowboys | Age entering 2022 season: 25

Williams led the league with 13 offensive holding penalties and ranked second with 15 total flags in 2021. That’s the bad news. The good news is that he’s a still-young interior lineman who has been a starter for four seasons. Williams has developed into a top-25 guard in the NFL, based on ESPN’s run and pass block win rate metrics, and he has plenty of room left to grow.

Williams being ranked so high is probably a surprise to most Cowboys fans. He has been the subject of much debate in Dallas with plenty of fans wanting to see him replaced. The Cowboys themselves tried to replace him mid-season with Connor McGovern. Even though that didn’t work out, it seems like the Cowboys have made their decision already, with the penalties being a huge issue.

40. Michael Gallup, WR

2021 team: Dallas Cowboys | Age entering 2022 season: 26

Talk about bad timing. A calf injury and, later, a torn ACL limited Gallup to nine games in his contract year. He is now two seasons removed from his best performance — a 66-catch, 1,107-yard effort in 2019. It remains to be seen how much the injuries will affect his market, but barring any complications, Gallup can be projected as a deep threat for several more years to come.

It will be a shame if Gallup never plays for the Cowboys again. His ability with the deep ball, and his amazing talent at high-pointing passes and contorting his body to stay in bounds is unparalleled. He’s never going to put up a massive amount of catches in a season, but he creates some of the most impactful catches in a game. Maybe because of the ACL he will do a one-year contract for 2022 back in Dallas and recreate a contract year.

45. Leighton Vander Esch, ILB

2021 team: Dallas Cowboys | Age entering 2022 season: 26

Vander Esch slogged through two injury-filled seasons following his promising rookie season in 2018, missing seven games in 2019 and six in 2020. It left the Cowboys little choice but to decline his fifth-year option for 2022. Vander Esch managed to stay on the field for all 17 games in this season, but he was overshadowed by rookie linebacker Micah Parsons and others. No one is going to break the bank for a linebacker who isn’t really a pass-rusher, but Vander Esch would prove a solid contributor for a team looking to retool its defense.

What once was is no more. There was a time that Vander Esch was thought of as a cornerstone of the defense, but his play has dropped off precipitously. He had a decent 2021, but not really good enough to say that he is a must-have. The Cowboys are thin at linebacker, but may choose to go in a different direction after declining the fifth-year option.

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