When the confetti rained and the Los Angeles Rams claimed their title, the 2021 NFL season officially concluded. While there are still seven months until the 2022 season begins, teams have to start making decisions today.
Over the next half of a year, the Dallas Cowboys will sign free agents, draft their next batch of rookies, and train to be the ones hoisting the Lombardi in the end. But out of their presumably extensive checklist, what should be at the top of their priorities?
Make the difficult offensive line decisions
When discussing priorities on the most recent episode of 1st and 10, the Dallas offensive line appeared on all three checklists to some degree. As Bengals fans now realize, a team can only go so far with mediocre offensive line play.
However, this priority doesn’t start in the draft or free agency. The difficult decisions need to start now. Because in 2021, the Cowboys held themselves back with the constant reshuffling of personnel upfront.
With Dak Prescott facing the sixth-most pressures in the league at 266 on the season, combined with the drastic decline in the rushing game, it was evident that the offensive line was a real issue. This is partially due to the Cowboys being non-commital about the best starting five.
Is it Terrance Steele or La’el Collins?
Should Connor McGovern start over Connor Williams because of Williams’ penalty problem?
Will Tyron Smith be available to play?
This is what Dallas was dealing with seemingly every week. They have to make difficult decisions now and avoid the drama in the next regular season.
Here are the choices that need to be made (the length of this list is worrisome):
- Connor Williams: Re-sign him and make him the unquestioned full-time starter, or don’t even bother talking to his agent in free agency.
- Terrence Steele: Either keep him as a full-time swing tackle, trade him while he has value, or promote him to the full-time starter. Stop playing the “will-he-won’t-he start for us this week” game.
- La’el Collins: Keep him as the full-time starter and potentially restructure his contract, or take the 2022 early out (would still be a sizeable cap hit, but you save a couple million).
- Tyron Smith: Similar to Collins, the Cowboys have to decide if they trust Smith to play an entire season, and in that case, you can restructure and save roughly $4 million. Otherwise, either trade him or cut him to save even more than Collins.
- Connor McGovern: The decision on McGovern likely rests in what they decide to do with Williams, but with McGovern, Dallas has to decide if they trust him to be the full-time left guard. If not, he might still have some trade value.
This is not a comment on what the Cowboys should do, nor is it an indictment on any of these players. But this boils down to the fact that Dallas can’t walk into 2022 with a hundred different variations of a starting offensive line. Decide the players you are comfortable with starting next year, fill in the rest at the draft, and stick with it.
Figure out a way to retain key free agents
Don’t forget the Dallas Cowboys were a 12-5 last season and are currently tied for the second-best odds to win next year’s Super Bowl out of the NFC teams, per DraftKings Sportsbook.
This is not to say that Cowboys fans should be getting their hopes up just yet, but Dallas should be in a win-now mentality. That not only includes keeping the critical players on the team, such as Amari Cooper and Demarcus Lawrence, but also re-signing the players that put you in a position to win.
The shortlist would be Randy Gregory, Bryan Anger, and either Jayron Kearse or Dalton Schultz. Although Stephen Jones’ greatest fear in life is the terrifying salary cap, there is a world where most of these players return in 2022.
The real question is Gregory, who is estimated to make $13 million a year per Spotrac. While Schultz is expected to make $12.6 million per year, there is the possibility that Jarwin can be traded or cut with only a $2 million dead cap hit.
We discussed all of these ideas on the latest episode of 1st and 10 on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
With that being said, Dallas will likely have to decide on Schultz versus Kearse. But that is okay, as long as they choose now and focus on retaining the players who can help them win in 2022.
The salary cap can be manipulated; there are potentially four players on the offensive line alone where you can save money per the last section. The Cowboys are still a good team with a roster full of talent; why not try and win in 2022 by retaining a few of your best players from last year?
A few decisions need to be made on this front, and it is unlikely that Schultz, Gregory, Anger, and Kearse all return next season. But restructure contracts, possibly cut a few players (not Cooper or Lawrence), and resign the guys that can help you win now.
Avoid the drama
The offseason officially started today, yet the Cowboys produced more headlines over the last three weeks than most teams will have in the next seven months. If you have been a Cowboys fan for longer than a couple of years, this is nothing new.
But let’s review the drama since the 49ers game:
- Immediately following the playoff loss, Jerry Jones goes on a tirade about how he is sick of losing and disappointed in this team
- Sean Payton retires, and Jerry does little to nothing to stop the rumors. If anything, he only encourages it.
- Stephen Jones expresses his fear of the cap, leading to rumors that Dallas is considering moving on from Amari Cooper, Demarcus Lawrence, or both. The Cowboys do nothing to stop this speculation.
- Jerry makes headlines again, calling out the Eagles fanbase during Super Bowl week. While this wasn’t egregious, it made headlines.
Here is the bottom line, Dallas is a big-market team that will always be in the spotlight. There is little that can be done about that, but there is a difference between avoiding the headlines and relishing in the attention.
At a certain point, it hurts the players. Do you think you would be better at your job if your boss involved you in the national news nearly every day?
Let the players do their job, focus on what matters, and if you are involved in a story, there needs to be an attempt to end the headline. Instead of leaning into the speculation, learn how to give a “stereotypical” media answer. The other 31 general managers do it; why can’t Dallas?
If they manage to do so, it will benefit the players, the upper management who work under the Joneses, and ultimately it will lead to better decision-making. It might be a big ask, but can we go one offseason without drama arising nearly every day?
This will be a long seven months filled with difficult decisions, new faces, the departure of familiar players, and inevitably excitement sprinkled in. But this process starts today, and there are several priorities Dallas has to start checking off now if we want to consider this a successful offseason.