Free agency and the draft both attempt to achieve the same goal - fill the biggest needs on your team with the best players to hopefully put yourself in a position to succeed. It’s not rocket science. And while speculation about who is the best player and what is the biggest need can vary, the objective remains consistent.
But while there is always an attempt to rank the “best players” by means of a draft or free agency big board, the same attention is not paid to the first facet of the objective. So, of every offensive position, what are the Dallas Cowboys’ biggest holes?
Players ranked inside the top 25% of PFF grading: Dak Prescott
Players leaving in free agency: None
Percent of 2022 cap committed to position: 9.43%
This ranking shouldn’t come as any surprise and it needs little explanation.
However you feel about Prescott, you should agree that quarterback might be the one position that does not need to be addressed whatsoever on offense. Prescott is the quarterback for 2022.
The only way this will change is if the Dallas Cowboys needed to address the backup QB position. But with Cooper Rush’s performance in the Vikings game, he proved to be a middle-of-the-road backup. He won’t be courted to compete for a starting position, but he is, in the purest sense of the word, okay at what he does.
6.) Running Back
Players ranked inside the top 25% of PFF grading: Tony Pollard
Players leaving in free agency: Corey Clement
Percent of 2022 cap committed to position: 9.97%
The running back position might become a high priority in 2023. With Pollard set to become a free agent and Ezekiel Elliott’s contract being more flexible in a year, both running backs could end up playing elsewhere two seasons from now.
But in 2022, the position does not need to be addressed.
The only reason RB is ranked slightly higher than quarterback is actually due to the fact that Corey Clement is leaving. While his departure shouldn’t keep Cowboys fans up at night, Dallas might need to add a third running back to the roster.
But at the same time, maybe JaQuan Hardy fills this role, given the RB3 is relatively unimportant when you have Elliott and Pollard on the roster. So, obviously not a pressing need, but if the Cowboys sign a running back to the vet minimum or use a day three pick on the position, don't be surprised.
However, RB is another position the Cowboys can essentially forget about for now.
5.) Tight End
Players ranked inside the top 25% of PFF grading: Dalton Schultz
Players leaving in free agency: None
Percent of 2022 cap committed to position: 8.35%
Before Friday, this position could have ranked sixth. But now Dallas needs to focus on long-term need. Because Schultz is now on a one-year contract, and Jarwin has been waived.
And the nature of the TE position is that it takes players a couple of years to acclimate from college to the NFL. Thus, if the Cowboys want to add a TE that they feel comfortable potentially starting next year, they need to draft that player now. Meaning it will take some capital.
But the more likely outcome is that Schultz ends up signing a long-term deal and Dallas continues to fill the TE2 position with Sean McKeon and players that sign at the veteran minimum. Even if that isn’t the case, given other pressing needs the Cowboys need to address, tight end is at the bottom of the totem pole.
Thus, if the Cowboys want to focus on the long-term they can use a little capital this offseason with a day two or early day three pick, otherwise, they are still set at the position for 2022. Meaning that TE is essentially on the same tier as the running back situation now that Schultz has been tagged.
4.) Wide Reciever
Players ranked inside the top 25% of PFF grading: CeeDee Lamb
Players leaving in free agency: Cedrick Wilson, Michael Gallup, and Malik Turner
Percent of 2022 cap committed to position: 13.04%
While you might not agree with it, the wide receiver position ranks closer to tight end by need than any of the top three positions. With CeeDee Lamb and presumably Michael Gallup soon, Dallas is still armed with two solid wide receivers.
Yes, they will have to add a WR3, but other than that, this position is still in a relatively good place. Cowboys fans are used to having three borderline wide receiver ones on the roster, as has been the case for the last two years. But the reality is that in the NFL, most teams don't have the same fortune.
To put this into perspective, Dallas had four receivers rank inside the top-50 PFF offensive grading. Other than the Cowboys, only four NFL teams had more than two players rank inside the top-50. And Tampa Bay was the only other team with four.
So, even with Cooper gone, it doesn’t mean they suddenly need to burn a first-round pick on a receiver. They can add a receiver for less than $5 million and still be fine. Obviously, fans would prefer to have three solid options, but the reality is that such a situation is often unattainable.
This is not a pressing need. Adding a third option is necessary, but that player can be on the level of Adam Humphries or Zach Pascal. Four solid options is often unattainable and three is hard to do. So, even if Cooper or Gallup leave, receiver doesn't automatically become the most pressing need.
Obviously, this all hinges on the assumption that Gallup is being retained. But with Cooper gone, that assumption is all but a formality at this point. But without Gallup, this is a much different conversation.
Players ranked inside the top 25% of PFF grading: None
Players leaving in free agency: None
Percent of 2022 cap committed to position: .85%
If you are paying attention, the top three biggest needs on offense will all be found on the line. But the least of these three is the center position, and more specifically Tyler Biadasz.
It is unclear if Biadasz is the answer. He definitely improved from 2020, and he improved within 2021 as well. In his first nine games, Biadasz was the 24th ranked center by PFF, allowing 14 quarterback pressures and three quarterback hits. But over his last nine games, he was the sixteenth ranked center surrendering seven pressures and one quarterback hit.
But the question remains, is this improvement enough? He still finished 2021 ranked outside the top half of centers, including the most penalties among the position. He also finished tied for eleventh with the most pressures allowed. But he is a solid run blocker and he played in all 18 games this season.
But is that enough? Are the Cowboys comfortable walking into 2022 with an average center? The most likely answer is yes, which is understandable given Biadasz’s improvement. But at the very least they need to add a backup given there isn't a true backup center on the roster.
However, the fact that Dallas can walk into next season with Biadasz means there are more pressing needs on the offensive line. But they have to consider the possibility that Biadasz isn't the answer and at least add depth. Because this is an important position that has been ignored since Travis Fredrick left.
Players ranked inside the top 25% of PFF grading: Tyron Smith, La’el Collins
Players leaving in free agency: Ty Nsekhe, Mitch Hyatt
Percent of 2022 cap committed to position: 16.1%
Dallas might have to replace both ends of the offensive line in the next few years for two different reasons.
Tyron Smith, who finished as a top-two graded tackle for just the second time in his career, once again dealt with injuries in 2021. That marks the sixth straight season where Smith has missed time and failed to eclipse 1,000 snaps in a season. It might be time to find his replacement because his durability is becoming a real issue. When he is inevitably out and the Cowboys have to shuffle the line, it ushers in a lot of problems.
On the other side of the ball, the right tackle position is just as messy. La’el Collins has been rumored to be on the trade block, and if you're benching a $50 million tackle, it might make sense. But if you trade or cut Collins, that means Terence Steele becomes the de facto starting RT.
Steele is young and has promise. And he might even be the answer in 2022 if Collins is traded. But he also finished in the bottom half of the league by nearly every meaningful blocking metric, landing as the 60th ranked tackle by PFF grading (out of 88).
So, Collins is a somewhat-decent tackle to have, Steele will never be exceptional but he can fill in if need be. But when you pair the uncertainty at right tackle with the fact that Smith’s health is an issue, tackle suddenly becomes a true need. But if Collins isn't released, tackle can technically wait another year if need be, and thus it isn't the number one priority.
Players ranked inside the top 25% of PFF grading: Zack Martin, Connor Williams
Players leaving in free agency: Connor Williams
Percent of 2022 cap committed to position: 7.03%
The final two positions are a toss-up. In fact, tackle and guard were switched a few times when building this list. But in considering need, it boils down to “which position do the Cowboys need to address.” And for the offense, that is none more true than guard.
Zack Martin is 31, and he is no spring chicken, but there is zero evidence in his play that his output will decline any time soon. Martin just finished 2021 ranked as the best guard in the NFL, and he is about as durable as they come, with 2020 being the sole exception.
But obviously, this argument isn’t about Martin.
Connor Williams is a free agent this year. And with the Cowboys cap situation paired with Williams’ output, it doesn't seem like Dallas is rushing to re-sign him. That pretty much only leaves Connor McGovern left at left guard on the roster unless Dallas knows something about Braylon Jones that we do not.
And McGovern is not the answer. He allowed three more pressures, one more quarterback hurry, two more quarterback hits, and the same amount of sacks as Williams despite playing nearly half as many snaps. And keep in mind this is in comparison to Williams, not Zack Martin.
McGovern is a great player to use in Kellen Moore’s specialty packages, coming in to run fullback and he is a solid depth piece. But he is not the answer, and the Cowboys need to invest first-round draft capital to ensure the line is fixed in 2022. And guard is the most evident hole.
It should be an interesting free agency period and draft season. Given the Cowboys' lack of cap space and relatively weak draft capital, they won't be able to fill every need on the team. Thus, they have to prioritize only the biggest holes, which are primarily found on the offensive line.
But things are always changing with Jerry and Stephen Jones at the helm, so this list could look very different in a few months.