There are three teams currently inside the top-ten most cap space that made the playoffs in 2021. These teams presumably look to be competitive next year and build on success from last year. The Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys all fall into this list.
This article is not going to devolve into criticism against the Cowboys but they are the only team inside the top ten most cap space that made the playoffs without a rookie quarterback last year. There is no reason for Dallas to have this much cap room. So, how should they spend that money? Here are three options.
1.) Ereck Flowers (G)
Ereck Flowers has had an interesting career. After being selected ninth overall, Flowers failed to last four years with the New York Giants. After bouncing around from Jacksonville to Washington to Miami and back to Washington, he finally found his footing in his second stint with the Commanders.
In fact, most Washington fans assumed that after his 2021 performance, he was going to be extended with the team. But instead, he was part of the group of players that Washington released this offseason to free up cap space.
Flowers was a consistent performer for Washington, though his $10m cap hit for the coming season would have been the 6th highest on the team’s roster. Nonetheless, the decision to move on from him caught most observers and fans a bit flat-footed.
And the reason that this move caught “fans a bit flat-footed” is because Flowers showed legitimate improvement in 2021.
At just 27-years-old, Flowers was the 17th highest graded guard, the sixth highest-graded pass-blocking guard, and still finished well inside the top half of run blockers. Pass-blocking has always been Flowers' strength but 2021 marked the second-best run-blocking finish in his seven-year career.
And here are three things that should excite Cowboys fans about the prospect of signing Flowers:
- He has been durable. The only season he didn't exceed 850 total snaps was the year he was released by the Giants before being claimed by the Jaguars.
- He is versatile if need be. Flowers was initially drafted to play tackle and while it didn't work out with the Giants, he has played 3,500 snaps at LT. Although he has seen more success at LG he can play tackle if the need arises.
- He plays mistake-free football. Part of the reason he didn't succeed at LT was because of the penalties. But since moving to guard he has accumulated four penalties, three penalties and one penalty in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively. The eight penalties since 2019 are less than Connor Williams had in the first six weeks of 2021.
Flowers seems like a great fit for Dallas. Even if he is signed to a short-term contract, as the Cowboys have been doing lately. And at 27, he still has room to grow.
2.) Michael Badgley (K)
Signing Michael Badgley would not be the most attractive move from the Cowboys this offseason. But it would fill a need. Because after releasing Greg Zuerlein, Dallas clearly has a kicker sized hole on the roster.
Badgley isn’t automatic, but outside of Justin Tucker, few kickers are. The former-Chargers kicker has proved to be reliable from close range and will make his kicks when he is in a good spot.
After a horrific start to the 2021 season with the Tennessee Titans, going one for three including a missed PAT, Badgley was cut and signed with the Colts to start by week six. He proved to be reliable once again after that.
In fact, Badgley didn't miss a kick within 30 yards for the rest of the season and went a perfect 39-for-39 on PAT attempts. This has been the story of his career as he is 22-for-22 within 30 yards since entering the league in 2018. He is also kicking for a career average of 96% on PATs. Greg Zuerlein hasn't exceeded 96% since he joined the Cowboys.
Badgley also went 6-for-7 on 30 to 39-yard field goals and 8-for-9 from 40 to 49 yards. He doesn’t have a strong leg, struggling when the kick is longer than 50 yards, but he is still better from 50 yards across his career than the 6-for-19 performance Zuerlein has put up since joining the Cowboys.
Maybe Dallas uses one of their fifth-round picks on punter-kicker hybrid Matt Araiza. But given how Araiza has been crowned the “Punt God,” with multiple 80-yard punts under his belt, he won’t be drafted to kick field goals. He also might not make it to the fifth round.
Badgley is a reliable kicker within 40 yards and he seems to have found his footing again after struggling in 2020. He is a good candidate to fill this role in Dallas next year or at least compete to do so. While it is not a head-turning signing, it does fill a need for the Cowboys.
3.) Bobby Wagner (LB)
You likely knew Wagner was going to be on this list, but it is the only name here that is rumored to have interest from the Cowboys. Wagner would fill a huge need for Dallas and he is still just waiting to be signed.
Dallas needs a linebacker, even with the resigning of Leighton Vander Esch and Luke Gifford. More specifically, they need a linebacker who can stop the run. And there is no linebacker better at doing so than Bobby Wagner.
Yes, Wagner is 31 years old and the Cowboys should not be negotiating a six-year contract for the ten-year veteran. But Wagner is one year removed from a five-year All-Pro selection streak and he has been selected to the Pro Bowl in every season since 2014, including 2021.
In case you need further proof to know that Wagner still has it, he finished top-ten among linebackers in the following metrics: tackles, assisted tackles, tackles against the run that constitutes a “failure” for the offense, and penalties. Additionally, he was just outside the top ten by QB hits despite rarely rushing the passer, and he only had a missed tackle rate of 7.8% despite playing the fourth-most snaps in the league.
Here are his finishes in 2021 for his “down year:”
- Run defense: 11th
- Tackling: 13th
- Pass rush: 26th (only rushed the passer 50 times, which is 269 fewer pass-rushing snaps than Parsons)
- Overall defensive grade: 10th
And these numbers are all on a defense who ranked 20th by EPA per play allowed according to rbsdm.com. He did not have the support around him that he has had in previous seasons and thus had to take on more responsibility at 31 years old.
No one will argue that Wagner is at the peak of his career right now. But for a linebacker who hasn't missed the Pro Bowl since 2014, he would fit in nicely with a Cowboys defense that has the pieces to take the burden off his shoulders.
Will all three of these signings happen? Almost certainly not. Will at least one of these players wear the star next year? Maybe but the odds are still less than 50%.
But there are a plethora of solid free agents left on the market and Dallas now has the capital to sign a few of them. With Jayron Kearse, Dalton Schultz, Michael Gallup, Malik Hooker, Leighton Vander Esch and Dorance Armstrong all coming back, they can start to focus on external free agents. At least Cowboys fans hope they will.