This offseason has had its ups and downs. And while the Dallas Cowboys have not been particularly active in free agency, there have been headlines arising out of Dallas. The result is a whirlwind of news ever since the playoff loss against the 49ers.
But what can Cowboys fans say is reasonably true and what should fans be selling about the last few weeks? Because with the draft coming up, it is good to know where Dallas stands at this point in the offseason.
Buy or sell: The Cowboys need to address wide receiver with an early-round pick
This is one of the more prevalent news developments that has arisen post-Amari Cooper trade. After the 30 draft-prospect visitors list dropped, it is clear that the Cowboys are at least looking into the first-round wide receivers.
Now, this does not mean that they will select a name like Treylon Burks, Chris Olave, or Drake London with the 24th overall pick, but it is interesting that all three names are first-round talent. And with additional prospects like Skyy Moore and Jameson Williams being potential targets, should Dallas be entertaining the idea of a day one or two wide receiver?
Well, if Dallas was set at other positions then maybe. But with guard, offensive tackle, center, defensive tackle, defensive end, and linebacker being larger needs at the moment, an early-round WR is not the best allocation of capital.
We discussed this entire idea 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 episodes! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Because CeeDee Lamb is obviously a WR1 in the NFL. He might not be the most talented player at his position, nor does he fall inside the top-ten pass catchers in the league. But he is a solid receiver who has proved he can be the number one on this offense.
And Michael Gallup is about as reliable a deep threat as they come. Granted he is recovering from injury, but an ACL injury has become relatively manageable and he should be back to the receiver he once was.
Dallas doesn't need to add another star-wide WR. James Washington and presumably a late-round pick or very cheap free agent can fill in just fine. Teams like the Rams, Buccaneers, Bills, and Vikings currently have two solid receiving options and a weaker WR3. Dallas doesn’t need to add another star at receiver when there are larger needs at the moment.
Buy or sell: The week one starters are currently on the roster, outside of maybe one draft pick
Now granted, this buy or sell is purely speculative. They could add a name like Tyrann Mathieu tomorrow and this is instantly proven to be a sell. However, for those holding their breath that Dallas could add a Jadeveon Clowney, Akiem Hicks, or Stephon Gilmore, you might be disappointed.
Because while Stephen Jones says that the Cowboys might still be active, there is little reason to believe this is true. And this isn’t meant to further pile on the criticism the front office has received lately. However, at this stage of the offseason, it is true for most teams that they will not sign a week one starter.
Let’s look at the remaining free agents on the market that could reasonably start on day one for most NFL teams:
- Jadeveon Clowney (ED)
- Stephon Gilmore (CB)
- Tyrann Mathieu (S)
- Odell Beckham Jr. (WR)
- Akiem Hicks (DI)
- Melvin Ingram (ED)
- Antonio Brown (WR)
- Calais Campbell (DI)
- Duane Brown (OT)
- Rob Gronkowski (TE)
- Justin Houston (ED)
- Jerry Hughes (ED)
- Jarvis Landry (WR)
- Steven Nelson (CB)
- Alexander Johnson (LB)
- Eric Fisher (OT)
So, by this count, there are 16 opportunities left in free agency for Dallas to sign a starter-quality player. But six of these names can be immediately removed due to them playing a position that is not of a pressing need for the Cowboys right now and they likely would prefer to address the position with a late-round draft pick instead of in free agency (CB, WR, and TE).
And the only name on this list that Dallas reportedly even has interest in is Tyrann Mathieu. Is it possible the Cowboys sign one of the sixteen players? Absolutely. But given how their largest acquisition so far is Dante Fowler, it would be surprising for them to start spending now.
For that reason, the reality should start to sink in that James Washington and maybe Fowler are the only names they added this free agency cycle that could start week one. Not only should fans consider this possibility, but it is the most likely outcome.
Again, this is all speculative. But the evidence points to a strong buy.
Buy or sell: Dallas’ offseason grade should be lower than a C
This is an arbitrary cutoff, but it seems like the overall grade for this offseason falls somewhere around this level. Dallas clearly hasn't improved so it can’t be an A or B. But C would imply that while they got worse, it is on the mild end of the roster regression spectrum.
So, instead of focusing on the grade itself, what have the Cowboys done given their starting situation?
Well, let’s first review where Dallas started:
- Cap Space: -$23.6 million
- Number of free agents: 24
- Key free agents: Randy Gregory, Dalton Schultz, Jayron Kearse, Michael Gallup, Bryan Anger, Connor Williams, Leighton Vander Esch, Dorance Armstrong, Cedrick Wilson, Carlos Watkins, and Malik Hooker
When the Cowboys were in the circumstance listed above, most fans assumed they would be able to keep one of Gregory, Schultz, or Kearse, and it was a forgone conclusion that Michael Gallup would leave.
So let's review the negatives and positives since the start of free agency.
- Amari Cooper traded to Cleveland for a fifth-round pick and sixth-round swap
- La’el Collins designated to post-June 1st release (signed by CIN)
- Randy Gregory signs with Denver
- Connor Williams signs with Miami
- Cedrick Wilson signs with Miami
- Franchise tagged Dalton Schultz
- Michael Gallup re-signed
- Malik Hooker re-signed
- Dorance Armstrong re-signed
- Leighton Vander Esch re-signed
- Jayron Kearse re-signed
- Bryan Anger re-signed
- Carlos Watkins re-signed
- Jeremy Sprinkle, Noah Brown, Jake McQuaide, and Luke Gifford re-signed
- James Washington added
- Dante Fowler added
- Greg Zuerlein signs with the Jets (sorry Greg)
- Added $24 million in cap space with Dak Prescott, Zack Martin restructures and Blake Jarwin release
The length of these lists is not to be interpreted as improvement versus regression because it is worth noting that almost every move Dallas has made is retaining their own players. This isn’t an attempt to throw a parade for the Jones family.
However, an argument can be made that the only poor decision (personnel-wise) was trading Amari Cooper. Remember that a lot of the free agents were likely going to leave. Names like Michael Gallup, Leighton Vander Esch, and to a lesser-extent Dalton Schultz and Jayron Kearse were presumed to be out the door.
But they were able to re-sign nearly every meaningful name outside of Randy Gregory and Cedrick Wilson. Neither Armstrong nor Fowler is as talented as Gregory, but this dropoff isn’t detrimental to the defensive line. Consider that of the 121 edge defenders who played more than 225 snaps last year, Gregory finished 106th by PFF run-defense grading. And Amstrong finished with the same amount of sacks as Gregory, playing an identical number of pass-rush snaps.
Once again, no one will argue that Armstrong or Fowler is better than Gregory. But removing the bias from watching a player develop over the last seven years, the Gregory departure might not be as bad as fans think. And releasing Collins seems like the right move, you can read about why here.
Dallas’ roster is not better right now compared to four months ago. That is why no one in their right mind would give the Cowboys an A or B for their offseason efforts. But considering the retention of several players that many thought were out the door, paired with the Cooper trade being the only unjustifiable move, this offseason might not be as bad as you might think.
So, by a slim margin:
But the beauty of the offseason is that no one knows for certain how these moves will impact Dallas until regular season football starts. If you are in the camp that this is the worst offseason the Cowboys have ever had, or if you are happy with what they have done, neither opinion is right or wrong yet.
There is still the draft, training camp, preseason, and a whole lot of headlines sprinkled in between until we know what these last few weeks will mean for the 2022 Dallas Cowboys.