With the major waves of free agency over with, and with the 2022 NFL Draft now come and gone, the Dallas Cowboys have their roster set for the most part heading into Oxnard for 2022 training camp. While they cleaned up a lot of their pressing needs via the draft, there’s a few areas of the team that need an infusion of talent and depth. While we’re just around two months away from camp, here’s three positions the Cowboys should look to improve on before heading of to Oxnard, California.
After making his mark in year one as one of the best defensive players in the NFL, Micah Parsons looks to improve in year two under Dan Quinn. While there are zero questions surrounding Parsons and his skillset at linebacker, we also know he’ll be spending a good amount of time rushing the passing off the edge in 2022. Also on the roster are Leighton Vander Esch, Jabril Cox, Devin Harper (sixth-round pick), Luke Gifford, Damone Clark (fifth-round pick but likely a medical redshirt year), Devante Bond, and Aaron Hansford (UDFA).
Behind Parsons is plenty of uncertainty. Vander Esch has had an up-and-down career with Dallas, and has recently seen more downs than ups. Jabil Cox saw limited action in his rookie year in 2021, before tearing his ACL after just two games. Luke Gifford has played primarily on special teams since signing with the Cowboys as a UDFA out of Nebraska. Devin Harper, Aaron Hansford, and Damone Clark are all rookies coming in, and all are more than likely a year or so away from making an impact on defense due to Harper being a bit of a project, Hansford working his way into a role after going undrafted, and Clark recovering from spinal fusion surgery he had this offseason. Devante Bond hasn’t played in a game since 2020 and seems to be more of a camp body than a guy expected to play valuable snaps in 2022.
With plenty of questions, and really only one answer, the free agent class of linebackers is relatively deep this late in the offseason. Dont’a Hightower, Anthony Barr, Anthony Hitchens, and Kwon Alexander are some bigger-name free agents that standout, and would give this team some quality depth and offering starting caliber skills at the position if the injury bug strikes at some point in camp or in the regular season. Kwon Alexander is the name this team should take a chance on. At just 28-years-old, Alexander is still below the dreaded 30 mark, and has been a really good linebacker for the Saints since being traded to them back in 2020. Alexander is a quality cover linebacker, run defender, and would bring another veteran presence to the locker-room that would only help keep the mindset on track.
Even though Jerry Jones has spoken publicly about the lack of need at tackle after what the Cowboys did in the 2022 NFL Draft, it’s still a position with questions, especially at swing tackle.
With Terence Steele now the starter at right tackle, that immediately elevated Josh Ball as the team’s swing tackle. As you probably know, Tyron Smith has missed games pretty regularly over the last three-to-four seasons. Asking a second-year fourth-round-pick, that has yet to play a snap in the NFL, to step in and play a role in 2022 is risky business. Beside Ball is Matt Waletzko, one of the Cowboys fifth-round selections in the 2022 NFL Draft. While the physical and athletic traits are intriguing, he is the definition of a project and has a long ways to go before he’s ready to play on Sunday’s. Aviante Collins is the only veteran presence behind the starters for the Cowboys, and he’s only seen action in five games (one start) in his five year career.
While we’re not asking the Cowboys to go spend huge money on a swing tackle, doing something along the lines of a Ty Nsekhe or Cameron Fleming type of signing would improve the depth of the position when/if something does happen to Tyron Smith or Terence Steele. Names such as Bryan Bulaga, Sam Tevi, and Zach Banner all standout as possible candidates.
If Michael Gallup was expected to be ready for week one, this wouldn’t be as much of a concern, but with rumors that Gallup could miss at least the first month of the season, that leaves the wide receiver position in a very strange position. Looking at it from a week one perspective, the starting three receivers would be CeeDee Lamb, Jalen Tolbert, and James Washington. While we like the prospect of Jalen Tolbert and think James Washington can do some nice things as a deep threat, defenses are likely salivating at the ability to shade coverage to Lamb’s side of the field and force a rookie third-round pick, and a career WR3, to beat them in the passing game. Even in Gallup’s return, adding a fourth or fifth option that can push James Washington or even overtake his role should be in the cards for the Cowboys.
The other issue here is the Cowboys don’t have a guy that has a ton of experience or success playing in the slot. Tolbert spent most of his time in college on the boundary, and James Washington rarely played inside in his role in Pittsburgh. Lamb has played some slot over the course of his two years in Dallas, and there are whispers of him playing more inside in 2022, but even then you’d want another guy on the roster who is comfortable playing the slot receiver position. Similar to linebacker, all it takes is an unfortunate injury to turn a league-average wide receiving room into one of the ugliest ones. Like the two positions above, there are plenty of good free agent options available for the Cowboys to consider as well.
Jarvis Landry, Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley, and T.Y. Hilton are available. If we really wanted to get crazy, Julio Jones would definitely provide some much needed depth and talent at the position.
It’s not often the Cowboys go after the “names” in free agency, but all three of the positions listed could use a “starting caliber” player on the depth chart. In all these cases, none of these players would be asked to come in and play massive roles, which should allow them to stay healthier, and contribute more as a role player, than an everyday starter like they have been asked to do for most of their careers.