We are officially in the month of May. That is notable as it pertains to the Dallas Cowboys. As summer makes its way to stay for a while, the dust is settling on the 2022 NFL Draft. How the Cowboys fared throughout the draft is certainly up for debate, but for the purposes of our conversation today what matters most is that it is over.
Why does it matter so much that the draft has now come and gone? Throughout the entire offseason when the Cowboys were sitting on the sands of the beach watching other teams play in the ocean of free agency, they told us time and time again that their belief is that you build through the draft. It isn’t hyperbolic to say that we just lived the most important days of their offseason.
So with all of that being said, the Cowboys have now improved their team, but where does that leave them? If we are to assess their offseason as a whole were they right to fully and totally bank on the draft?
Assessing the Dallas Cowboys entire offseason with the 2022 NFL Draft now behind them
The meat and potatoes of the offseason may come through the draft, but the asparagus and bread served before the meal all matter in the evaluation of the restaurant as well. This means that when we look at what the Cowboys have done since their season ended in bitter fashion back in January that we have to examine all of the moves that they have made.
‘All of the moves’ includes decisions that led to some players ending up elsewhere. The Cowboys only really ‘lost’ one player and that was Randy Gregory leaving to the Denver Broncos, but other than that they seemed fairly content to let their players on expiring deals flock to other teams.
Much has been made about the team’s top draft picks filling needs, we’ll get to them in a bit, and while that is true they were needs that the team self-created to a degree. The Cowboys chose to create a need at left guard by letting Connor Williams walk (a decision many agreed with), they chose to create a need at wide receiver by trading away Amari Cooper (the compensation for which continues to look poorly as evidenced by the draft-night trades for AJ Brown and Marquise Brown), and effectively chose to create a need at defensive end by not agreeing to the total terms that Randy Gregory’s representation asked for (which again is a subject that featured plenty of opinions).
The reality of every offseason is that you are going to ‘create’ needs to a certain extent. The Gregory situation was unfortunate, but sometimes those things are unavoidable. Dallas clearly wanted to get out of the Amari Cooper contract based on perceived value for the contract numbers.
As far as players brought back by the Cowboys, they kept up with the status quo relative to previous years and it was certainly important for them to retain the likes of Dorance Armstrong once the Gregory deal fell through. Locking up a long-term deal with Michael Gallup was very important as was keeping Dalton Schultz around through at least 2022, but the general sense of free agency was that the Cowboys needed to do something special in the draft to make the offseason a success.
The draft didn’t exactly upgrade the overall offseason by a wide margin
With established needs at left guard, wide receiver, and defensive end just to name a few, the Cowboys got to work during the 2022 NFL Draft. They found answers for those holes with their first three picks although consensus boards suggest that they reached a bit with their first two picks.
You will see by the way that Sam Williams is listed as De Williams. A reminder that he specifically asked Cowboys fans to refer to him as that when he joined BTB’s coverage of the draft (explainer here).
The first three picks were all inside the top 100 so by that very nature they are expected to contribute early and pan out over the life of their rookie contracts. It isn’t as if the Cowboys were asleep at the wheel because they certainly drafted some players with potentially bright futures, but they need a little bit of time to develop in the NFL which is a bit worrisome for the here and now.
To be clear, Tyler Smith is not Connor Williams, De Williams is not Randy Gregory, and Jalen Tolbert is not Amari Cooper. It isn’t fair to expect any of them to replace the production of the players who’s spots they are taking and while they are playing on much more team-friendly contracts by the nature of being just-drafted rookies, one has to wonder if this was indeed the correct way for the Cowboys to go about addressing these spots over the offseason as a whole.
It would be unfair to count on any of the Day 3 picks to contribute significantly throughout their rookie season, but that is true for Day 3 picks of any year. You are maybe going to find players who can be solid additions to your roster over time but it is unlikely that they make a huge difference in their first season on the team.
The draft is about more than just the players selected which is where undrafted free agency comes into play (see our full tracker of every Cowboys UDFA right here). Similar to Day 3 selections, it is not likely that the Cowboys found an immediate impact player in this group, although Jonathan Garibay can certainly contribute a ton if he winds up as the team’s starting kicker, but development projects for the future are never a bad thing.
It feels fair to say that the Cowboys are leaving the draft weekend with three players who will contribute to a significant degree throughout their rookie seasons and it is no coincidence that they were their top three selections. But was all of it enough across the offseason as a whole?
It feels fair to say that the 2022 Dallas Cowboys are still objectively worse than last season even after the draft
Part of why the playoff loss to San Francisco was so frustrating was that we all felt like last year’s version of the Cowboys finally had the tools necessary to cross lines that they haven’t for over a quarter century. It was defeating to see even a top-flight defense fall shy of a conference championship game when we have said ‘if only’ about that side of the ball many times.
Given that there will likely be some natural regression to the mean on defense, at least as far as turnovers are concerned, it made sense for the Cowboys to operate somewhat aggressively this offseason. They chose to not behave that way in free agency and have had the draft lurking as a would-be option to dance for a few months, but they went the entire thing and didn’t exactly do anything that anyone would categorize as aggressive.
In fact, the Cowboys draft sort of reads like the opposite in its initial days as an overall group. There are some fine potential players but as noted Tyler Smith and De Williams will need some time to fully reach stages where they can be top contributors for this team. No one is saying that fifth-round picks are how you make your way in the NFL, but even the team’s first two in that round are more of projects in Matt Waletzko and DaRon Bland. What’s more is that their third fifth-rounder may not even play in 2022 as Damone Clark will be making his way back from injury, but obviously if he does successfully the value could be immense.
We all spent so much time actually talking about the fifth round specifically and how the Cowboys had four picks to play with. This is in no way a criticism of them because again fifth-round picks are fifth-round picks, but they spent their first three on players who won’t exactly make this year’s team better. It wasn’t until their last one that they finally got someone who likely will in Arkansas’ John Ridgeway.
The Cowboys are better today than they were last Thursday morning and that is certainly notable and worthy of some praise; however, on the whole of the season it feels like they dug some holes along the way, filled them, and are still stuck in the same desert.
Is there an end in sight to the overall drought? As always, only time will tell.