It feels like yesterday when the Dallas Cowboys had one of the most expensive players at every position in the NFL. Okay, so maybe not every position, but many of them. From quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, to multiple spots on the offensive line, the team has shoveled out some healthy cash. They’ve also paid premium money for an edge rusher and even a linebacker in recent years.
Believe it or not, things have changed. Whether it’s due to roster modifications or just other teams paying more for their players, the Cowboys have actually dropped down the list in terms of how many of the higher-priced players they have at each position. Let’s take a look at where their top player ranks at each position compared to a year ago.
QUARTERBACK - Dak Prescott
Average salary: $40 M
Current salary position rank: T-6th
Salary position rank last year: 3rd
Prescott is only a year into his new deal and already a handful of quarterbacks have jumped him in average cost. That is the price of doing business in the NFL. Franchise quarterbacks cost a pretty penny and while Dak’s second contract looked like a pricey investment initially, that cost will look better and better with each year... until he’s up once again in 2025.
RUNNING BACK - Ezekiel Elliott
Average salary: $15 M
Current salary position rank: T-2nd (trailing only Christian McCaffrey, $16 M)
Salary position rank last year: T-2nd (tied with Alvin Kamara)
Zeke’s contract is repeatedly scrutinized as it remains a costly endeavor. Paying premium money for a running back isn’t a popular trend in the NFL which is why his rank hasn’t changed in the last year. With 80% of his guaranteed money off the books after the 2022 season, the Cowboys will be in a much more favorable position a year from now as the team could choose to move away from one of its top financial burdens.
WIDE RECEIVER - Michael Gallup
Average salary: $11.5 M
Current salary position rank: T-25th
Salary position rank last year: 3rd (Amari Cooper at $20 M)
The Cowboys' annual savings of switching from paying Cooper to paying Gallup is $8.5 million. That seems like a good deal for Dallas considering the drop-off between these two players is not that big. The team’s new star receiver, CeeDee Lamb, is under contract for three more years (assuming the team exercises his fifth-year option, which they will), meaning the front office has a little time before they fork out more cash towards the position.
TIGHT END - Dalton Schultz
Average salary: $10.9 M (franchise tag price)
Current salary position rank: 8th
Salary position rank last year: 22nd (Blake Jarwin at $5.5 M)
The team actually moved up in the rankings at tight end due to the cost of franchise-tagging Schultz. Fans are conflicted about what they should do with Schultz, but considering his value to the offense and the price of quality tight ends in the league, it doesn’t seem all that bad to lock him down with a long-term deal.
TACKLE - Tyron Smith
Average salary: $12.2 M
Current salary position rank: 25th
Salary position rank last year: 24th
We all knew this day was coming when Smith signed an eight-year deal back in 2014, now making him one of the greatest values in the league on paper. Unfortunately, Smith’s inability to stay on the field has diminished the team’s chances of cashing in on that deal. When healthy, he’s still a good player and it’s hard not to look at his contract and feel hopeful that the team is getting a good deal.
GUARD - Zack Martin
Average salary: $14 M
Current salary position rank: 5th
Salary position rank last year: 6th
The Cowboys actually moved up one spot due to the recent retirement of Philadelphia Eagles guard Brandon Brooks. Similar to Tyron Smith, Martin also signed a lengthy long-term deal (six years) that will make his cost look better and better each new season. Martin’s availability has been a lot better than Smith’s in recent years, but at 31 years old, don’t be surprised if he’ll have his own ailing moments in the future. Father time is undefeated.
EDGE RUSHER - DeMarcus Lawrence
Average salary: $13.3 M
Current salary position rank: T-30th
Salary position rank last year: T-5th (when his AAV was $21 M)
A year ago this time, Lawrence’s contract was ranked in the top five for most expensive edge rushers. But just like that, he’s all the way back at 30th. This is largely attributed to the front office sorcery that somehow convinced Tank to renegotiate his deal from $21 M per to $13.3 M. Not only that, but several free-agent edge rushers have signed new deals that eclipse Lawrence as well, including former teammate Randy Gregory ($14 M per year). We all have our own opinions about Lawrence's worth, but at his new price, it’s hard not to feel good about it.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE - Osa Odighizuwa
Average salary: $1.27 M
Current salary position rank: 70th
Salary position rank last year: 61st (Carlos Watkins at $1.75 M)
The Cowboys don’t invest premium resources at the defensive tackle position whether it’s in the form of draft picks or cap space, so it should surprise no one that last year’s third-round pick Odighizuwa rates out as the team’s most expensive investment. It’s frustrating at times that the team doesn’t seem to take the position seriously, but then when you see that someone like Maliek Collins is costing his new team $8.5 million per year, maybe going the cheaper route isn’t such a bad idea.
LINEBACKER - Micah Parsons
Average salary: $4.27 M
Current salary position rank: 19th
Salary position rank last year: 9th (Jaylon Smith at $11.4 M)
Two years after signing Jaylon Smith to a six-year extension, the Cowboys parted ways with him by releasing him four games into the 2021 season. Smith’s physical limitations appear to have got the better of him as he struggled to gain any traction with his next team the Green Bay Packers and currently remains unsigned after finishing the season with the New York Giants. The team has Micah Parsons now and veteran Leighton Vander Esch back on a super cheap deal. They also have a couple of young LSU linebackers in their back pocket once they get themselves healthy.
CORNERBACK - Anthony Brown
Average salary: $5.16 M
Current salary position rank: 39th
Salary position rank last year: 39th
Dallas let both Byron Jones ($16.5 M per year) and Chidobe Awuzie ($8.5 M) walk in free agency over the last couple of years. Their prize investment is Trevon Diggs who is halfway through his rookie deal. His low cost combined with the reasonably priced Anthony Brown keeps the company expenses down when it comes to the cornerback position, but that will change in a couple of years when Diggs’ contract is up. But for now, thumbs up.
SAFETY - Jayron Kearse
Average salary: $5 M
Current salary position rank: 27th
Salary position rank last year: 73rd
The Cowboys always look for cheap ways to accommodate their safety position which is why it shouldn’t surprise people that they signed Damontae Kazee, Malik Hooker, and Jayron Kearse to cheap one-year deals last season worth roughly a million each. That’s why it’s somewhat of a pleasant surprise to see them re-up in Kearse this offseason, moving up from 73rd to 27th.
Comparing the team’s most expensive player at each position over the last two seasons yield the following results...
After having three different players ranked in the top three at their respective positions in terms of cost in 2021, the Cowboys only have one now in Ezekiel Elliott. And they have dropped from eight players ranked in the top 10 to just four players, two of which just so happen to be fourth-round draft picks. Even more comforting is that despite the salary cap rising $26 million since last year, the Cowboys have actually dropped the price of their most expensive position investments by nearly $15 million.
The Cowboys could be getting away from having so many top-heavy contracts and spreading things out a little more. Whether that turns out to be a good thing or not remains to be seen, but at least we can say this team doesn’t believe they have to pay top dollar at so many different positions anymore.