Dallas is once again going to play the “let’s wait and see game,” this time with Dalton Schultz. As the clock expired on the deadline to sign a franchise-tagged player, the Dallas Cowboys seemed less than concerned. Schultz joins the ranks of Flozell Adams, Anthony Spencer, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Dak Prescott as players who did not receive a contract with Dallas before the deadline after being franchise tagged for the first time. Schultz is now set to be a free agent in 2023.
Luckily for Dallas, if the Stanford tight end is going to hit the open market, 2023 is a pretty good year for it. Because next season the Cowboys do not have a long list of priorities in free agency.
Every team in the league will have free agents every offseason. It is nearly impossible to align your deals to avoid a free agent-less year. And for the most part, staggering the expiration date of the contracts helps a team limit their priorities in a single offseason. But by happenstance, some free agency years are less daunting than others.
For the Cowboys, 2023 will be a relaxing year.
Dalton Schultz is the only player on the team making more than $6 million this season who is set to hit the open market next year. Granted, if Schultz repeats his 2021 performance, re-signing him will be no small task. His listed market value of $14.5 million, according to Spotrac, would make him the second-highest paid tight end in the league.
If the Cowboys decide to take on that commitment, their next step would likely be negotiating with Anthony Brown and Donovan Wilson. Both of whom have been valuable pieces in the secondary but can be replaced if need be. Throw Connor McGovern and Leighton Vander Esch into that list and it can effectively be named the “sad but not heartbreaking if they left” group of free agents.
The next bundle of players is the “if they don’t perform in 2022, Dallas should have no problem cutting ties with them” tier. This list includes names like Dante Fowler, Tarrell Basham, Trysten Hill, James Washington, Carlos Watkins, Terence Steele, and Noah Brown. Each of those players could have big years if given the opportunity, but the lack of production thus far suggests they might be elsewhere next season, save Steele who will probably take the most snaps of the players on this tier, but no one is arguing that he cannot be replaced.
The lowest-priority group is named the “they will either sign a minimum or be elsewhere.” This tier encapsulates the players who are at risk of being cut before the season starts, like C.J. Goodwin, Jeremy Sprinkle, Malik Jefferson, Ryan Nall, Luke Gifford, and Will Grier. If they contribute, most of their impact will be felt on special teams, but they are not a lock to make the roster this season. Even Goodwin and Gifford project to make the cut for their special teams' ability but will not see their price tag rise dramatically. This tier also includes specialists such as Jake McQuaide and Lirim Hajrullahu, who could make the roster and shine, but their contracts will never be too expensive.
A couple of other names not listed but are set to be free agents include:
- Cooper Rush ($.98 million in 2022)
- Sean McKeon ($.77 million in 2022)
- Christian Sam ($.71 million in 2022)
If you know the list of Dallas’ 2023 free agents and have read to this point, you are likely screaming, “what about Tony Pollard and Rico Dowdle?” That is a good point, and these two players can be named the “figure it out” group. Because with Ezekiel Elliott’s contract gaining flexibility in 2023, there is a chance he is off the roster. That means the starting running back spot for the Cowboys could open up.
However, Dallas might be wise to avoid another Elliott contract situation and let Pollard walk without hesitation. In this instance, they would probably re-sign Dowdle as the new backup to an unknown Elliott successor. If the Cowboys don’t cut Elliott, then they will not be able to afford Pollard, and Dowdle would assuredly become the backup to Zeke.
Or Dallas could choose to pay Pollard and cut Elliott. In this hypothetical, Dowdle would likely be retained as well, now as the backup to Pollard. And there is a non-zero chance that Elliott is cut and Pollard and Dowdle both walk in free agency, leaving Dallas with an empty backfield.
The two running backs did not land in any tier because the situation is incredibly uncertain at the moment. Projecting who the Cowboys will be desperate to retain or let walk becomes murky when there are so many possible ways this could go. For that reason, they are in their own tier.
Even if Pollard becomes a priority, next offseason is set to be somewhat less stressful. Dallas has to start thinking about what they want to do with a few players, but there are not a lot of decisions to make. If you are satisfied with the 2022 roster, you should be happy because it could be the same group of players in 2023.
However, planning this far in advance is difficult. James Washington, Carlos Watkins, and Tarrell Basham could all have career years, making free agency a little more tricky. It is a future problem for a future date. But feel safe knowing that Schultz not receiving a contract before the deadline is not the end of the world.