The worst part about the conclusion of another Dallas Cowboys season is that we know that the team we just rooted for will not be the same as the one we’ll see next year. Every year there are big changes, including a roster turnover that features roughly 30% of new players. Whether it’s a coaching shuffle, losing players to free agency, or just roster casualties due to freeing up cap space, the changes from season to season are plentiful.
Whether you like these coordinators or not, it’s hard to argue against their body of work since they’ve slid into their current positions with the team. The overhaul that Dan Quinn has done with this defense has been amazing partly because the job Mike Nolan did before him was horrendous, but also because this Cowboys defense has been spectacular under Quinn’s direction.
The love for Kellen Moore isn’t as large as he’s the biggest scapegoat for when things don’t go well on offense. But again, how can you be that upset with what he’s done? The Cowboys lost Amari Cooper, had injuries along the offensive line, and even were without Dak Prescott for several games, but Moore helped keep the offense going and at times they looked remarkable.
Both these coordinators are interviewing for head coaching jobs. It’s unclear how this will all play out, but there’s a good chance the Cowboys will be without at least one of their coordinators heading into next season.
THE RUNNING BACKS
It was nice to have this dynamic duo as the meat and potatoes of the team’s running back group, but we have likely seen the last of that. And considering the team can ill-afford to devote heavy resources to two running backs, it seems like a foregone conclusion that a change is coming.
Tony Pollard is a free agent this offseason and he is coming off his first-ever 1,000+ yard season that was good enough to earn him Pro Bowl honors. Pollard’s production has gone up in each of the last two seasons and he has a career 5.1 yards per carry average.
Ezekiel Elliott is not a free agent, but he commands a base salary of $10.9 million next season. Additionally, he is owed no more guaranteed money. While he still has $11.6 million in bonus/restructures money that will count against the cap regardless, the team must decide if they want to tack on additional money by paying him his base salaries for the upcoming seasons.
Will they keep Zeke? Pollard? Neither? It’s tough to know how this will play out, but there’s a great chance the days of having both of them in the backfield are over.
The coordinators and running backs are the biggest pairs who both aren’t expected back next season, but there are also some lesser-known pairs who could be leaving as well.
THE RUN STOPPERS
The Cowboys have been very fortunate to have Carlos Watkins and Johnathan Hankins along the interior defensive line. Both are low-cost investments that have significantly outperformed their cost. Used as run-stopping specialists, both Watkins and Hankins have served this role admirably.
The coaching staff like to use these one-year cheap deals to fill voids and bridge the development of a younger player. Unfortunately, they gave up too soon on rookie John Ridgeway, so the team will continue to look for answers in the middle. Watkins and Hankins will both be free agents this offseason, and there is always the possibility that one of them returns next year.
And speaking of run stoppers, Leighton Vander Esch has had one of his better seasons and he’ll be entering free agency this offseason. He was an important piece to this Cowboys’ defense. Free agent Anthony Barr was signed to a one-year deal this past offseason so the team might end up losing both their starting linebackers next year.
THE DEFENSIVE BACKS
Finally, we might have seen the last of Anthony Brown and Donovan Wilson in a Cowboys uniform. While Brown isn’t a favorite among fans, we got a taste of life without him on the outside and it wasn’t pleasant. The Cowboys already re-upped on Brown once as he signed a three-year, $15.5 million deal in 2020, but now that contract is up.
Donovan Wilson is coming off a career year where he made several splash plays for this defense. This should command some interest in free agency for a team looking for nice box safety. The Cowboys already invested in both Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker with two-year deals last offseason, so those guys will stick around another year. They also have Israel Mukuamu who is starting to show an indication that he could be ready for a bigger role in 2023.