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Discount or danger? The Cowboys continue to have tough decisions with injured free agents

The Cowboys have often tried to pick up bargains by delving into injured free agents.

San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have done a really good job building their roster. We can quarrel about players they should’ve kept or gotten rid of, but overall, this front office does a pretty good job making personnel decisions.

Part of that is deciding which of their own free agents they can live without, and which ones need to be re-signed. The team only opens its wallet to a select few when it comes to offering sizable second contracts as there are only six players on this roster whose average salary exceeds $10 million per year. Two of those players, Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith, have futures up in the air as it’s unclear if the Cowboys will keep paying the base salary to keep them on the roster. We’ve already discussed the Zeke situation and explained that his days in Dallas are probably over. Another one of those players is future Hall of Famer Zack Martin.

As for the final three, there is something common between them, and that is, they were all hurt before signing their extension. Let’s refresh our memories, shall we?

2019 - DeMarcus Lawrence

The Injury: Lawrence played two seasons with a torn labrum. The team wanted him to have surgery, but Tank wanted to secure a long-term deal prior to having the surgery. This ultimately resulted in a standoff between Lawrence in the front office.

The Contract: After tagging Lawrence a second time, the threat of putting off shoulder surgery triggered the Cowboys to reach a five-year, $105 million deal in April 2019.

The Aftermath: Lawrence’s production is often scrutinized. Whether he’s worth such a high cost is up for debate, but he remains an instrumental part of the defense. He’s shown no lingering effects of his injury and although he missed some time early in 2021, he’s played in every game in the three other seasons since signing his new deal. He even renegotiated his contract last offseason, suddenly making him quite the bargain as he continues to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

2021 - Dak Prescott

The Injury: Compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, suffered in Week 5 of the 2020 season.

The Contract: His ankle injury occurred while he was playing on the franchise tag, but he received a four-year, $160 million deal in March of 2021.

The Aftermath: Prescott has shown no ill effects from his ankle injury. As any franchise quarterback should be, Dak is a little more cautious about when he decides to run, but his mobility isn’t limited by any means. Prescott has missed time in each of the last two seasons with a calf injury (2021) and then a thumb injury (2022), so the wear and tear continues to take its toll on a quarterback who once started 69-straight games to begin his NFL career.

2022 - Michael Gallup

The Injury: 2021 was a contract year for Gallup and it couldn’t have gone much worse. First, he injured his calf in the season opener which caused him to miss the next seven games. Then, near the end of the season, he tore his ACL.

The Contract: Despite the knee injury, the Cowboys gave Gallup a five-year, $57.5 million deal in March of 2020.

The Aftermath: The team knew he wouldn’t be ready right away, but he only missed the first three weeks of the year. Unfortunately, Gallup was a shell of himself, only producing 30.3 receiving yards per game, the lowest of his five-year career. He was also non-existent as a deep threat and averaged a career-low 10.9 yards per reception. While the early returns are certainly not good, the team gave him a long-term deal for a reason. Hopefully, better days are coming as we know what he is capable of.

And that brings us to...

2023 - Terence Steele

The Injury: In week 14, Steele tore both his ACL and MCL in his left knee.

The Situation: Steele was an undrafted free agent in 2020 and has been playing for super cheap these past three seasons. The good news is he will be a restricted free agent and the Cowboys can slap a tender on him that will essentially keep him off limits to other teams (unless they are willing to pay him a lot and give up a draft pick). The team has shown a lot of faith in him to the point where they cut loose La’el Collins, so it’s hard not seeing Steele as a part of their future.

What’s to come: Prior to the injury, this looked to be on a path similar to Blake Jarwin where the team first tendered him, but then turn around and work out a long-term deal prior to the season. But since Steele suffered such a devastating injury, the front office may take a cautious approach and just have him play on the tender price in 2023, see how he looks, and then deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.

2023 - Tony Pollard

The Injury: Suffered a high ankle sprain and fractured fibula in the divisional round loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The Situation: Like Steele, Pollard emerged as one of the team’s better offensive players supplanting a veteran for playing time. But unlike Steele, Pollard’s contract situation is quite different. There won’t be any hesitation about his health due to the nature of his injury and recovery time; he should have a full recovery and be ready to go in 2023. That part is clear. But what isn’t clear is how the Cowboys are going to handle their running back situation.

What’s to come: Will they restructure Zeke? Will they look to the draft to get some fresh legs in the backfield? Or will they re-up on one of the team’s most explosive offensive weapons? It would be odd to see them let one of their few offensive stars walk, but we know they have to be careful in how they manage their cap and we witnessed them parting ways with Amari Cooper last year. Anything is possible.

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