The Cowboys are rarely are big spenders in free agency. They like to bring back their own guys and fill in holes before the draft. The Cowboys will definitely have some decisions to make this off-season with a lot of guys entering free agency. They only have about $8.5 million in cap space, but can restructure some guys to really free up a lot of cap space.
FREEING UP CAP SPACE
Restructure Dak Prescott, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Zack Martin
+$40.9 Million in Cap Space
Prescott, Lawrence, and Martin are some of the Cowboys truly blue-chip players. They all are on relatively team-friendly contracts, which allow the Cowboys to create a lot of cap space to improve the team and fill holes.
Cut Ezekiel Elliott
+$4.9 Million in Cap Space, $11.9 Million in Dead Cap
Zeke just doesn’t have the explosiveness to still be an elite player. He wants to be in Dallas and may be open to taking a massive pay cut, but he has an out in his contract and is due nearly $65 million over the rest of his contract. They’ll eat some dead cap space, but he’ll be off the books after the 2023 season. He’s still an effective short-yardage back, but he isn’t breaking tackle or being an efficient runner anymore, and the team will likely move on.
BRINGING BACK OUR GUYS
RFRA Tender Terence Steele, Right Tackle (26/6’6"/315)
1 year, $2.6 Million, Fully Guaranteed
Steele tore his ACL in Week 13, but the former undrafted free agent was playing like one of the better right tackles in NFL before his injury. He may not be ready in Week 1, but if Tyron Smith doesn’t retire, he can step back into the starting spot at right tackle, and Tyron Smith may be able to extend his career by becoming the Cowboys’ swing tackle behind Tyler Smith and Terence Steele. If Tyron does retire, the Cowboys may sign Steele to a long-term contract instead of tendering him, but Steele will likely bet on himself and try to get healthy and earn a big payday in 2024.
Re-sign Tony Pollard, Running Back (26/6’0"/215)
3 Years, $28 Million, $20 Million Guaranteed
Pollard broke his leg in the playoffs, but is expected to make a full recovery. Pollard is an explosive and dynamic running back who is coming off a big year with nearly 1300 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 7.2 yards per touch over the last 2 years, and has the strength to break tackles, the elusiveness to make tacklers miss, and the speed (4.38 forty-yard dash) to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. He’s improved a lot as a pass-protector and is a dangerous receiver. The Cowboys will want to bring him back and give him a bigger workload in the offense.
Re-sign Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker (27/6’4"/255)
2 Years, $6.5 Million, $4 Million Guaranteed
LVE was an All-Pro performer as a rookie, but then struggled with injuries for a couple years, but came back on a prove-it deal in 2022 and played some of the best football of his career. Vander Esch is still relatively cheap because of the injury concerns (missed at least 2 games in 3 of the last 4 seasons). He is the Cowboys’ signal caller in the middle of their defense, and he only missed 3 tackles in 2022 (by far the least in his career). On top of being a highly intelligent and assignment-sound player, he’s still a very good athlete with speed (4.65 forty), explosiveness (39.5" vertical), and quickness (6.88 three-cone) to thrive in coverage, and the massive size to be an impact run-stopper.
Re-sign Cooper Rush, Quarterback (29/6’3"/225)
3 Years, $8 Million, $5.5 Million Guaranteed
Rush has proven to really be a capable backup. He’s not athletic and he doesn’t have a big arm, but he’s extremely smart and has completed 61% of his passes with 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions with a 5-1 record as a starter. He’s close with Dak and the team would love to bring him back.
Darius Slayton, WR, Giants (26/6’1"/195)
1 Year, $4 Million, $2 Million Guaranteed
Slayton has been productive as a former fifth-round pick for the Giants, but he never played in an offense with a quarterback as good as Dak Prescott, and was forced into being the #1 option on bad teams. He takes a one-year "prove it" deal to play with a better quarterback and try to earn a big payday. Slayton is an excellent deep threat (15 yards per reception in his career), and will thrive as the Cowboys’ #3 receiver, as they need a player with some speed and explosiveness to stress the field vertically and open up the offense. Slayton has the speed (4.39 forty) and short-area quickness to win one-on-one matchups and the length (32.75" arms) and explosive hops to go up and snatch the ball out of the air. He struggles with focus drops at times, but he has improved his consistency in this area. Slayton is a perfect low-risk, high-reward prospect.
Andrew Billings, DT, Raiders (28/6’1"/330)
2 Years, $3.5 Million, $2 Million Guaranteed
The Cowboys need some help at defensive tackle with veterans Jonathan Hankins and Carlos Watkins entering free agency and recent draft picks Neville Gallimore and Quinton Bohanna not developing as hoped. Billings is short and stout, and is one of the strongest players in the NFL. He doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher, but he’s nearly impossible to move in the run game with his leverage and power. He can immediately step in and be the Cowboys’ best run-stuffer on the defensive line, which can draw double-teams away from pass-rushers and keep blockers from climbing to the linebackers.
Patrick Peterson, CB, Vikings (33/6’0"/205)
1 Years, $4.5 Million, $2.5 Million Guaranteed
Anthony Brown is a free agent and coming off a torn Achilles and the team’s young corners haven’t proven to be starter-quality corners across from Trevon Diggs. Peterson isn’t the athletic marvel he was coming into the NFL, but he’s durable and consistent (missed only 10 games since 2011, with 184 starts in the NFL. In 2022 he proved he can still play at a high level and add impressive ball production (5 interceptions, 15 passes defensed). He only allowed a 59% completion when he was targeted and missed only 3 tackles. He is on the back end of his career, but he still has the physical ability to be a quality starter. He can also be an excellent mentor to the Cowboys’ young corners.
Cody Ford, OL, Cardinals (26/6’3"/330)
2 Years, $6 Million, $2 Million Guaranteed
The Cowboys will likely lose starting left guard Connor McGovern to free agency, and A top-50 pick in 2019, Ford was an All American tackle in college, but when he came to the NFL he bounced around positions from right tackle, right guard, and left guard before getting traded to the Cardinals and missing time with injury. He’s got long arms (34"), twitchy lateral quickness, and plenty of raw, explosive power. The Cowboys bring him in to compete for a starting job at left guard on an incentive-based contract. His technique hasn’t developed, likely in part of moving around to so many positions. He still has the potential to be an elite left guard with his physical tools and nasty demeanor. If he isn’t able to lockdown a starting job, he can still provide quality, versatile depth at multiple positions on the offensive line.
Larry Ogunjobi, DT, Steelers (29/6’3"/305)
1 Year, $4 Million, $3 Million Guaranteed
The Cowboys want to keep adding talent to the defensive line, and Ogunjobi has been one of the better defensive linemen in the NFL for years. He’s a quality run-defender who can hold his ground at the point of attack, but is better as a penetrator (22 sacks, 44 tackles for loss, 61 QB hits over last 5 seasons). He’s also started at least 15 games for 5 years straight. He’s not an elite defensive tackle, but he’s a quality all-around player who can upgrade the Cowboys’ defensive tackle rotation, pretty much replacing Carlos Watkins, and Ogunjobi is about equal as a run-defender, but offers much more pass-rush.
N’Keal Harry, WR, Bears (25/6’2"/230)
1 Year, $1 Million, No Guaranteed Money
The Cowboys need receivers and they like bringing in former top draft picks. Harry was a first-round pick for the Patriots in 2019 and then was traded to the Bears for a seventh-round pick before the 2022 season. He’s struggled with injuries and was considered very raw coming into the NFL. But he’s a big, explosive (38.5" vertical) receiver with long arms and quality speed (4.53 forty). Harry still needs to show he’s improved as a route-runner, but he’s a contested-catch specialist with tackle-breaking power and shiftiness with the ball in his hands, looking like a running back in the open field. Harry has starter ability, especially if he improves as a route-runner. He can play as a big X receiver who wins with physicality. He blocks really well and could be best as a "big slot" receiver who is an aggressive, physical blocker . He’s another low-risk, high reward signing who could really shine in a role that allows him to use his explosive hops and long arms (33") to be a jump-ball weapon, get him the ball in space and let him make plays, and use his physical blocking skills in a Noah Brown-type role.