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Cowboys mailbag: Free agent frenzy, the draft & more

People have questions about the Cowboys, and we strive to provide answers.

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Every week, we will be taking questions on Twitter about the upcoming Dallas Cowboys game and other questions surrounding the team. So let’s get right into it.

@DannyAllen: Which free agent should be a priority to bring back, and will we see any big moves like the Amari Cooper move in the last offseason??

Brandon: With Dan Quinn back in Dallas, this improves the odds for the Cowboys to re-sign someone like Donovan Wilson. Quinn was asked before the season who he thought would make the most significant jump heading in the 2022 season, and he said it would be Wilson. He saw something many people didn’t. Wilson was a big part of Dallas’ run defense by leading the team in tackles and a career-high seven tackles for loss. There should be a market for him to get paid, but hopefully, with Quinn staying, he can recruit Wilson to stay.

Regarding a “Cooper-like move,” the biggest surprise might be releasing Ezekiel Elliott. He doesn’t seem to have the same burst, but he also ran for almost 900 yards and 12 touchdowns. Any time a team releases someone with that type of production, it will create some buzz.

Mike: The priority is Leighton Vander Esch. We had a peek of this defense without him and the effect on defending the run game once he returned. The difference was evident. I don’t think we can stand another season of questioning how do we prevent the run again. Tied in with LVE being priority is Anthony Barr is headed elsewhere, Micah Parsons is going to assume more of a role as a pass rusher. So that leaves this linebacker corps with Damone Clark, who I frankly am excited to see develop more, and Jabril Cox, who spent the season watching his name on the inactive list. So make LVE a priority for sure, and follow that up with Johnathan Hankins who was a great complement in run defense. On offense, get Terence Steele done.

@AllanWoods: Jalen Tolbert was drafted to help this receiving group, but he hurt the Cowboys when he did play. Do you believe he still has a role going into year two, or will the front office be forced in a different direction?

Brandon: I would say Jalen Tolbert didn’t get on the field enough to “hurt” the Cowboys. His most meaningful game came in Week 3 against the New York Giants, and Dallas stashed him on the inactive list for the rest of the season. The front office doesn’t like to give up on their draft picks this soon. I have confidence Tolbert will improve from year one to two simply because he couldn’t get any lower than he did in 2022. Just remember what happened to Dalton Schultz. Everyone wanted to cut him and label him a bust, and then he became one of Dak Prescott’s go-to guys. I wouldn’t count Tolbert out just yet.

Mike: You have to question whether you believe a rookie that spent an entire season exclusively on the bench will suddenly explode in year two and take starting snaps. It’s difficult to see that occurring. If Jalen Tolbert was coming along toward the back end of the season and was making advancement to break the roster, then this answer would be different. But right now he’s literally exhibited nothing. So much so that the lack of improvement forced the front office to go out to the free agent market to pick up T.Y. Hilton. That tells me Tolbert is a long way away before contributing more on offense. The draft will have to concentrate on getting Dak some additional skill players to throw to.

@CraigSykes: Is this team one or two players away from seriously challenging for the Super Bowl, or do they need a major rebuild?

Brandon: It’s a tricky question. The Cowboys certainly have the structure to be a top-five roster in the NFL, but many of their starters from this season are free agents. If players like LVE, Donovan Wilson, Connor McGovern, Johnathan Hankins, and Brett Maher leave, those are five starters who contributed meaningful snaps in Dallas. So if they leave, the Cowboys will be more than one or two players away simply because of roster turnover. It wouldn’t be impossible to fill those holes in free agency and the draft, but that’s why having a quality head coach and defensive coordinator help navigate a time like this. Dallas might be a few players away from a Super Bowl, but having Mike McCarthy and Dan Quinn back certainly keeps them in arms reach.

Mike: If you just look at the offensive side of the ball and what transpired in the final game against San Francisco, how it looked when Tony Pollard got injured that gives you the answer. It just lacked offensive player-makers that could attack. It’s in no way in need of an overhaul. What this team needs to alter foremost is its philosophy in the free agent market. Just a few intelligent moves on offense and this team is on track for another crack in the postseason. It’s no surprise that both remaining NFC contenders went into free agency or the trade market looking for difference makers on the offense (A.J. Brown and Christian McCaffrey), and that got them to the conference championship. The Dallas Cowboys project to be in the identical position next year so let’s hope they can find those key contributors to make that elevation.

@GoezEverything: What position do we fill in the first round of the draft? CB, DT or WR?

Brandon: If I had to tier the positions, I would say WR, CB, and DT. For me, wide receiver is a position the Cowboys can draft in the first round, get great talent and value, and not pay market-setting money. Dallas will have to pay CeeDee Lamb in a few years and has already paid Michael Gallup. Plus, that fifth-year option helps out a lot down the road. Cornerback is second because the Cowboys could use a veteran corner playing opposite Trevon Diggs. In a recent article of mine, I mentioned how signing someone like Marcus Peters protects the Cowboys if they can’t draft a top corner but can still draft one in the later rounds. After finding a corner like DaRon Bland in the fifth round, I trust the scouts to find someone again. Then for defensive tackles, the best players at that position might be gone by the time Dallas picks at No. 26. They would be better off re-signing Hankins or Carlos Watkins and running it back with the same group. Neville Gallimore is in a contract season; maybe that might motivate him to be excellent in 2023. Plus, Chauncey Golston showed something in the final games of the season to show he’s developing.

Mike: Depending on what they do with Anthony Brown and the defensive line players up for con't act will help answer this. DaRon Bland has shown enough to give people confidence for him to be a starter, but with Jourdan Lewis more than likely walking there’s a slot corner role that needs filling, and Bland plays that position best. If Brown stays that fixes a hole but even then we’ve seen what happens at the position when depth is tested. Corner is a must at some point in the draft for Dallas, it's just on Brown to determine how early that card goes in for a cornerback.

There are some nice prospects that would fit nicely here in Dallas if they do go early in the draft for a defensive back like Devon Witherspoon or Joey Porter Jr, but that pick would mean shuffling some players around on the roster. If the Cowboys retain Johnathan Hankins, that’s a huge plus, but I think we’ve seen the last of Neville Gallimore so that’s a 3-tech position up for grabs, and this year’s defensive tackle group in the draft has some real talent to be taken early. But don’t count defensive end out the equation either which could be a need if things don’t go Dallas’ way. On offense, wide receiver or inside offensive line is a must, but the inside linemen this year aren’t as deep as the offensive tackle group. But a guy like Jaxson Kirkland later in the draft could work which keeps your options open in the first round.

Be sure to check @kenfigkowboy and @brandoniswrite on Twitter for the weekly post, asking you for your questions for the weekly mailbag

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