For the Dallas Cowboys, it is on to free agency and draft preparation. The focus can often be on who is available and how the Cowboys could obtain them through both avenues. But to figure out where the team is going, we have to start with where they are. Currently, the Cowboys have 54 players already under contract or signed to reserve/futures deals. By examining what they have, we can get a much better understanding of what they have to do to come up with the team they want to take into 2023.
This kind of information can hopefully put things in context. The information comes from Over the Cap, which has all the current contract details. and the ESPN transaction tracker for Dallas, which has a few futures deals that OTC hasn’t picked up. It not only shows you the current roster, which will have to be expanded to 90 for training camp, but paints a picture of the needs and issues the Cowboys have to overcome.
Cowboys current roster
|Quarterback||Dak Prescott||Will Grier||-|
|RB||Ezekiel Elliott||Malik Hooker||-|
|WR||CeeDee Lamb||Semi Fehoko||Antonio Callaway|
|WR||Michael Gallup||Jalen Tolbert||Dennis Houston|
|WR||-||KaVontae Turpin||Dontario Drummond|
|TE||Jake Ferguson||Sean McKeon||Seth Green|
|TE||Peyton Hendershot||Ian Bunting||-|
|OT||Tyron Smith||Matt Waletzko||Isaac Alarcon|
|OT||Tyler Smith||Josh Ball||Alex Taylor|
|G||Zack Martin||Matt Farniok||-|
|C||Tyler Biadasz||-||Alec Lindstrom|
|DE||DeMarcus Lawrence||Chauncey Golston||-|
|DE||Dorance Armstrong||Sam Williams||-|
|IDL||Osa Odighizuwa||Quinton Bohanna||-|
|LB||Micah Parsons||Jabril Cox||-|
|LB||Damone Clark||Devante Bond||-|
|CB||Trevon Diggs||Nahshon Wright||Sheldrick Redwine|
|CB||DaRon Bland||Kelvin Joseph||-|
|CB||Jourdan Lewis||Isaac Taylor-Stuart||-|
|S||Jayron Kearse||Israel Mukuamu||Juanyeh Thomas|
|S||Malik Hooker||Marquese Bell||Tyler Coyle|
As you can see, there is a lot to unpack here. Bear in mind that the Cowboys use free agency to plug holes to set up for the draft.
The worst thing that jumps out is that there are a ton of holes this year. The roster is in much worse shape than last year due to the players entering free agency, which we looked at recently. Outside of the starting quarterback, the team has big needs at just about every other position. The only ones that may have decent starters and depth at the moment are tight end and defensive end. Tight end is a bit speculative, because there is precious little experience there. And defensive end can certainly use more depth.
Re-signing some of their own free agents will help some of this, but since the Cowboys are now in competition with the 31 other teams in the league for all of them, we have to wait and see just how much that will help. They will probably use the franchise tag this year. Many foresee that being used to keep Tony Pollard, but both Terence Steele and Leighton Vander Esch could also be candidates in my opinion. It all depends on who they think can be signed conventionally and also the value of the positions.
Then there is the question of who might be waived or released by the team, or even could be lost to retirement. Specifically Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith come to mind. Both could be major pieces in generating the salary cap space needed this year. Elliott was just not effective in 2022 and it may be time for the team to move on, especially if they do retain Pollard. Smith has been plagued by injury for what seems like forever, and that has to be taking a toll on him.
Clearly, there are a lot of moving pieces. There also is a matter of priority. Here’s a shot at priorities:
1. Wide receiver
2. Offensive line - both tackle and interior
3. Cornerback - they went through a lot of injuries last season
4. Running back
Mock drafts are already popping up, and one thing that is happening is that the offensive line is not getting much priority. That is a mistake, although free agency directly affects draft priorities.
That leads to looking at free agency priorities separately. Dallas has a years’ long history of sitting out the first and second wave of signings because they are extremely stingy with outside free agent deals and prefer to shop the bargain remnants. That always is a questionable approach that basically has them going into roster building with one hand tied behind their back. It needs to change. It’s doubtful it will, but if they do wise up, here are some suggestions:
First wave - get a quality WR. Bite the bullet and pay the admittedly high market rate for a proven WR to pair with CeeDee Lamb. Last year’s attempt to get by with signing James Washington was a total failure.
Second wave - find quality depth at OT, IOL and CB. At cornerback, this could be addressed by bringing back Anthony Brown, who would then push DaRon Bland back to the slot. Likewise, Steele would pretty much solve this for tackle.
After that, go plug holes at RB and LB. Those are historically less expensive, with RB being one of the easiest positions to find workable players, given how the run game is so dependent on the offensive line and offensive scheme.
These moves would leave them in good shape for the NFL Draft.
All this will shift and change as signings begin to occur. That makes any talk of draft priorities premature. Meanwhile we play a waiting game.