Dallas Cowboys fans are all too familiar with the idea of salary cap casualties. Although they don’t actually release players to gain cap space as much as you might think, cap impacts do dictate many decisions about who to sign or re-sign, and sometimes who to let go. This season, it may have a big impact on what happens with Ezekiel Elliott, whose contract has been taking up an oversized and unjustifiable piece of the cap pie for years.
But there is the flip side. Some cap casualties are good players who just have become to expensive. With a ton of holes to fill this offseason, Dallas needs to at least keep an eye on players from other teams that they might bring in.
There are many possibilities. Pro Football Network lists dozens. However, not all sources see things the same. They do not list Elliott for the Cowboys, with Jourdan Lewis being the only representative they have. Interestingly, Dallas has fewer than all but two other teams in the league, which confirms the priority they put on cap management. However, a more interesting take is found at CBS Sports. That has a top fifteen list, and it does include Elliott. There are a lot of names, like Derek Carr and Aaron Rodgers, that are irrelevant for the Cowboys. It does, however, have some that could be very useful if a workable contract could be negotiated for them. Others are seen as trade only possibilities, and a couple of those are worth thinking about, too.
These possible outright releases and trade candidates are intriguing. (All figures and stats are quoted from the CBS article.)
WR Michael Thomas - New Orleans Saints
This one might be too much to resist for Stephen Jones, because Thomas has only played in ten games over the past three seasons due to injury. That is going to sap his leverage and could make him amenable to a low base salary, incentive-laden one-year deal. And the team continues to flirt with Odell Beckham Jr. They are not afraid to take on a player with injury history if it means a bargain deal. Wide receiver is arguably the biggest roster need this year, and while it has risks, this could have a lot of upside for the team.
WR Kenny Golladay - New York Giants
Golladay is an interesting case. For some reason he was only on the field for 23% of the offensive snaps for the Giants. Yet in that limited usage, he produced 521 yards. It is not hard to see that he could be a 1,000 yard receiver with more reps. He eclipsed that in both 2018 and 2019 with the Detroit Lions. Likely, it would take more to sign him than Thomas, but he is also more likely to contribute. It would be interesting to see what Mike McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer could do with Dak Prescott throwing to him.
CB Byron Jones - Miami Dolphins
As a hobbit once said to Harry Potter on the bridge of the Enterprise or something, there’s a name I have not heard in a long time. Jones was drafted in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Cowboys, but he was used as a safety for his first three seasons with the team before being switched to cornerback. In his five years in Dallas, he only had two interceptions, which was seen as a lack of effectiveness. But teams tended to avoid throwing his direction, which is a tribute to how other offenses looked at him. And he did make All-Pro in 2018.
Dallas has a decision to make about Anthony Brown, who is entering free agency. If they don’t bring him back, that is clearly a hole they need to fill. And Jones might see a real uptick in Dan Quinn’s defense, with a strong pass rush to work behind. Quinn also seems to like defensive backs who can fill more than one role. It would be a wild turn of events to see him return to the Cowboys, but it could be a good move.
RB Joe Mixon - Cincinnati Bengals
He fell out of favor last season with the Bengals, but he might be a much more affordable option than using the franchise tag on Tony Pollard. He still produced 814 yards rushing and seven touchdowns in 2022 after his best season the year before with 1,205 yards and 13 scores on the ground. Running backs have little leverage in negotiations. Except, it seems, with the Cowboys. But with decisions to be made on both Pollard and Elliott, Mixon could be a way to move forward without either while getting it done for a reasonable cost.
Trade only options
WR DeAndre Hopkins - Arizona Cardinals
This is possibly a bridge too far for Dallas, but imagine him lined up across from CeeDee Lamb. The Cardinals are a hot mess right now with QB Kyler Murray coming off an ACL injury that could have him missing games and not much prospect for being a contender this year. The compensation for him would be high. But there is a history of the team parting with some significant draft capital to fix the wider receiver room. This would be the kind of big offseason move we have longed for. It is highly unlikely, but would be very exciting if it happened.
CB Jalen Ramsey - Los Angeles Rams
He’s like Hopkins, only worse in terms of what it would take to get him. Expectations are that the Rams would want no less than a first-round pick. They famously traded away all their first-rounders since 2016. They got the prize, a Lombardi Trophy after the 2021 season, but after a significant collapse last year they are in bad shape for a needed restocking of the roster.
But if you want a secondary that would intimidate opponents, you can’t do much better than pairing Ramsey with Trevon Diggs. Again, this is really a pipe dream. It just sounds so good.