The Dallas Cowboys were recently awarded three more picks in the 2023 NFL Draft thanks to the compensatory pick system. While getting these extra picks mitigates some of the pain of losing free agents, the ends may not justify the means.
Based on the calculation released by the league, the Cowboys were credited for losing defensive end Randy Gregory, guard Connor Williams, and wide receiver Cedrick Wilson during last year’s offseason. Signings and departures have to meet certain criteria for the size of the contract, the player’s snap counts with his new team, and other factors like Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition.
With no offsetting additions from their own signed free agents in 2022, Dallas received two fifth-round picks and a sixth-rounder based on what Gregory, Williams, and Wilson received from their new teams and how they performed. While everyone likes the idea of more spins at the roulette wheel, are these picks really worth not having these players last season?
Losing Gregory didn’t hurt much, especially given the money he received from the Denver Broncos and his injury issues. Gregory only appeared in six games last season and registered two sacks. The Cowboys did just fine rushing the passer with much cheaper options like Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler, and Sam Williams in the rotation. For multiple reasons, finally moving on from Gregory was a prudent choice.
This question really is more about Williams and Wilson. Given what the Cowboys suffered last year on the offensive line and at wide receiver, having these two guys around could have made a huge difference throughout the year. Had they been there in January, perhaps Dallas doesn't come up short again in the Divisional Round.
While he struggled mightily with penalties in 2021, Connor Williams was still a solid overall starting guard. He found a much better fit in Miami as a center and is now a bargain for them at just $7 million per season.
Dallas was fine at center last season as Tyler Biadasz earned his first Pro Bowl trip. But had they retained Williams at guard, even on just a one-year “prove it” deal, his presence would’ve helped the team weather the storm from injuries to Tyron Smith, Terence Steele, Connor McGovern, and Matt Farniok and the musical chairs that ensued.
Sure, this is a total “hindsight is 20/20” argument. The Cowboys had a solid plan going into the season with rookie Tyler Smith at left guard and Tyron and Steele at the tackles. But things got so bad injury-wise that some fans were missing Connor Williams. Hearing how well he was doing in Miami didn’t help matters, either.
The real burn, though, was the other Cowboy-turned-Dolphin in Cedrick Wilson. After four years of flashing potential in Dallas, buried on the depth chart behind Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb his last two years, Wilson got a three-year, $22 million deal from Miami. But with a logjam at receiver and whatever other issues he had finding a role there, Wilson only had 12 catches for 136 yards in the 15 games he played.
Of course, we don’t know how he would have performed had he stayed in Dallas. But it stands to reason that Wilson would have done much better building on his proven chemistry with Dak Prescott and his knowledge of Kellen Moore’s offense. After 45 catches for 602 yards and six touchdowns in 2021, Wilson could’ve really helped the Cowboys’ beleaguered WR depth chart last season.
After discarding Amari Cooper last spring, Dallas hoped to fill out the top three with either veteran James Washington or rookie Jalen Tolbert. Neither worked out, leaving the Cowboys scrambling with longtime backup Noah Brown and late-season addition T.Y. Hilton.
It’s hard to imagine that Cedrick Wilson wouldn’t have been more productive than any of these guys. He might have even emerged as WR2 last year with Gallup’s struggles. Getting this extra sixth-round pick for him now is all fine and dandy, but what if Wilson had helped the Cowboys win the NFC East, a number-one seed, or even more in the playoffs?
These are the harsh realities of the salary cap and free agency. You can’t see the future and you have to make decisions based on the overall picture. The Cowboys seemed to dodge a bullet on Randy Gregory, who they did try to sign for similar money to what he got from Denver, but suffered from losing Connor Williams and Cedrick Wilson given how last season unfolded.
Dallas leans hard on the compensatory pick system. Based on data released by the NFL, the Cowboys have received 52 extra picks since the system was created in 1994. It’s the second-highest total of any team; only Baltimore has had more with 55 picks awarded.
Maybe one of these extra picks will be worth the loss. Getting another Damone Clark, DaRon Bland, or Donovan Wilson would be lovely, but the odds favor these late-round picks either contributing little or perhaps not even making the team.
But for a Dallas team that’s trying to win today, they can’t keep relying on a system that’s all about tomorrow. Losing talent only to pick up new developmental projects a year later, who may not even help you until 2-3 seasons later, is a dangerous game.
If the Cowboys keep approaching their offseasons this way, tomorrow may never come.