It’s happening! The week of free agency is here and it’s time for the Dallas Cowboys to finally show their cards as they begin their roster adjustments for the 2023 season. While there will be a few outside free agent additions added here and there, we’ve heard how the front office loves to re-invest in their own guys. With that in mind, we thought we’d offer up one final opportunity to figure out the fate of some of the Cowboys' own free agents and guess whether they will be re-signed or if the team will let them walk in free agency.
The no brainers
TE Dalton Schultz
The team already used its franchise tag on Tony Pollard, so if Schultz is going to return to the Cowboys it’s going to come via a long-term deal. And considering the team has a couple of promising youngsters in Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot, it’s hard seeing the team commit more financial resources at the tight end position. Additionally, the draft offers a good group of tight ends where the team can once again dip in the pool and bring up another player to develop.
PREDICTION: Let walk. He’s earned a nice payday, but it won’t come from the Cowboys.
OG Connor McGovern
The team spent a third-round pick on him back in 2019, but unfortunately, injuries and depth kept him out of the mix for the first part of his career. But with Connor Williams leaving in free agency and injuries to other players this past season, McGovern saw the most action he’s ever seen. He played in 88% of the snaps and started 15 games for the Cowboys last year. McGovern is a solid player and it would be nice to have him back on a cheap deal, but McGovern should draw interest from teams who need starting help along the interior offensive line. With Matt Farniok still in the Cowboys' back pocket, it’s hard to justify extending much of an offer to McGovern.
PREDICTION: Let walk. He’ll be more valuable to some other team.
DT Johnathan Hankins
The Cowboys traded away their 2023 sixth-round pick to acquire the services of Johnathan Hankins from Las Vegas last season. A pectoral injury caused him to miss some time, but when he was available he was able to provide a solid presence along the interior defensive line. The team has gone cheap at nose tackle in the past, but Hankins is one of their stronger, more fundamentally sound acquisitions. Bringing him back for another year would keep the 1-tech DT spot afloat.
PREDICTION: Re-sign. The Cowboys bring him back on another low-cost, short-term deal.
Players who are priced out
S Donovan Wilson
The team’s sixth-round safety from 2019 picked a great time to break out as he had a tremendous season last year. Not only did he lead the team in tackles but he had five sacks, two forced fumbles, and a pick. Anyone who watched Cowboys games last year saw the impact he made on the field. Unfortunately for Dallas, other NFL teams in the market for a safety also watched those games. The Cowboys already have Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, and Israel Mukuamu on the roster, so how much the Cowboys value him compared to other teams will be the deciding factor in this one.
PREDICTION: Let walk. His splash-play highlights will bring him a bigger contract than the Cowboys are willing to pay.
EDGE Dante Fowler
Similar to Wilson, Fowler made his presence known on the football field. This former third-overall pick had six sacks last year, which is more than he had in each of his last two seasons. Hit fit nicely into the team’s pass-rushing rotation and it’s clear he still has the skills to get it done in the NFL. While it would be nice to have Fowler back, he should be able to find a larger role somewhere else and that larger role will come with more money. The Cowboys' edge group is rather deep with DeMarcus Lawrence, Micah Parsons, Dorance Armstrong, Sam Williams, and Chauncey Golston, so it’s hard to see them spending much for what would just be another depth piece.
PREDICTION: Let walk. If they pay him what he’ll command in free agency, then they’ll be forced to use him more and that would just make him a progress stopper.
If the price is right
LB Leighton Vander Esch
Determining Vander Esch’s fate is tricky because the range of outcomes is larger than some of these other guys. On one hand, a team may get a veteran linebacker who has proven he can make plays in each of the last two seasons. Yet, on the other hand, LVE is a guy who has had durability issues and that’s not where teams want to throw a lot of money. If Vander Esch’s market value isn’t as high as he hoped, we could envision a scenario where he returns to Dallas on a two-year, reasonably priced deal with cleverly constructed Sean Lee-like playing time incentives.
PREDICTION: Re-sign. The Cowboys bring him back on a fair-to-both-sides deal.
QB Cooper Rush
The veteran quarterback exceeded everyone’s expectations by stepping in and playing well in Dak Prescott’s absence last year. If the narratives created from the media circus last year were signing the checks, Rush would be in for nice pay raise. Realistically, cooler heads will prevail and teams will see exactly what he is which is a solid game manager with limited physical tools. This could drive his price back down to where a return to Dallas makes too much sense.
PREDICTION: Re-sign. The Cowboys bring him back and give him a small raise.
CB Anthony Brown
Suffering an Achilles injury in a contract year is a rather crummy hand to be dealt, but those are the cards for the Cowboys' veteran corner. When healthy, he’s a better corner than he’s given credit for, but coming off this type of injury will hinder what already-limited strengths he brings to the defense. Everyone in the league knows this, so he’s not likely to get the long-term deal he was in line for prior to getting hurt. Instead, he’s going to have to go through a one-year prove-it deal and the offers should be rather affordable. The Cowboys should look to the draft to find another starting corner opposite Trevon Diggs, but they could find Brown fall into their lap for depth. If he can string together a strong final month/playoff showing in a defense that knows how to make him look good, this could aid in a larger payday in 2024.
PREDICTION: Re-sign. It won’t be their plan, but Brown finds his way back on the Cowboys' roster for one final season.
DT Carlos Watkins
The veteran defensive tackle was an underrated free-agent addition in 2021, but the team’s surplus of depth resulted in the team leaving him off the final roster last season. Luckily, he was stashed on the practice squad and once again called upon to be a pleasant contributor in the trenches. He may not be the final product the team envisions at the nose, but he’s more than shown his value to this team and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them once again make him a last-minute addition to their squad in 2023.
PREDICTION: Re-sign. He won’t cost much and it’s hard to pass up savings like that.
WR Noah Brown
Every year at this time it feels like we’re always compelled to explain why Noah Brown will find his way on the Cowboys. And why wouldn’t we? Every year he does. We’re taking a different approach this year simply because the Cowboys must have adequate receiving options who can produce in the passing game. We’re not saying Brown isn’t roster-worthy. He is. We’re just saying the Cowboys aren’t going to settle for “solid” this time around.
PREDICTION: Let walk. There is just not room for him this year so he’ll find a home elsewhere.
Other notable free agents
Jason Peters - Let walk
While injuries still struck, the Cowboys were lucky to get 10 games out of him last year. At 41, they aren’t likely to be so lucky again. The team will leverage off of Josh Ball, Matt Waletzko, or another free agent acquisition to give them depth at tackle.
T.Y. Hilton - Let walk
Hilton was out of work for most of the year last season, so his services won’t be in high demand. With Dallas looking for better options this year, he shouldn’t be part of the mix this season.
Anthony Barr - Let walk
He was a serviceable add last year who logged a lot of playing time, but his level of play is nothing to get excited about. It shouldn’t be too difficult to replace him.
Luke Gifford - Let walk
Gifford hasn’t been able to earn much playing time on defense, but he’s a strong contributor on special teams. The coaching staff would love to bring him back, but he could receive an offer that comes with a slight pay bump from another team in need of special teams help.
C.J. Goodwin - Let walk
His skill set is no longer hands-down better on special teams than what they have elsewhere and he offers nothing at the cornerback spot. There are more versatile youngsters that can step in and fill the void.
Brett Maher - Re-sign
The Cowboys will try to find a new answer at kicker, but the team will still have his number on speed dial if he gets no takers in free agency. And considering he’s coming off a forgettable wild card playoff performance, he won’t be in high demand.
For a complete offseason guide for the Dallas Cowboys, make sure to check out the 40 moves the team should make this season.