The Dallas Cowboys made a big move on Tuesday as they traded a fifth-round compensatory pick for five-time Pro Bowl corner Stephon Gilmore. The minimal draft capital they gave up to get him isn’t as relevant as the $10 million cap hit that goes with it. The Indianapolis Colts get some cap relief while the Cowboys now take on the burden. It’s a fair price to pay for a highly-decorated veteran who can immediately step in and play the other starting outside corner spot opposite Trevon Diggs.
With the news that Donovan Wilson is also returning to Dallas after signing a three-year extension, the Cowboys' secondary now looks like this:
- Trevon Diggs (outside CB)
- Stephon Gilmore (outside CB)
- DaRon Bland (slot CB)
- Jayron Kearse (SS/hybrid LB)
- Malik Hooker (FS)
- Donovan Wilson (SS)
That is six quality defensive backs and that doesn’t even take into account Israel Mukuamu who is a hybrid CB/S that has shown he can contribute in the slot. Jourdan Lewis is also in the last year of his contract, but who knows if the team can justify paying his $4.5 base salary with the latest move. And third-year players Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright are going to have a tough time earning a spot on the roster.
Gilmore was selected 10th overall in the 2012 draft. It’s a little ironic that Jerry Jones was so adamant about getting the best corner in the 2012 draft that he traded away a second-round pick to move up and select Morris Claiborne at sixth overall. Needless to say, Claiborne wasn’t the best corner in the draft and flamed out a few years later after a short career filled with injuries. So, here we are 11 years later, and Jones again pulls off a trade that lands him the actual best corner in that draft, Gilmore.
The move to secure Gilmore combined with retaining both Wilson as well as Leighton Vander Esch tells us the Cowboys are honed in on keeping this defense strong. Led by playmakers on the edge with Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence, the team also has an All-Pro corner in Diggs and a borderline Pro Bowl safety in Kearse, or even Wilson for that matter. And with youngsters like Bland, Osa Odighizuwa, Sam Williams, and Damone Clark, this unit should be primed to be even better in 2023. And that says a lot considering they were already second in the league in defense DVOA last season.
With all eyes focused on fixing the offense, the Cowboys are doubling down to make one of the league's strongest defensive units even stronger. While they haven’t even begun making moves to better the offense, they’re taking action and constructing a group that should challenge to be one of the more dominant units in the NFL. They are coming off a season where they saw Cooper Rush go 4-1 when filling in for Dak Prescott, and it wasn’t because of Rush’s stellar playmaking ability. The Cowboys won games because Dan Quinn’s defense flat-out dominated, and there is nothing more Dak-friendly than a dominating defense.
Are the Cowboys done improving their roster? Not even close. Are new offensive resources on the way? You betcha. And while the exact changes coming on offense are still unknown, it has to be a good feeling to see the Cowboys make strong moves to make the defense even better.
The Cowboys just freed up a bunch of cap space by restructuring the contracts of Dak Prescott, Zack Martin, and even Michael Gallup. They didn’t free up all that cap space just for free-agent signings as many of those come with low first-year cap hits. They freed up money so they could have some dancing chips this year to take on another player's salary, and so far that player is Gilmore.
This might not have been the big move we were expecting or the direction we thought they were going to go, but this team just got better with a savvy veteran corner who can shut down his man with minimal help. With Parsons exploding off the edge, Wilson blitzing through the middle, the ball-hawking Diggs floating around, and now the smothering Gilmore on the other side, things just got really hard for the opposing offense. It’s early, but it’s moves like this that Super Bowl-winning teams look back on and realize how big of a role they played in helping them take home the prize.