It has been a remarkably satisfying free agency for the Dallas Cowboys.
They have made two of the most highly-regarded trades this offseason. Those, by the way, may be a new tool they have honed as another way of using their resources to upgrade the team. They have re-signed or otherwise retained some key players from last season. And they have made some judicious and useful outside signings to help assure they have no major holes and shore up the depth.
And we are still over a month away from the draft. It is a position we are just not used to seeing them in at this stage of things.
So with the draft still pending, what is the shape of the roster right now? Here is a look, with how they compare to the in-season roster last year, AFTER they had added the 2022 draft class into the mix.
The return of Cooper Rush as Dak Prescott’s backup puts this clearly in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category. With Will Grier also under contract, they are in the same shape as last year. And while some detractors are out there, this is actually one of the best QB rooms in the league.
Tony Pollard has signed his tag, and is now the main man. The departure of Ezekiel Elliott was necessary from both a cap and production standpoint. However, that leaves the backups less encouraging. They are weaker here than last season. Expect them to invest some draft capital here, although there is a real possibility of over-drafting at this position.
CeeDee Lamb is a strong WR1, and now they have a much better and faster WR2 in Brandin Cooks. That bumps Michael Gallup to WR3. His recovery from injury did not go as well as hoped last year, but it is not unreasonable to think he will be in better condition to start 2023, and just having him on the field is a help. The depth is still questionable, but it is not worse than last season. And the draft could bring an upgrade, although hopes should be tempered in light of how weak this year’s crop is seen to be.
This is one place an objective look says the team is in worse shape. Dalton Schultz walked in free agency, which seemed to be the team’s intent all along. Dallas is banking on Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot to take up the slack. How well they can remains to be seen. This is another position to watch in the draft, including on the first two days.
Terence Steele is going to be back on his RFA tender, and now we have our fingers crossed that he is ready to go for the start of the season (he looks great right now by the way). Tyron Smith is also back and may be the starting LT across from Steele, but that always comes with a real likelihood he will miss time. Tyler Smith is who would fill in for Tyron, but the plan for now seems to be to have him start the year at LG. Zack Martin and Tyler Biadasz fill out the interior of the line.
That is about where they were to end the season in 2022, although Steele and Tyron Smith were both in and out of the lineup. The signing of FA Chuma Edoga may make up for the departure of last year’s starting LG Connor McGovern. They seem to be in a better position here, but if we take health concerns into account, it probably is closer to a wash.
This looks very good, especially since the team will again utilize Micah Parsons to boost the pass rush. Re-signing Dante Fowler to go along with DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, and Sam Williams was a good move, as Fowler was a key cog last season. Takk McKinley may get into the mix as well. This may be a bit better group than last year with Williams having a year under his belt.
The interior of the line is weaker with Johnathan Hankins still not officially back in the fold. The team wants him back, and we hope that is his eventual intent. He was a useful big body against the run. Osa Odighizuwa is their best DT, while Neville Gallimore seemed to have a bit of a down 2022. Quinton Bohanna offers some hope as a big run stopper, but I think they really need to bring Hankins back, whenever he can be coaxed to return. The team also moves people around a lot on the line, and Chauncey Golston may be part of what they do in the interior, as well as some packages that see four ends on the field at once. Still, this is an area they may have taken a step back, especially with Carlos Watkins not on the team.
Re-signing Leighton Vander Esch was huge. His effect on last year’s defense was evident, especially as Dan Quinn’s field general. Parsons is part of the mix, but as mentioned he splits time. Damone Clark was a pleasant surprise last season, given that it was unsure he would even see the field as he recovered from offseason surgery. The question is whether he will be better than Anthony Barr was. Depth remains an issue. Things are a bit to be determined here.
By the way, the addition of Bobby Wagner would turn the linebacker group into something of a monster, but there is an overwhelming likelihood that is not going to happen.
New Cowboy Stephon Gilmore may be getting long in the tooth in football years, but I don’t think anyone will argue that he is not better than Anthony Brown was before he was injured last season. Trevon Diggs will be back, Jourdan Lewis is hoped to be fully recovered, and DaRon Bland vastly outperformed his draft position. Now Israel Mukuamu may be possibly switching to corner from safety, and that excites me, at least. I think this group has definitely improved.
It’s really a toss-up whether Donovan Wilson or Vander Esch was the most important re-signing, and that is a good thing. Wilson is flat out an enforcer on the field. Jayron Kearse continues to be the best signing from 2021. Depth is a bit thin behind Malik Hooker, so this is a place we can expect someone to be drafted, but probably on day three. Overall, this is another situation where things are just about the same as last year.
The Cowboys have one big issue, placekicker. Tristan Vizcaino is the only one under contract, and we will kind of hold our breath until he starts taking kicks in the OTAs. As angry as we were with Brett Maher in the playoffs, he was very good through the regular season. Right now, they are worse here, and this is not a position where the draft is usually relevant.
Remember, this is a comparison of where the team was late in 2022 versus where they are now. If you look at how Tyler Smith, Williams, Ferguson, Bland, and Clark all made contributions last year, then a comparison of the team now with a year ago is no contest. They go into the draft in far better shape this year. That is a very good thing.