The Dallas Cowboys front office had a difficult task this offseason. They had to bring back several key free agents on defense, as well as finding a way to improve the team’s situation heading into the 2023 season. They excelled at both. They brought back their biggest pending free agents, and they went out and brought in key veterans who can help push the team over the top. Here are the best five moves the Cowboys have gone out and made this offseason so far. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn declining to take a head coaching job to remain with the Dallas Cowboys will not be included on this list as it was not a move the Cowboys made. With that being said, it was still arguably the best part of the offseason for the Cowboys.
5. Releasing RB Ezekiel Elliott.
What was probably one of the hardest decisions the Jones family has had to make in recent years, releasing RB Ezekiel Elliott was clearly the right decision from a business standpoint. Elliott is an incredible locker room presence and has been a leader and fan-favorite in this organization for the seven years he spent with the team. However, Elliott has trended down in production over his last several seasons with the team. His 3.8 yards per carry in 2022 was his worst of his career, and it felt as though any rep he received over explosive playmaker Tony Pollard was a mistake.
Elliott would have had a $16.72 million cap hit in 2023 had he remained on the team, so the decision to release him was a no-brainer for the organization. Still, it can never be easy releasing someone who has made the impact on an organization the way Elliott has had in his career. The front office deserves its props for making the tough, yet wise, decision.
4. Bringing back both LB Leighton Vander Esch and S Donovan Wilson on team-friendly contracts.
One of the bigger concerns for the Cowboys heading into this offseason was their ability to bring back either LB Leighton Vander Esch or S Donovan Wilson in free agency. Both players were expected to command contracts out of the Cowboys preferred price range after having tremendous seasons with the team. However, the Cowboys re-signed Vander Esch on a two-year deal worth up to $10 million, and Wilson to a three-year deal worth up to $24 million.
Both of these contracts appear as bargains for the team. Both players were their top-two leaders in tackles on the team, and bringing them back brings valuable consistency this upcoming season. If the Cowboys plan to contend for a Super Bowl in 2023 like they hope, it would not be possible if they had lost either of these two players.
3. Trading for WR Brandin Cooks.
The Cowboys were right when they expected WR CeeDee Lamb to produce as a WR1 in the NFL after they traded WR Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns. However, they were not prepared for the drop-off they would experience at the WR2 position. The team got very little separation or production from their other wide receivers on their depth chart throughout the 2022 season.
The Cowboys fixed that by making a trade of tremendous value when they got Houston Texans WR Brandin Cooks. They traded a 2023 fifth-round pick and a 2024 sixth-round pick for the veteran. Cooks is a player who provides a deep threat for Prescott and can be a veteran presence in the WR room. The Cowboys came into the offseason with their WR2 and CB2 being their biggest needs to address on the team. They made serious improvements to both positions, as our next move in this list shows.
2. Trading for CB Stephon Gilmore.
The biggest weakness in the Cowboys defense in the 2022 season was their CB2 position across from CB Trevon Diggs. Diggs had a very efficient season in the secondary, however, the play across from him was often inconsistent. CB Anthony Brown was far from perfect in the first half of the season, and when he went down the team struggled even more at finding a consistent outside corner.
The Cowboys more than solved their problem when they traded a compensatory fifth-round pick for Indianapolis Colts CB Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore not only provides a veteran presence in the secondary, it also forms arguably the best cornerback duo in the NFL.
Best cornerback duo in the NFL pic.twitter.com/VJxTvcSSXZ— Chris Halling (@Cowboys_Squad) March 14, 2023
1. Moving on from Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator.
The Dallas Cowboys made the difficult decision of moving on from their long-time coordinator Kellen Moore early into the offseason. The move led to mixed reactions from the Cowboys fanbase, as Moore has been apart of some of the highest ranking NFL offseasons across the NFL over the last several seasons.
The Cowboys offense struggled in some of their biggest moments in the season, such as their divisional round loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Moore’s inconsistencies as a coordinator and the Cowboys continued lack of success in the playoffs were good enough reasons for the team to look in another direction at play-calling in the 2023 season. It will be exciting to see what HC Mike McCarthy can bring to the offense and how his play-calling will vary from Moore’s.