We’re less than two weeks away from the start of the 2023 NFL Draft. As we think about the potential ripple effects that it could bring to the Dallas Cowboys roster, what if they draft another pass rusher early in the process? An addition at defensive end could mean someone has to go, and the fall guy in that scenario just might be Dorance Armstrong.
This may sound heretical on the surface. After all, Armstrong was second on the team with 8.5 sacks last year. He provides solid value with just a $7.25 salary cap hit in 2023. You could do a lot worse in terms of bang for your cap space buck.
But think about the pass-rushing stable heading into next season. You have Micah Parsons, technically a linebacker but practically an edge in Dallas. Then there are the veterans: Armstrong, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Dante Fowler. You also have second- and third-year prospects Sam Williams and Chauncey Golston.
With this group, plus former first-round pick Takk McKinley returning after a few months on the practice squad, the Cowboys could simply run it back from last year. And that’s the most likely scenario; why draft another edge rusher early with this squad already in place?
But the draft isn’t just about the upcoming season. Teams think about their short and long-term needs. Landing a talented prospect with a new four-year rookie contract can be a huge win, giving you flexibility and leverage in your negotiations with veterans who could be seeking new deals in the near future.
Armstrong and Fowler both have expiring contracts next year. With Lawrence due to have a $20 million cap hit and Parsons potentially needing an extension, Dallas needs to think about staffing their pass rushers beyond just 2023.
Let’s say the Cowboys were to spend a Day 1 or Day 2 pick at defensive end. They certainly could wind up cutting Fowler, who only had $1 million of dead money against a $3 million dollar cap hit. But could it make even more sense to look for a trade partner and move Armstrong?
If they wait until after June 1st to move Armstrong, Dallas would shave $5.75 million off the current salary cap. It would mean $3 million in dead money next year, but that’s not too hard to work around. The 2023 savings could be used to help fund new deals for CB Trevon Diggs or WR Ceedee Lamb, which are expected perhaps later this offseason.
Additionally, the Cowboys would be moving Armstrong perhaps at the best possible time for compensation. His stock could easily go down after this year if he’s losing snaps to Sam Williams or whatever player they draft.
Even if Dallas were to get a 2025 compensatory pick for losing Armstrong in 2024, it might not be worth what they could get for him in a trade this year.
Again, this probably isn’t happening because Dallas doesn’t need to be worried about its pass rushers right now. They have bigger fish to fry with their early draft picks; offensive line, wide receiver, linebacker, and other positions quickly come to mind.
But some teams are going into this draft looking for pass-rush help. If they don’t find it, a 25-year-old (26 in June) with 8.5 sacks last year and just a $5 million base salary in 2023 wouldn’t be a bad option.
If a talented defensive end falls to Dallas at one of those early picks, they could be tempted. We’ve outlined why based on the Cowboys’ contract situations with Parsons and the defensive ends. If that happens, trading Dorance Armstrong might be the wisest way to deal with a potential post-draft logjam.