We are just a couple of weeks away from the NFL draft and the number of favorite prospects for the Dallas Cowboys keeps rolling in. While it’s fun to take a look at what type of players would fit well with this team, it’s also a good idea to put on our forward-thinking caps and evaluate things longer term. The Cowboys would be wise to stay a step ahead of the game and look for prospects that could fill key voids left by eventual departing players.
Today, we’re going to look at the Cowboys' three most expensive players who will be unrestricted free agents in 2024 and see if there are any players in the upcoming draft who might be good replacements.
Average salary: $12.2 million
It’s been a great run, but all good things must come to an end. The veteran tackle will be entering his 13th and possibly final year of his playing career as he finishes his contract in Dallas. Smith was one of the best tackles in the game through the first half of his career and is still a good player, but he’s struggled to stay healthy over the last several years. You could say the Cowboys already took action planning for Smith’s departure with the selection of Tyler Smith in last year’s draft, but with Terence Steele yet to be locked down, the tackle position raises some questions.
Replacement: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
In true Cowboys fashion, the team could again look to use their top draft resource to solidify the trenches. Tennessee’s Darnell Wright fits the mold the Cowboys look for as he’s a pure-strength guy who has the smarts to play multiple spots. Not only is Wright strong, but his hand technique is already outstanding and he has all the tools to fend off would-be rushers. Similar to what the team did with Tyler Smith last year, and with Zack Martin nearly a decade ago, the team could draft his raw ability and move him inside to fill a need at guard. Wright is an official 30-visit for the Cowboys.
Average salary: $10.1 million
The Cowboys released Ezekiel Elliott this offseason and slapped the franchise tag on Pollard, meaning both of the team’s running backs who were anchoring the ground attack in recent years could be gone by this time next year. Pollard has provided great explosiveness that fans have come to appreciate, especially from a fourth-round draft pick, but as great as he’s been, could the Cowboys possibly supplement his play-making ability with a similar low-cost draft investment? We profess they can.
Replacement: Israel Abanikanda, RB, Pittsburgh
This draft is filled with running back talent and the Cowboys don’t need to be impatient going after one. Players like Zach Evans, Tank Bigsby, Kendre Miller, and Kenny McIntosh are just a few Day 3 candidates that should be great values for NFL teams. One of those values is Pittsburgh’s Israel Abanikanda. At just 20 years of age, this kid is still developing, but he’s off to a great start as he led the ACC in rushing while finding the end zone 21 times last year. Abanikanda has top-shelf speed to house runs similar to Pollard’s, but he also brings a little toughness to his running game. Like Pollard before him, Abanikanda can power through arm tackles and displays good yards after contact. And once again, like TP, the youngster will enter the NFL without a lot of mileage on that body. A pick like this could give Dallas a lot of return on their investment. Note: Abanikanda is not an official 30 visit for the Cowboys, but he did have a formal meeting with the team at the combine.
Average salary: $10 million
Gilmore wasn’t even on this Cowboys roster a couple of months ago, yet here we are already trying to figure out a replacement. The team did a great job trading for this veteran to secure the outside corner spot opposite Trevon Diggs for the 2023 season, but what happens after Gilmore is gone? The Cowboys have set themselves to not have to reach for need, but rather be a little more patient and take a player who can gradually develop into the starter role. And what player falls into that category?
Replacement: Tyrique Stevenson, CB, Miami
The Miami corner is the prototypical build the Cowboys look for in their cornerback. His size and length have been his bread in butter in college as Stevenson uses his hands extremely well to re-route the receivers. He also has the temperament and attack mentality to close on receivers and blow up ball carries in the running game. While there are some things about his game that might give teams pause in terms of being an immediate starter, his growth last year puts him on an upward trend and could make him a viable piece in 2024 or even midway through this upcoming season. This makes Stevenson an intriguing candidate for a potential Day 2 pick of the Cowboys. Like Wright above, Stevenson is also an official 30 visit for Dallas.