The Dallas Cowboys have 22 players entering the last year of their contracts. For a lot of these players, the upcoming season will be the last one they play in a Cowboys uniform. For the Cowboys' front office, this means there are some tough decisions ahead of them. Today, we’re going to go through these players and determine which ones should be prioritized for a contract extension and which ones can just play out their deals and look for a new home next offseason.
The Cowboys are keeping their All-Pro corner. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether they will be proactive or be forced to use the franchise tag next offseason.
The Cowboys traded up to acquire this Badger blocker and he’s developed into everything they could hope for. He continues to improve, and his growth last year earned him Pro Bowl honors. Biadasz is a great communicator, helping call out protections at the line of scrimmage and his pass-blocking keeps improving as he didn’t allow a single sack last year. Not only is he a reliable piece to the offensive line, but the Cowboys don’t really have many backup centers left on the roster as Matt Farniok would be the next best option. The Cowboys shouldn’t overthink this one. Reliable players are allows a good investment.
Sticking with the offensive line, Steele is another blocking ace that has seen significant growth in his development. This UDFA was thrown to the wolves during his rookie season as he manned the right side. While there were many learning moments, his improvement was so good that he played La’el Collins off the roster. Steele is playing under the $4.3 million second-round tender this season and is coming off an injury. Those factors could provide the Cowboys a hint of leverage and allow them to get a nice team-friendly deal done before he strings together another good season and becomes even more expensive next offseason.
This might not be the safety you were expecting to see in this group, Hooker is the top coverage safety on the roster. After struggling to stay healthy during his time in Indianapolis, he has found a new bill of health in the Cowboys' secondary rotation. Hooker has played in career-high games in back-to-back seasons so it’s not surprising to see him producing good numbers. While the team has many strong safety options, Hooker is the only true free safety they have on the roster. If they can sign him to another deal that would give him a raise but also be somewhat reasonable, he would be worth bringing back.
Wait and See
This next group of players has more to do with what happens with other players than what they themselves do as they fall into that bridge category.
The team traded a late-round draft pick to rent Gilmore’s services for a year. He provides a veteran presence on the outside opposite Trevon Diggs, but the steps their younger corners take this year will determine how valuable he is to the team going forward.
Dallas traded for Hankins last season when they were struggling to stop the run. Nose options like Carlos Watkins and Quinton Bohanna were average at best. This year they’ve added first-round pick Mazi Smith and in a perfect world Hankins would provide a one-year bridge and bounce, but as we’ve all seen, the world is not perfect.
The Cowboys waited to round six before they invested in running back Deuce Vaughn, and while there are reasons to like that pick, we’ll have to see things come to fruition first. Jones is an interesting veteran who could give the running back group a little pop in what otherwise is an explosive duo of Tony Pollard and Vaughn.
The range of outcomes for this low-cost free agent goes from final roster cut to starting left guard. With so much to be figured out on the Cowboys' offensive line, the 26-year-old veteran is squarely in the mix for playing time which may or may not extend past the upcoming season.
While Jess Nevarez was out covering the Dallas Stars game, I joined Brandon Loree on the latest episode of The Writers Block as we discussed what the Cowboys should do with some of these players in the last year of their contracts.
It’s time to say goodbye
Who doesn’t like a little explosiveness in your offense and that is what Pollard has brought to the Cowboys since joining the team in 2019. Playing a position that takes a beating as well as containing a large amount of supply, it’s hard to justify the team throwing heavy resources his way. The front office is just coming off what should be a lesson learned with Ezekiel Elliott. Pollard is a great player, but he’s missed time with a torn plantar fascia, thigh, and that nasty ankle injury in last year’s playoff game. He’s not injury prone by any means, but running backs notoriously take a beating so exploring a cheaper option is the way to go.
Speaking of taking a beating, Smith has battled father time since 2016 where he’s missed time due to injury in seven consecutive seasons. He’s on a one-year team-friendly deal now and nobody is going to complain if they re-up with something similar after the season, but it’s only a matter of time before the mileage on this future Hall of Famer causes him to hang it up.
Kearse is the best safety on the roster, but recent investments in Donovan Wilson and DaMarvion Overshown give the team an abundance of line-of-scrimmage lurking defenders. It would be great to keep him around, but they would be better served to spread out their resources.
The same argument can be made for Fowler at the edge position. In a vacuum, he’s great. On the Cowboys, he’s depth. With Micah Parsons and Sam Williams the future at edge, the team must keep looking for low-cost veterans that won’t command a lion's share of the reps.
The front office looked like geniuses after re-signing Armstrong and watching him take off early in the year (five sacks in his first six games). He did slow down a bit only having half a sack over his last six games. Still, Armstrong is a do-it-all guy and he’s undoubtedly valuable to the team, but he’s likely to be more valuable to a team where more reps are available.
The veteran has been a solid slot corner for this defense in recent years, but suddenly the Cowboys have a slew of candidates who can play slot. DaRon Bland is the top choice now and Israel Mukuamu might be right there with Lewis for the backup spot. Not to mention, they’re letting Kelvin Joseph take a crack at it (but don’t hold your breath on that one). All this means there is little need for Lewis and it wouldn’t be too shocking to see him be released this year to save the Cowboys $4.5 million in cap space.
The emergence of Osa Odighizuw has relegated Gallimore to a reserve role. Plus, the team just drafted Viliami Fehoko and still has the sometimes-interior-rushing Chauncey Golston on the team. The 3-tech spot suddenly has become a packed house and with roster spots scarce, not only is Gallimore not likely to be re-signed next offseason, but he could make a potential trade candidate for a team needing a defensive tackle.
This UDFA is a solid blocking tight end, but the Cowboys added three new ones (Luke Schoonmaker, Jake Ferguson, and Peyton Hendershot) over the last 14 months. McKeon still might have a role as TE4, and he won’t cost much, but neither would another newcomer like UDFA Princeton Fant.
The other guys
This group includes C.J. Goodwin (special teams), Trent Sieg (long-snapper), Takkarist McKinley (edge), Rico Dowdle (running back), Will Grier (quarterback), and Malik Davis (running back). The Cowboys may choose to bring them back or they may release them before the start of the season. They’ll have a little time to show their worth, but none of these players would be considered huge losses for the Cowboys if they aren’t around much longer.