With the release of Ezekiel Elliott finally becoming official on the salary cap, the Cowboys will receive another $10.9 million in space. If Dallas wants to use this newfound wealth to strengthen this year’s roster, what free agents are still out there who could help the team in 2023?
It’s important to note that the Zeke cap savings may already be earmarked for contract extensions on current talent. It’s been generally assumed that at least one of QB Dak Prescott, WR CeeDee Lamb, or CB Trevon Diggs could be getting a new deal before the end of the offseason. If that is Dallas’ plan, this conversation may be moot.
Still, it’s entirely possible that the Cowboys could do a little of both. Prescott and Lamb aren’t scheduled to become free agents until 2025, which bides some time. Diggs is the only one they have to move on now if they want to get ahead of his contract expiring.
If Dallas is looking to dip a little further into the free agent market before the start of the season here are three unsigned veterans who might be worth a look.
G Dalton Risner
A second-round pick by Denver in 2019, Risner has started every game he’s played in and only missed four in as many seasons. He’s been used at guard by the Broncos but has flexibility as a right tackle or center option from his college days.
While Risner’s never lived up to the expectations of being a Day 2 pick, he’s been reliably average overall. He could be a boost to a Dallas offensive line that needs more experienced depth across the board, particularly with its interior line.
It remains to be seen how the Cowboys will ultimately deploy Tyron Smith, Terence Steele, and Tyler Smith this season. While the younger Smith may be the starting left guard in 2023, or Steele for that matter, who knows if all three of them will be ready to play in Week 1? Tyron’s availability is always a moving target.
Given this, it might be nice to have more starting experience in the mix with a guy like Dalton Risner. He would certainly give Chuma Edoga, Matt Farniok, or Asim Richards a run for their money if there’s an open competition at left guard, and if nothing else he could provide versatile depth for hopefully a solid bargain as he remains unsigned.
OT Taylor Lewan
If the plan is to start both Smiths and Steele in 2023, one thing Dallas may not have found yet this offseason is a true swing tackle. They could do a lot worse than this former Pro Bowler and first-round pick, who has reportedly been considering retirement but hasn’t made it official yet.
After a brilliant start to his career, Lewan had a rough go lately with a suspension in 2019 and season-ending knee injuries in 2020 and 2022. Turning 32 next month, it’d be no surprise if he decided to hang it up. But if Lewan is looking to get at least a few more NFL paychecks and play for a contender, Dallas could be a good fit.
Again, Tyron Smith is completely unreliable at this point. It’s likely that Lewan would see action at some point in 2023 and perhaps in some critical games. Like Smith, he was once one of the premier left tackles in football. While perhaps no longer able to play at that elite level, Lewan could at least fill a void in an emergency.
This one comes down to how badly Lewan still wants to play and his willingness to accept a reduced role. But he hasn’t announced retirement yet for a reason, and perhaps it’s the hope to continue his career in the right situation.
LB Deion Jones
The Cowboys have already proven they have a thing for Dan Quinn’s former Falcons players (e.g. Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee, Takk McKinley). Why not Jones, who not only helps at a position of need but is still just 28 years old.
Jones was a Pro Bowler in 2017 under Quinn as an off-ball linebacker. While the Cowboys do have Leighton Vander Esch, Damone Clark, Jabril Cox, and rookie DeMarvion Overshown to fill most of the LB depth chart, there is a woeful lack of experience there outside of Vander Esch.
On the small side at just 6’1” and 222 lbs, Jones plays linebacker similarly to how the Cowboys deploys safety Jayron Kearse at times. He has the athleticism and ball skills to make plays in space. Jones would also help replace the veteran presence lost with Anthony Barr’s departure.
Even if Dallas is content to make Clark a starting LB this year, Cox is still wildly unproven and Overshown may not be ready for much right away. Jones would not only shore these concerns but could even challenge Clark and Vander Esch for playing time if his reunion with Dan Quinn brings back his previous form.