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Cowboys on borrowed time with bargain contracts

Dallas has a short-term window with several key players still on their rookie deals

2023 NFL Pro Bowl Games Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Cowboys head into the 2023 season still enjoying the fruits of success in recent NFL drafts. They have several key players on relatively cheap contracts for their positions, but that will only last for so long. That makes the next few seasons a significant opportunity for Dallas to finally get back to the mountaintop.

You’ve heard plenty already this offseason about potential new contracts for WR CeeDee Lamb and CB Trevon Diggs. One or both could even get extensions sometime in the next month or so before training camp. Micah Parsons is not far behind. Down the line, Tyler Smith will need a re-up.

Dallas currently enjoys an incredible bargain with these young stars. If they don’t make any moves this offseason on Diggs or Lamb, that means their top receiver, pass rusher, cornerback, and perhaps their starting left tackle count a combined $17 million against the 2023 salary cap.

To put that in perspective, DeMarcus Lawrence counts $17.1 million by himself. That’s a little under $10 million less than what Dak Prescott counts. Others like Zack Martin, Tony Pollard, and Stephon Gilmore count about $10-11 million just on their own.

Obviously, this is a slamming deal right now for the Cowboys. Market value for top players at WR, OT, CB, and edge is at least $20 million, with a few going into the $25 and even near $30 million range annually.

Given their unusually aggressive moves this year to acquire guys like Gilmore and Brandin Cooks, Dallas seems to recognize that they’re on borrowed time. They’re going all-in for 2023 in a way we haven’t seen from this organization in a while. Knowing that they’ll eventually have to allocate much more of their cap to the likes of Lamb, Diggs, and Parsons is a big reason why.

Some of the money for keeping these stars will come from current high-cost talent. DeMarcus Lawrence’s money will eventually become a big chunk of Micah Parson’s contract. Gilmore’s will go to Diggs, Tyron Smith’s to Tyler Smith, and so on. The circle of NFL life continues.

Unfortunately, though, you also have to deal with annual inflation. If Tyler Smith becomes the franchise left tackle that we hope him to be, he’s going to cost more than Tyron Smith ever did. You hope that the increases in the salary cap stay commensurate with the ever-rising cost of talent, but it’s almost impossible to keep everything in balance from year to year.

The Cowboys do seem to be strategizing around the retention of their young superstars. They’ve held on to an estimated $24 million in cap space this offseason. While some would like to see that going towards more talent and depth on the roster, it’s probably already set aside for some of these impending contract increases.

How Dallas navigates the salary cap over the next few years is critical to the team’s success. Can they hang on to Parsons, Lamb, Diggs, and others while also keeping the rest of the team competitive? That future concern puts an even greater emphasis on the present; the need for the Cowboys to win now before managing the roster becomes even more challenging.

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