As they say in business - “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” The NFL operates much like any business or corporation. Networking and building relationships established on trust, familiarity, and sometimes nepotism create opportunities for players and coaches. Cowboys’ COO Stephen Jones has grown synonymous with the phrase “We like our guys.” That they do. The Cowboys often entertain reuniting with former players. For months and possibly years, Jerry Jones mused on the possibility of re-signing Dez Bryant after the club and player parted ways.
Jones also was rumored to want to re-sign running back Ezekiel Elliott before he ultimately agreed to a contract with the New England Patriots. Most recently, the Cowboys signed offensive linemen La’el Collins and linebacker Damien Wilson to their practice squad before the postseason. The precedent that Dallas would re-sign one of their former players back to the team is there. Here are five unrestricted free agents the Cowboys could bring back to Dallas this offseason.
Ezekiel Elliott, running back
Ezekiel Elliott is no longer a Dallas Cowboy because of his contract. A salary of $15M for Elliott was a cost too steep, and the Cowboys had to release the former All-Pro. In his absence, the Cowboys did miss his contributions. The Cowboys struggled to finish drives inside the five-yard line, and runners were routinely stopped short of the goal line. Elliott also left the Cowboys with less-than-stellar pass protection from the running back position.
The Cowboys do not need to re-sign Elliott to resume responsibilities as a lead back. Those days are no more. However, the Cowboys need better than what they received from a rookie, Deuce Vaughn. Tony Pollard will likely leave after finishing his season under the franchise tag, and Rico Dowdle is a free agent. At 28 years old, Elliott still has some tread on the tire and filled in admirably for an injured Rhamondre Stevenson.
Chidobe Awuzie, cornerback:
Since leaving Dallas, Awuzie has had a solid few seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. In 2021, Awuzie helped the Bengals reach the Super Bowl and recorded an interception off Los Angeles Rams’ quarterback Matthew Stafford. Awuzie has been in and out of the starting lineup this past season but still is an adequate player, if only for depth, and the Cowboys might need it. Stephon Gilmore is a free agent and will turn 34 years old in September. Trevon Diggs is on the mend from an ACL injury, and Jourdan Lewis is also set to hit free agency. DaRon Bland is the only viable, healthy starting cornerback under contract this season. Expect Awuzie’s terms below the $7.25M annual salary he received from the Bengals.
Cedrick Wilson, wide receiver:
You get the impression the Cowboys never wanted to lose Wilson in the first place. Wilson had a penchant for crucial catches at critical moments. Wilson made such an impression as a rotational piece in the Dallas offense that there was no way he could be retained. Predictably, Wilson signed a hefty contract with the Miami Dolphins but quickly took a tumble on the depth chart with the arrival of Tyreek Hill and the ascension of first-round pick Jaylen Waddle, playing alongside Tua Tagovailoa.
That said, if brought back to the Cowboys, Wilson could still be a special teams contributor and return punts if something were to happen to KaVontae Turpin. The chances of Wilson signing back with Dallas may also be a bit of a long shot because the team likes what it has in Jalen Brooks and Jalen Tolbert at the bottom of the depth chart. However, never say never. Wilson and quarterback Dak Prescott had chemistry when playing together. If Wilson has a quiet market entering free agency, he could find himself with an opportunity to impress the Cowboys coaching staff again.
Michael Jackson, cornerback:
Cornerback Mike Jackson had a short-lived history with the Cowboys. He was drafted in the fifth round of 2019 out of the University of Miami (Fl.) and has been a journeyman since. After leaving Dallas, Jackson had stints with the Detroit Lions and the Patriots before landing with the Seattle Seahawks. Jackson has developed a reputation as a tough, chippy cornerback that has good size (6’1”, 210 lbs.) and has proven he belongs on the field. Jackson took a bit of a downturn last season, but in 2022, Jackson allowed a 55% completion percentage and a passer rating of 75.1 when targeted while starting all 17 games. Ultimately, Jackson is the odd man out in Seattle with the additions of Cobi Bryant, Devon Witherspoon, and Riq Woolen with the Seahawks over the past two seasons.
Noah Brown, wide receiver
The Cowboys must be muttering to themselves how they didn’t get the production out of Noah Brown that he experienced this past season with the Houston Texans. The Cowboys drafted Brown in the seventh round of their heralded 2016 draft class, and there was a growing sense that Brown just needed time and was a diamond in the rough. The potential didn’t fully blossom in Dallas, and Brown is infamously remembered for a dropped pass that resulted in a game-winning pick-six against Jacksonville in 2022.
Brown set a career-high in receiving yards with 567 in just ten games, including a stretch where he posted consecutive weeks of 150 or more yards. Brown’s market shouldn’t break the bank because the inconsistency that drove some fans crazy is still underlined by the glimpses of what Brown can still be when given opportunities. Additionally, if Michael Gallup is a cap casualty, Brown could find himself back as a cheaper replacement as Dallas looks to shed Gallup’s contract.