Last year saw two surprising stars emerge for the Dallas Cowboys. Both were on defense. The first is, of course, Micah Parsons, who not only was the runaway winner of the Defensive Rookie of the Year award but might have been the Defensive Player of the Year. The other was also in the DPOY conversation. That was Trevon Diggs, who seemed to come out of nowhere to lead the NFL in interceptions, grabbing more of them than any player in the league since Everson Walls snagged 11 for Dallas way back in 1981. That was Diggs’ second year with the Cowboys, which means the team can open negotiations with him for a second contract at the conclusion of this season. The price tag is going to be high.
Alexander is coming off a season cut short by injury, only playing in the first four games in 2021. However, he was a Pro Bowler in 2020, and was a PFF All-Pro while being named to AP’s second team. He has the credentials for his big, new deal. We can now expect Diggs to see a second contract for even more.
The question is how soon he gets a new deal done, and with whom?
Logically, when a team has a young All-Pro player at one of the “money” or high value positions, the management should be ready to work hard to come up with a way to retain him. Doing that early rather than letting deadline pressure build is also smart. Dallas’ recent history may foretell a rocky road.
It is illustrative to look at the case of former Cowboys first-round pick Byron Jones. After the staff moved him from safety to cornerback, where he should have been all along, he also made the Pro Bowl and AP’s second-team All-Pro list. But after exercising their fifth-year option on him, Dallas let him sign with the Miami Dolphins. Jones was a lot like Alexander. He was very solid in coverage, often shutting down the opponent’s best WR. He also seldom got interceptions, another similarity. It is an open question how the staff and particularly the ownership view Diggs. He obviously excelled in coming down with the ball, but at times game up some big yardage in games. That is a more aggressive style. The gains made by the players he covered might be deceiving as well.
So what will Dallas, particularly Stephen Jones, do? There seem to be three options.
Get it done during the 2023 offseason
Understand the cost is going to be high, almost certainly pushing $25 million per year. Accept that, structure the contract to help with cap space, and lock up your rising star. Additionally, it is a near certainty his interceptions numbers will decline this year. That kind of rate is just not sustainable. It could be used as a way to negotiate a bit more favorable deal.
This is unfortunately the least likely outcome. “Deadlines make deals” is a bit of a mantra for the Jones family. It is a bad one, but as we saw with the Dak Prescott and DeMarcus Lawrence negotiations, it is one they do live by.
Get something done at the last moment
The deadline here is probably the beginning of the 2023 season. As we have seen, this will likely drive his price up over what could have been done six months earlier. This is slightly more likely than an early deal. But the lingering regrets over the cap hits Lawrence and Ezekiel Elliott represent after just those kinds of last minute deals don’t favor this. Once the season starts, both sides will probably want to see how things play out before any more real talks.
Let him hit free agency in 2024
Barring a real decline for Diggs, this is much more likely. The Cowboys could always meet or better any offer he gets, but they might not do so if Diggs attracts Alexander level money. Recent history tells us that once he hits the open market, he is gone. A true falloff in performance could lower his asking price. At the same time, it would make retaining him less of a priority for the team.
Tag him in 2024 before letting him walk
Once again, recent history makes this the most probable outcome. It looks like the plan with Dalton Schultz this year. Should Jones surprise us and get something done to extend Schultz before the season starts, we would have to recalibrate our thinking. But this year is one where a “wait and see” attitude is merited. Schultz’s situation clearly falls under that. The tag would get him for one more season, albeit at a high cap cost. For some reason, the ownership seems very comfortable with that.
Jones talks a lot about the team paying their own. Talk is cheap, and contracts are real money that he hates to spend in large quantities. We will probably see Dallas use a high pick or two to try and find a replacement for Diggs in the next couple of years. The fact they got Diggs for a second-round expenditure makes this something they probably believe they can do. His success last year and hopefully going forward will benefit him financially. It also could be the cause of him moving on while he still has some productive years coming.