It has arrived, so batten down the hatches. Every single thing you’ll need to keep up with America’s Team is now at your fingertips, and in what has already become one of the most pivotal offseasons in recent memory for the Dallas Cowboys. Only two years removed from parting ways with head coach Jason Garrett and many members of his staff, the team finds themselves again drowning in question marks atop their coaching pyramid — with the future of Garrett’s replacement, Mike McCarthy taking center stage in the same offseason that has now seen Sean Payton step away from football for 2022.
Additionally, given recent comments by owner Jerry Jones that can be viewed as nothing short of awkward, McCarthy addressing them recently by both showing common ground with Jones and an obvious frustration with the “landscape” of coaching the Cowboys, it goes without saying that if the Cowboys don’t make a deep playoff run next season, there might be another major shakeup that also throws Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn into the cauldron of questions.
And you can add the decision to trade four-time Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns to that list, along with speculation on the future of All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence (the ended in a three-year, fully guaranteed $30 million contract) and starting right tackle La’El Collins — the latter having been given permission to seek a trade as the Cowboys field offers to potentially send him packing.
From free agency to come to the 2022 NFL Draft and lots in-between, there’s a ton to unpack from the Cowboys mercurial offseason — such as the blockbuster gain and loss of Randy Gregory — but it’s all here for you; and it will be updated regularly with news, analysis and insight.
Bookmark this and prosper accordingly.
Note: All free agency market value calculations provided when available, courtesy of Spotrac.com
[Latest update: April 30]
Top needs (unranked) in 2022: OL, S, LB, TE, EDGE, K
2022 NFL Draft
The Cowboys have six traditional draft picks and one projected compensatory pick in this year’s draft, and it’s key to remember compensatory picks can be traded away. The league has yet to officially announce its 2022 list of comp picks but, based upon the existing formula, we have a good idea of how many the Cowboys will be awarded (1), for whom (Andy Dalton) and where it will land on draft weekend (see below).
This is all plenty of draft capital if the Cowboys find themselves in a not-so-friendly position following the first several waves of NFL free agency, and they’ve shown they’re also not afraid to move around in the draft, having done so last April as well, when they traded the 10th-overall pick to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for 12th- and 84th-overall — turning those into Pro Bowler/All-Pro/NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons and talented rookie defensive lineman Chauncey Golston.
But it’s also true the Cowboys squandered a shot at making a deep playoff run with a roster that was absolutely loaded on both offense and defense, but seeing both Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn stay put, the team enters the offseason with a long list of very talented free agents, and they can’t keep them all. They didn’t make the mistake of creating a need at the EDGE by moving on from All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence and were able to retain Randy Gregory (before then losing in a contract debacle for the ages), but they’ll have to focus on the biggest need in Dallas: fixing the offensive line.
It’s a unit that wildly underperformed in 2021, Zack Martin notwithstanding, and the experiment at left guard (i.e., Connor McGovern versus Connor Williams) only revealed new issues, along with the uneven play of center Tyler Biadasz. Toss in the durability issues of Tyron Smith and, well, there’s not going to be a return to offensive dominance if Dak Prescott can’t get time in the pocket. An upgrade is needed at LG, and also at center, as well as adding depth at tackle (yes, a complete rework is needed).
And while you’re looking at the offensive side of the ball, keep in mind that with Blake Jarwin’s durability now in question and as backup Sean McKeon still works to prove himself so, yes, there’s a need at tight end as well, and that’s beginning to feel like a familiar need for the Cowboys in the post-Jason Witten era.
Flip to the defensive side of the ball, and it’s to-be-determined what former fourth-round pick Jabril Cox will be after suffering a torn ACL as a rookie (being one I deemed one of the top steals of the 2021 NFL Draft), so launch the contingency plan to find a dynamic tandem at LB for all-world phenom Micah Parsons and, worst-case, you end up with that much more young LB talent to solidify the position for years to come. Things get a bit easier this time around at safety, with the Cowboys able to retain both Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker before touching the position again in the draft, but let’s also not forget there were games that could’ve been won by the kicker, but weren’t.
So while bringing in competition for Greg Zuerlein in February is great, it needs to be someone who can truly challenge for the role longterm, and not just as a veiled threat after a season that saw him help cost the team wins. The Cowboys haven’t drafted a kicker since David Buehler in 2009, out of Dallas by the end of 2011 (Buehler? Buehler??) and, prior to that, it was Nick Folk getting the draft nod in 2007 before being in a New York Jets uniform in 2010. The only two kickers ever drafted in the Jerry Jones era both flamed out quickly, which explains why he hasn’t gone swimming in those waters since but, having still not identified a true successor to Dan Bailey, it might be time to task scouting and personnel guru Will McClay with finding one in the draft; considering McClay was responsible for neither Buehler nor Folk.
Here’s the Cowboys draft order (and selections) after winning the division but failing to advance in the playoffs:
- Round 1: 24th-overall – Tyler Smith, OL (Tulsa)
- Round 2: 56th-overall – Sam Williams, EDGE (Ole Miss)
- Round 3: 88th-overall – Jalen Tolbert, WR (South Alabama)
- Round 4: 129th-overall – Jake Ferguson, TE (Wisconsin)
- Round 5: 155th-overall*** – Matt Waletzko, OT (North Dakota)
- Round 5: 167th-overall – DaRon Bland, CB (Fresno State)
- Round 5: 176th-overall* – Damone Clark, LB (LSU)
- Round 5: 178th-overall* – John Ridgeway, DL (Arkansas)
- Round 6: 193rd-overall** – Devin Harper, LB (Oklahoma State)
*denotes awarded compensatory pick
**upgraded via Browns in Amari Cooper trade
***acquired from Browns in Amari Cooper trade
CLICK HERE FOR FULL SCOUTING REPORT OF EACH PICK
Five first-round prospects to watch
Tyler Linderbaum, OL (Iowa) Evan Neal, OL (Alabama) Nakobe Dean, LB (Georgia) Jordan Davis, DT (Georgia) Travon Walker, DL (Georgia)
UPDATE (April 29): Each prospect is off of the board heading into Day 3.
Needless to say, this five of a group of palatable targets for the Cowboys in the first round of the coming draft, and I’ll dive deeper into each of them — along with others you’ll want to keep an eye on regarding Dallas — between now and the draft.
2022 undrafted free agent signings:
Key upcoming dates
There are a slew of dates you’ll need to circle on your calendar as you keep track of the Cowboys this offseason — such as the franchise tag deadline, the start of free agency, the 2022 NFL Draft and many others. For now, most of them are already known and worth noting. It’s also key to note things remain fluid during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, because although the league hasn’t yet made any changes to the 2022 draft or free agency, much like last year, those could arrive at a moment’s notice; albeit not expected. More dates will be added as the Cowboys and the NFL finalize them, and assuming no changes due to COVID-19.
- March 14-16: Legal tampering begins for teams interested in outside free agents
- March 16: Free agency begins/new league year opens
- March 27-30: Annual league meeting in Palm Beach, FL
- April 18: Clubs with returning head coaches may begin offseason workout programs
- April 20: Deadline to bring draft-eligible players to team facilities for physical examination
- April 22: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets
- April 27: Deadline for prior club to exercise Right of First Refusal to RFAs (see section below)
- April 27: Deadline to time, test and interview draft-eligible players
- April 28-30: 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas, NV
- Early May (TBD): Teams can hold their one three-day post-draft rookie minicamp from Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday
- Mid-May (TBD): Teams permitted to hold one three-day rookie minicamp
- May 24-26, June 1-2, June 6-7, June 9-10: OTA Offseason Workouts
- June 14-16: Mandatory minicamp begins
- Mid-July (TBD): Deadline to negotiate a multiyear extension on a tagged player
- Late July: Training camp
- Early August: Preseason begins
- Early September: 2022 NFL regular season kickoff
2022 opponents and previous-season record
The first thing that jumps out at you here like a jack-in-the-box is in how the Cowboys are scheduled to face both Super Bowl LVI participants next season. Going up against the Cincinnati Bengals and defending champion Los Angeles Rams will be a two of the biggest tests facing Dallas in 2022, and will serve as litmus tests to everything they do or do not do this offseason. They’ll presumably get a respite from having to square up against seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, who more or less owns the Cowboys, with Brady having retired from the NFL (for now?) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers propping up Blaine Gabbert as his possible replacement — barring any sort of Deshaun Watson trade, of course.
But that’s still a very capable defense led by Todd Bowles and Bruce Arians, so don’t take them for granted, or anyone set to take on the Cowboys in a few months from now. Fact is, each of these teams are also readying to make improvements, just as the Cowboys are, and the perfect 6-0 sweep of the NFC East will be a very, very difficult mission to accomplish two years in a row. But until further notice, Dallas runs the East and it’ll be how they handle opponents outside of their division that will determine how their 2022 story unfolds.
Home (in descending order of record):
Away (in descending order of record):
Will Aaron Rodgers remain in a Green Bay Packers uniform? Is Ryan Tannehill an asset or a liability to the the dominance of the Tennessee Titans?? Will the Rams be able to keep their own band together, including head coach Sean McVay and future Hall of Fame defensive lineman Aaron Donald, and make a run at repeating as champs? These are all questions yet to be answered, and the answers will ultimately shape the fates of all involved.
The bottom line is the Cowboys schedule is brutal, and so must they be to it in return. It’s a team that not only swept it’s entire division in 2021, but also had an NFL-best conference record of 10-2. If they can figure out how to keep most of the band together in free agency, toss in some key pieces from outside of the building in March and then have yet another stellar draft in April, they’ll be right back in the playoffs with a chance to finally exorcise their 26-year-old demons.
Only this time, they better bring a lot more holy water.
NFC East opponents: 20-31
Non-NFC East opponents: 93-93-1
- Dak Prescott (+$15.7 million)
- Zack Martin (+$7.15 million)
Free agent scorecard
Estimated current cap space (top 51) as of Feb. 24: -$21.45 million
Updated as of March 21: $26.9 million
Here’s where the rubber truly meets the road for the Cowboys. They enter the offseason with a list of in-house free agents they must attend to before and while also surveying the landscape outside of Dallas to see who deserves an offer to join the team in 2022. Who they can or can’t retain and who they can or cannot woo into coming to North Texas will have a massive impact on what their draft blueprint looks like, but it’s also a year that doesn’t see the Cowboys forced to shop heavily outside of the building — something they’re typically allergic to doing anyway — because their in-house stable of free agents is arguably the most potent in the NFL.
And as far as being in the red regarding cap space goes, a deep-dive into their finances shows they can free up more than $50 million at the snap of a finger, and that includes being wise enough to not say goodbye to Amari Cooper or DeMarcus Lawrence but instead restructuring their contracts along with only a few others to put them deep into the green — both literally and figuratively speaking — in a season that will see the league’s salary cap boom upward to $208 million.
And here’s a complete list of in-house free agents for the Cowboys and their respective status:
Exclusive rights free agents
These players don’t have any control over their rights in 2021, unless the Cowboys decide to not make an offer, as defensive lineman Antwaun Woods begrudgingly found out the hard way in 2020 — as one example. These players have fewer than three accrued seasons in the NFL and, as such, the Cowboys could offer them a qualifying one-year deal on a league minimum salary (based upon number of credited seasons) and the player can not negotiate with any other club. So if an offer is made, they can either sign it or sit out the season and be in the same situation one year from now. Should the Cowboys not make an offer and an ERFA signs elsewhere, Dallas would receive no compensation for the loss.
- Francis Bernard, LB::::: UPDATE: The Cowboys will not tender Bernard :::: A promising talent at a position of need for the Cowboys, Bernard should be made to stay put.
- Mitch Hyatt, OL: :::: UPDATE: The Cowboys will not tender Hyatt :::: While he’s showed potential, Hyatt has logged no active games since being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and was relegated to IR for the entirety of 2021, one season after suffering a torn ACL that cost him the 2020 season. Admittedly, keeping Hyatt would come at minimal cost, but this is a roster spot at a position of need that can be filled with a more durable talent, considering how badly the Cowboys need their backup O-linemen to be as available as they may be talented.
Restricted free agents
Unlike Bernard and Hyatt, the following has accrued greater than three years but not yet four, and the latter would qualify them for unrestricted free agency in 2020. Instead, while they are allowed to negotiate with other clubs, each can be assigned a respective tender — first-round, second-round, original-round — or the Right of First Refusal to give the Cowboys a chance at receiving compensation in the event they decide against matching another team’s offer.
For the purposes of explaining fully how RFAs work, the caveat lies in the original-round tender and the Right of First Refusal, because if a player went undrafted there is no compensation by default, making them basically one in the same. The Cowboys must be strategic in how they label such a player, because the higher the tender, the higher the salary if the player is retained — e.g., the second-round tender on David Irving in 2018.
Per OvertheCap.com (projected based upon salary cap of $208 million):
First-round tender – $5.562 million
Second-round tender – $3.986 million
Original-round tender – $2.433 million
- Luke Gifford, LB::::: UPDATE: The Cowboys did not tender Gifford, but have re-signed him to a one-year deal worth less than the tender amounts :::: An undrafted signee in 2018 and the only RFA on the Cowboys roster, Gifford battled injury early in his young career to return and become a key special teams contributor for John “Bones” Fassel while also providing some semblance of depth at the LB position. He’s worth attempting to retain going — in a low-cost scenario — entering his fourth year in the league.
Unrestricted free agents
Grab the keys to the Brinks truck and back it up right into this section of Cowboys free agency, because it’s where the big money can be found, but they team would have to be extremely judicious in who they utilize the franchise and/or transition tag on. Here are the values for your consideration, having no worry of using several of them — e.g., QB after signing Dak Prescott to a record-setting deal last offseason or running back, with Ezekiel Elliott expected to remain on the books and Tony Pollard under contract until 2023.
Franchise tag payouts via OvertheCap.com (projected):
Quarterback – $28.598 million
Defensive end – $20.186 million
Wide receiver – $19.127 million
Linebacker – $17.417 million
Cornerback – $17.295 million
Offensive line – $16.698 million
Defensive tackle – $16.888 million
Safety – $13.544 million
Running back – $12.536 million
Tight end – $10.834 million
Special teams – $5.469 million
There are two types of franchise tag: exclusive and non-exclusive. The former bars the player from negotiating in any way, shape or form with another team and locks them in with their incumbent team — allowing until mid-July to strike a longterm deal or play on a one-year, fully guaranteed contract for the respective amount above (based upon a long-form calculation rooted in the average of the five largest salaries at the position from the year prior). A non-exclusive tag allows players to negotiate with other teams, creating a potential window for their exit, but the incumbent team can match an offer they’re made (offer sheet). In the event the current team opts to not match the highest offer, they’ll lose the player but gain two first-round picks as compensation for the loss.
Transition tag payouts via OvertheCap.com (projected):
Quarterback – $25.651 million
Defensive end – $16.623 million
Wide receiver – $16.740 million
Linebacker – $14.882 million
Cornerback – $14.904 million
Offensive line – $14.997 million
Defensive tackle – $13.596 million
Safety – $11.265 million
Running back – $10.148 million
Tight end – $9.332 million
Special teams – $4.980 million
Under normal non-pandemic circumstances, a team can only utilize either the franchise tag or the transition tag in the same offseason. If the latter is deployed, the Cowboys won’t receive a compensatory pick in the event they choose to not match an offer from another team on the player it’s tethered to. So if they were to place a transition tag on Randy Gregory, for example, they’d have to match his highest offer to keep him in uniform or watch him walk away for absolutely nothing in return — a proposition that should make them justifiably nervous.
It’s also key to note that any tag can be rescinded, a tactic sometimes used in contract negotiations and, additionally, the Cowboys enter this offseason having no looming free agent who played under a tag in 2021 (so calculations for an escalated payout regarding a second or third tag, e.g., Dak Prescott, do not apply this year in Dallas). With that made clear, let’s talk about the players the Cowboys enter 2022 free agency having no rights to prior to applying a franchise or transition tag.
- Randy Gregory, DE (Market value: $13.2 million annually):::: UPDATE: AGREED TO TERMS WITH BRONCOS AFTER LAST-MINUTE DISPUTE WITH COWBOYS:: Having been allowed by the NFL to return to the field and thrive due to the reconstructed CBA, Gregory battled through injury in 2021 to log a career-high 11 starts for the Cowboys in 2021, after being relegated to backup duty under the now-fired Jim Tomsula and Mike Nolan. With Dan Quinn at defensive coordinator and Gregory in the best mental space of his career, the 29-year-old tied his career-best mark of six sacks and often led the team in QB pressures, an indication he wasn’t far from potentially delivering a double-digit sack season, if not for the extended absence of All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence to complement his potency. He’s just truly getting started with his NFL career and given how much the Cowboys invested in his growth, Gregory is the most valuable FA on this list — one Dallas can’t allow to leave. His market value being below the tag salaries should make it that much easier to come to terms without having to use one.
- Dorance Armstrong, DE::: UPDATE: RE-SIGNED TO COWBOYS ON TWO-YEAR DEAL::: NFL pass rushers often take a couple of years before they find their legs, Armstrong gradually progressed over his first three seasons before putting his best on film in Year 4. A team-favorite and most certainly one who has the eye of owner Jerry Jones, it’s unknown just how much Armstrong would cost to keep around, but you can bet he’s on the Cowboys menu heading into March; and in a big way. Armstrong finished the season with a career-high five sacks and a defensive touchdown, and still has room to grow under Quinn.
- Carlos Watkins, DL:::: UPDATE: RE-SIGNED WITH COWBOYS ON ONE-YEAR DEAL::: Watkins signed a one-year deal in 2021 that was mostly overlooked, but he became a key player in helping the Cowboys try and bolster their interior defensive line. He also came on strong when the team needed it most on the back end of the schedule, including delivering a pick-six to help defeat the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome and then showing his ability to be a contributor on special teams as well. With Quinn staying put, you can bet he’d like to see Watkins do so as well, likely on another one-year deal that wouldn’t cost much but keeps a solid rotational talent in tow.
- Brent Urban, DL: Entering the organization in the same batch of free agent signings that included Watkins at least four other notable names on this list, The soon-to-be 31-year-old was brought in to help stop the run but unfortunately suffered a season-ending torn bicep instead. That means the Cowboys still haven’t truly seen if he’s a fit in Quinn’s system, but they’d like to think he would be, and there’s some interest on both sides here in possibly seeing a mulligan for 2022. This is the type of signing that may or may not be paused until after the Cowboys see what else is out there, however, including the draft in April.
- Leighton Vander Esch, LB:::: UPDATE: RE-SIGNED WITH COWBOYS ON ONE-YEAR DEAL:: LVE has devolved from the beloved moniker of “Wolf Hunter” to everyone wondering if he’ll ever return to the form that saw him land Pro Bowl honors as a rookie. He batted down concerns about his durability by starting a career-high 16 games for the Cowboys in 2021, delivering 88 combined tackles and an interception to go along with a sack, but it was a mostly uneven showing that saw him waffle between being a liability and being a drive-killer for the opposing offense. The Cowboys opted to not exercise the fifth-year option on the former first-round pick, and now have Micah Parsons as the leader of the defense (something they had initially hoped LVE would be), but while they’re open to keeping him at a reasonable salary, they’re not going to press the issue in a market that’s probably willing to overpay to sign him.
- Jayron Kearse, S:: UPDATE: AGREED TO TWO-YEAR DEAL TO REMAIN WITH COWBOYS ::: Re-sign him. I could really stop the analysis of Kearse with those two words, but I’ll continue for the sake of keeping this as thorough as possible. All Jayron Kearse does is ball. Signed to a one-year deal a year ago, he was overlooked due to the signing of Damontae Kazee and eventually Malik Hooker later in the summer. But when injury to Donovan Wilson caused the Cowboys to look to Kearse as starter, he tied his stock to the space shuttle and headed straight for neighboring galaxy. The 28-year-old not only proved himself a ballhawk and a special teams contributor, but also a top-shelf coverage guy who could delete any tight end you put in front of him — even if they are an All-Pro. Coming off of what was far and beyond his best season as a pro, the Cowboys know they can’t find this kind of versatile TE deleter just anywhere, and he’s expected to get an offer that extends beyond 2022 — from more than just Dallas.
- Keanu Neal, LB: Things started well for Neal in Dallas, a rollover from Quinn’s time with the Atlanta Falcons who was converted from safety to linebacker. They didn’t end as swimmingly for him though, suffering two stints on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and logging only five starts in 14 games active. He’d rack up tackles (72) when on the field, but was also on the wrong end of several would-be tackles that were instead missed altogether — his conversion to linebacker having its share of hiccups in Year 1. Quinn would like to see how things flesh out in that regard in Year 2 but, from a front office perspective, the Cowboys will have better options; Neal’s status in Dallas largely contingent upon if he wants to stay and how loudly Quinn pounds the table for him.
- Malik Hooker, S:::: UPDATE: RE-SIGNED TO DALLAS ON TWO-YEAR DEAL WORTH $8 MILLION:: It was a slow start to the season for Hooker, largely because he was a late addition to training camp and working to return from a season-ending torn Achilles suffered in 2020 — similar to Kazee, with the difference being Kazee was signed in the spring after both were giving a simultaneous look. But the former first-round pick began to find his groove on the back end of the season, helping to anchor a defensive backfield that saw Wilson battle injury on more than one occasion and Kazee cool down considerably from his red-hot first few games in a Cowboys uniform. It’s worth seeing if Hooker can continue his upswing when given a complete offseason under Quinn, as what should be one of the more friendly contracts of this entire bunch, but one that could carry some serious upside.
- Damontae Kazee, S: It’s not how you start, but how you finish, and that’s why Kazee might find himself on the outs here when assessing if he should be re-signed in a situation where, as usual, you simply can’t keep everybody. That means the Cowboys will have to determine if they could potentially keep Kearse and/or Hooker — hopefully both but, more importantly, the former — and then find an upgrade over Kazee in free agency and the draft. You can bet McClay is already eyeing safety talent ahead of the NFL Combine, having proven he can find contributors in late rounds (e.g., Jeff Heath, Donovan Wilson) and the club also has Israel Mukuamu on the roster, a player they’d like to see more of in 2022. It’s not impossible that Kazee would re-sign, but not if it requires the Cowboys to sacrifice a bigger contributor on their in-house FA list of to-do’s.
- Maurice Canady, CB: Move along, Cowboys. There’s nothing to see here. Canady is basically the bizarro version of Jayron Kearse — a defensive back signed to help immediately upgrade the secondary, but he quickly became an afterthought. Having opted out in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team simply moved his one-year deal over to 2021, looking for him to deliver but instead finding a DiGiornio’s box on their front porch. Canady was one of the better talents in training camp but that didn’t translate to the regular season, where he played in only eight games (no starts) and produced no interceptions, no pass break ups, no sacks, no forced or recovered fumbles, and only six combined tackles. Enough said.
- Michael Gallup, WR (Market value: $11.8 million):::: UPDATE: RE-SIGNED TO FIVE-YEAR DEAL WORTH $62.5 MILLION::: It’s science, but not the kind needed to power rockets: don’t create need at positions wherein you don’t have any. This needs to be the mantra for the Cowboys as it relates to their WR corps, one that was easily the deepest and most talented in the league the past couple of years. They have to figure out how it will look in 2022, however, and the headline free agent in that room is Gallup — who has repeatedly stated he wants to remain in Dallas and often points to Dak Prescott as being the top reason why. The Cowboys have a mutual interest in seeing that happen, but the torn ACL on Gallup will be a part of the conversation as it relates to potential compensation and length of term, but with Gallup openly saying he’d be willing to play on a prove-it deal in 2022 — as long as the pay is worthwhile — the door is that much more open for this to all come together (even if it involves a revisit one year from now).
- Cedrick Wilson, WR (Market value: $6.4 million annually):::: UPDATE: SIGNED TO DOLPHINS ON A THREE-YEAR DEAL WORTH $22.8 MILLION ::: In the absence of Gallup due to two injuries that took him off of the field for most of last season, Wilson stepped up in a big way to become what will be a sought after free agent over the next several weeks. The veteran has fantastic chemistry with Prescott and made several game-changing plays, but he unfortunately made several that put the Cowboys in really bad positions. There’s no question Wilson is a dynamic WR3 who can step up and perform at times as a WR2, but the jury is out on if he’s a full-time second-option or better. Still, after landing a one-year reup in Dallas last year, he’s presumably built enough value to not settle for another of those, so Dallas would likely have to come to the table with a more robust offer — financially able to keep but Wilson and Gallup if the latter takes less to “prove it”.
- Noah Brown, WR:::: UPDATE: Re-signed to one-year deal (March 8) :::: Like Wilson, Brown landed a one-year extension from the Cowboys in 2021. Unlike Wilson, and while he showed improvement over seasons past, Brown hasn’t built the reputation of being able to change the outcome of a game on any consistent basis. He remains a quality depth player though, and one Fassel also deployed on special teams in fairly large chunks, so it stands to reason “Bones” wouldn’t mind seeing him return. And maybe the same is true for Kellen Moore, even if Moore has bigger and better weapons at his disposal, presumably including Amari Cooper (for now) and/or Michael Gallup (and/or Cedrick Wilson).
- Connor Williams, iOL (Market value: $13.2 million annually):::: UPDATE: Signed to Dolphins on two-year deal (March 15) :::: …*looks at market value projection in bewilderment*… OK, let’s talk about this for a second. Williams, who is a much better offensive lineman than many give him credit for, isn’t so good that I’d consider paying him more than, say, Michael Gallup, Dalton Schultz or a value equal to Randy Gregory (!!). He’s much better than Connor McGovern but, given what McGovern put on film at LG1, I don’t believe that’s as big of a compliment as it appears. I do believe the Cowboys can do better at starting left guard, and if that means upgrading there and being able to keep Williams on as a backup, that’s something you can sign the Cowboys up for. But that doesn’t mean Williams would sign up for it, considering there are other OL-needy teams in the league who’ll pay the market value (or more) that I just needed eyeglass cleaner to ensure was accurate.
- Dalton Schultz, TE (Market value: $12.6 million)::: UPDATE: FRANCHISE TAGGED :::: A tight end who can make plays will forever be at a premium in the NFL, and Schultz has taken full advantage of his time at Tight End University with All-Pro playmaker George Kittle, and his added reps in the wake of injuries to Blake Jarwin, but he’s also suffered a very real tailspin in his run blocking abilities, something he was drafted for coming out of Stanford as the Cowboys fourth-round pick in 2018. It’s been a weird trajectory that’s seen Schultz become a great pass-catcher — some errant drops notwithstanding — at the sacrifice of his blocking, but teams have been known to overlook the latter when you’re catching first downs and touchdowns. With both the franchise and transition tags coming in at less than Schultz’s market value, if neither is used on Gregory, Schultz became the prime candidate for one.
- Bryan Anger, P::: UPDATE: SIGNED TO THREE-YEAR DEAL WITH COWBOYS :::: If you would, please pass me that megaphone to your right. Thanks. Ahem… RE-SIGN BRYAN ANGER. Yet another fantastic addition to the Cowboys free agent class of 2021, all Anger did in replacing longtime punter Chris Jones was to earn both a Pro Bowl and an All-Pro honor last year. The 33-year-old was a weapon for the Cowboys, consistently putting the opposing team in worse field position than they would’ve liked whilst averaging a career-best 48.4 yards per punt with no blocks, and his “prove-it” deal was parlayed into value strong enough to warrant approaching him with a question of his owned aimed at a Dallas team that doesn’t want him to leave: “OK, now you prove it.”
- Jake McQuaide, LS:::: UPDATE: SIGNED TO ONE-YEAR DEAL, VETERAN MINIMUM SALARY ::: It’s also difficult following in the footsteps of a legend, and even more so when the legend is literal perfection at the position, and even more so than than when the legend didn’t think he’d be pushed out before he was ready and/or before he actually showed any semblance of a decline. And yet, this is the frying pan full of bacon grease that McQuaide was tossed into, but the fact you didn’t hear his name called during the season means he did his job. And in doing so, he helped Anger have a dominant season that shows the chemistry of the two, and it’s not one the Cowboys should look to test. So in going hard after Anger, one must assume they’d also approach McQuaide with equal fervor.
Futures deals signed (official):
- Isaac Alarcon, OT
- Aviante Collins, OT
- Braylon Jones, C
- Ben DiNucci, QB
- Ian Bunting, TE
- Robert Foster, WR – Released (March 12)
- Brandon Smith, WR
- Jaquan Hardy, RB
- Ito Smith, RB – Released (March 12)
- Nick Ralston, FB
- Devante Bond, LB
- Tyler Coyle, S
- Kyron Brown, CB
- Austin Faoliu, DT
- Chris Naggar, K
Note: Futures deals are already set to count against the 90-man offseason roster.
Five intriguing yet realistic FA targets
- Ryan Jensen, C (MV: $10 million annually) – UPDATE (March 14): Re-signing with Buccaneers
- Emmanuel Ogbah, EDGE (MV: $10.1 million annually) – UPDATE (March 14) Re-signing with Dolphins
- Melvin Ingram, EDGE (MV: unavailable)
- David Njoku, TE (MV: $6.7 million annually) – UPDATE (March 8): Tagged by Browns
- O.J. Howard, TE (MV: $2.2 million annually) – UPDATE (March 16): Signed by Bills
Don’t expect the Cowboys to go crazy in free agency, so while landing a player like Jessie Bates III (or Marcus Williams or Tyrann Mathieu) would be a dream, it’s not likely to happen — especially given the fact each has a market value of nearly $15 million annually and are all set to land multi-year deals. So while it’s great and justifiable to name them as wanted targets, the culture of spending in Dallas and their ability + belief in the NFL draft simply doesn’t support lending much energy to considering them for longer than it takes to check the mail in the morning.
A look at future Hall of Fame pass rusher Von Miller also made perfect sense, but only if they completely botched the Randy Gregory negotiations (it happened) and/or make the mistake of moving on from DeMarcus Lawrence (it nearly happened) for cap space when a restructure solves that issue. Miller was not looking to play backup to anyone in 2022, so if both Gregory and Lawrence would’ve remained together, Dallas wouldn’t have been an attractive landing spot in the eyes of a player hot off of his second Super Bowl victory and who’ll have his pick of the FA litter (apply this same logic to Chandler Jones while you’re at it, minus the Lombardi trophies).
Instead, the team could’ve had a far less expensive conversation with a former Cowboys draft interest in Emmanuel Ogbah (whom they were set to select in 2016 before the Cleveland Browns took him just ahead of Dallas) and/or Melvin Ingram, who still has plenty of tread left on his tires and a chip on his shoulder from how things went for him in 2021.
Stephon Gilmore would be a great acquisition at cornerback if they don’t feel former second-round pick Kelvin Joseph is quite ready to take the main stage but, on the field, he definitely looks the part opposite Trevon Diggs, and then some. It’s a similar situation to Miller in that there’s a young talent at the position looking to potentially breakout next season — contingent upon if Anthony Brown remains on the roster — and Gilmore doesn’t want to play second fiddle (and neither would J.C. Jackson). Nor should you want to pay him (them) a sizable salary to do so, with Gilmore expected to command upwards of around $15 million per season.
There is talent to be had without having to break the bank, and not every positional need can be resolved by simply keeping the band together in Dallas — e.g., center and left guard — which means calling a player like Jensen would’ve been just plain smart, even if did tug at the exceedingly taut pursestrings a little. And that money could have been reassigned to such a player if, for example, Dalton Schultz was allowed to walk (won’t happen now) and gets replaced by another talented but much less expensive tight end.
In other words: finesse it.
Signings that impact the 2022 compensatory pick formula
These are signings of unrestricted free agents whose contract expired with their previous team, as they directly impact and are matched against any in-house free agents the Cowboys lose to determine how many compensatory picks — if any — Dallas will receive in next year’s draft. In other words, they have the ability to potentially delete a gained pick — an example being how the addition of Tarell Basham and Keanu Neal in 2021 negated the picks gained by losing Chidobe Awuzie and Cameron Erving.
It’s a fluid game that includes two separate deadlines: the first lands in April and draws a hard line that prevents new signings of unrestricted free agents from being calculated in the formula, but the Cowboys could help their case for the 2023 NFL Draft if they choose to release any qualifying new signings during the season; before a second predetermined (and TBD) NFL deadline.
It truly is football chess of the highest order, although the Cowboys are severely lacking in this part of the equation; potentially on purpose.
Signings of players cut by other NFL teams
Why is there a difference in these two categories? I’m glad you asked.
It’s important to differentiate between the players signed as unrestricted free agents and those signed after being cut by another team, because players who are signed after being released by another team do not count in the compensatory draft pick formula for the team who signs them. This is how the NFL sorts through its complex formula to award picks in next year’s draft, or to not.
Signings not used in compensatory pick formula
- Dante Fowler, LB (one-year)
- James Washington, WR (one-year)
- Chris Nagger, K (one-year)
- Ryan Nall, RB (one-year)
Free agents lost to other teams
- Randy Gregory, DE (Broncos)
- Cedrick Wilson, WR (Dolphins)
- Connor Williams, OL (Dolphins)
Insider analysis, rumors, reports and updates
There isn’t an angle we don’t have covered for you when it comes to the Cowboys this offseason, and here are the latest from credible sources including CBS Sports’ own original reporting, as the team wades through the waves over the next several months.
Cowboys NFL Draft 2022: What to know about each of the Dallas selections – April 30
NFC East draft 2022: Picks, needs, grades and more for all four teams – April 28
NFL mock draft 2022: Cowboys get elite defender to pair with Parsons – April 24
Dalton Schultz says Cowboys ‘were better’ with Amari Cooper, wants l/t deal – April 22
Stephen Jones: Cowboys are ‘not done in NFL free agency’ – April 22
Cowboys perfect draft plan for 2022: Defense gets a goliath – April 20
Dak Prescott fully healthy, expected to report for start of OTAs – April 18
Cowboys release punter Hunter Niswander ahead of 2022 NFL Draft – April 15
The latest on Dallas murder investigation involving Kelvin Joseph – April 15
Cowboys interested in possibly trading up in 2022 NFL Draft – April 13
Jerry Jones: Cowboys launch first-ever NFL partnership – April 13
Gary Brown, longtime Cowboys assistant, dies at 52 – April 11
Ex-Bears RB signed to Cowboys on one-year deal – April 9
NFL, Cowboys legend Rayfield Wright dies at 76 – April 9
Keanu Neal agrees to terms with Bucs after one year in Dallas – April 7
Bobby Wagner explains why he didn’t sign with Cowboys, despite interest – April 7
Cowboys seven-round 2022 mock draft: Dynamite added to roster – April 5
Jerry Jones opens up about Amari Cooper, Randy Gregory – March 29
Cowboys plan for 2022 NFL Draft revealed by Jerry Jones – March 29
Greg Zuerlein declines offer to return to Dallas, joins Jets – March 28
Cowboys’ James Washington explains what went wrong in Pittsburgh – March 25
Son of late NFL legend hired to join Cowboys staff – March 24
Grading Cowboys free agency acquisitions, re-signings – March 23
Jayron Kearse agrees to two-year deal with Cowboys after long talks – March 21
Ex-Cowboys OL La’el Collins agrees to multi-year deal with Bengals – March 21
Randy Gregory breaks silence on controversial pivot to Broncos – March 19
Dante Fowler reunites with Dan Quinn in Dallas on one-year deal – March 18
Cowboys agree to terms with Texas native James Washington – March 18
Leighton Vander Esch re-signs in Dallas on one-year deal – March 18
Dorance Armstrong re-signs with Cowboys on two-year deal – March 18
Cowboys opt to release La’el Collins, no trade for starting lineman – March 17
DeMarcus Lawrence is unfiltered regarding his contract, Gregory – March 16
Top free agent options to replace Randy Gregory in Dallas – March 16
La’el Collins drawing trade interest from Patriots, others – March 16
Von Miller, Cowboys have mutual interest after Gregory gaffe — March 15
Connor Williams waves goodbye to Cowboys, joins Dolphins – March 15
Randy Gregory pivots to Broncos following last-minute gaffe by Cowboys- March 15
Cowboys re-sign safety Malik Hooker to two-year deal – March 15
DeMarcus Lawrence signs new fully guaranteed deal in Dallas – March 14
Cowboys agree to terms on one-year deal with Jake McQuaide – March 14
Broncos, others expected to make offer to Randy Gregory – March 14
Amari Cooper trade grade: Cowboys on the losing side of the deal – March 12
Amari Cooper traded to Browns in exchange for mid-round pick – March 12
Cowboys move on from Greg Zuerlein, Blake Jarwin in handful of roster moves – March 11
Antonio Brown issues plea to Jerry Jones with hopes of joining Cowboys – March 10
La’El Collins centerpiece of active trade talks in Dallas – March 10
Jerry Jones sued by woman who alleges he is her biological father – March 110
Five free agency moves Cowboys must strongly consider in 2022 – March 9
Cowboys re-sign Noah Brown to one-year deal for 2022 – March 8
Zack Martin joins Dak Prescott in seeing contract restructured for 2022 – March 8
Dalton Schultz receives franchise tag from Cowboys ahead of deadline – March 8
Cowboys preparing to restructure Dak Prescott’s contract, free up millions – March 7
DeMarcus Lawrence declines unnecessary pay cut request from Cowboys – March 7
Dak Prescott undergoes minor shoulder procedure, will be ready for offseason program – March 1
Cowboys exec asked about future of Amari Cooper, DeMarcus Lawrence and more – March 1
Stephen Jones details Cowboys plan of attack for 2022 free agency – March 1
Cowboys interested in adding familiar face to coaching staff for 2022 – Feb. 24
NFC East needs in 2022: Cowboys top issues are clear and fixable – Feb. 23
Cowboys paid $2.4 million to settle voyeurism allegations against former head of PR – Feb. 16
Mike McCarthy breaks silence on awkward head coach comments by Jerry Jones – Feb. 16
Insider Notes: In-depth look at the futures of Amari Cooper, DeMarcus Lawrence and much more – Feb. 15
Former longtime Cowboys coordinator Rod Marinelli to retire in 2022 – Feb. 10
Dallas signs WR coach with deep ties to Kellen Moore to offensive staff – Feb. 8
Micah Parsons looking to level up on electric rookie season: I can get better everywhere’ – Feb. 7
Greg Zuerlein put on notice, Cowboys sign local kicking talent ahead of free agency – Feb. 3
Cowboys exec reveals plan for play-calling if Kellen Moore leaves – Feb. 2
Jerry Jones: Dan Quinn to stay put in Dallas for ‘years to come’ – Jan. 28
Dan Quinn notifies Cowboys he will remain DC in 2022 – Jan. 27
Talented Cowboys defensive assistant Joe Whitt Jr. getting defensive coordinator interest – Jan. 27
Tracker: Dan Quinn garnering lots of NFL interest as premium HC candidate – Jan. 23
The Insider BLUEprint: How to make the Cowboys a Super Bowl team in 2022 – Jan. 19
Tracker: Kellen Moore interviewing with teams for HC position – Jan. 18
Stephen Jones ‘very confident’ Mike McCarthy will remain HC of Cowboys – Jan. 17
Ezekiel Elliott admits he played most of 2021 with torn PCL in his knee – Jan. 16
Personnel guru Will McClay signs multi-year deal to remain in Dallas – Jan. 13