Dallas Cowboys Offseason Preview

Dallas Cowboys Offseason Preview

by February 17, 2021 0 comments

After barely missing the playoffs in 2019, the Dallas Cowboys were expected to return to the postseason in 2020. However, injuries derailed the Cowboys season before it could get off the ground. Their starting offensive tackles combined for two games while Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5. Heading into the offseason, the future of the Cowboys all depends on what happens with Prescott.

Pending Free Agents

According to Over the Cap, the Cowboys have the 12th most cap space in the league, with $18.4 million. However, the team has 22 upcoming free agents, headlined by Prescott. If the team can come to a long-term deal with Dak, they will be in a position to re-sign some of their other free agents. However, if they end up placing the franchise tag on Prescott for the second year in a row, the Cowboys will likely lose all of their other free agents.

Dak Prescott, Quarterback

Prescott played last season on the franchise tag and was having a career year before suffering the season-ending ankle injury in Week 5. Before the injury, Dak was on pace for historic numbers, with 6,760 passing yards and 48 total touchdowns. Reports are Dak will be 100 percent before the start of the 2021 season, and the injury should have no impact on contract talks. Prescott will be back with the Cowboys next season, and the only question is will it be a long-term deal or on the franchise tag.

Andy Dalton, Quarterback

When the Cincinnati Bengals released Dalton last year, he signed with the Cowboys to be their backup quarterback. Little did the Cowboys know at the time, Dalton would end up starting nine games this season. While his 14 touchdowns weren’t overly impressive, he gave the team a veteran at the quarterback position. Unless he is willing to take the veteran minimum, Dalton won’t be back with the Cowboys next season. Given the certainty at quarterback for several teams, expect Dalton elsewhere in 2021.

Aldon Smith, Defensive End

After being suspended for the last four years, Smith returned to the NFL this season after signing a one-year deal with the Cowboys. Even though he was away from the game for years, Smith played like he never missed a beat. He started all 16 games and had five sacks and 14 quarterback hits. The Cowboys have publicly stated they want Smith back, but the price will determine if his time in Dallas will only be one season or not.

Jourdan Lewis, Cornerback

The Cowboys struggled to defend the pass last season, and things could get worse next season. Lewis is one of three Cowboy cornerbacks heading towards free agency next month. While Lewis didn’t have an interception in 2020 for the first time in his career, he did have a career-high 59 tackles this season. If the team has to place the franchise tag on Prescott, Lewis will have played his final game for the Cowboys.

Xavier Woods, Safety

In his four seasons in Dallas, Woods has been a full-time starter over the last three. During that span, he has missed only four games while totaling 205 tackles. The Cowboys have planned for Woods to move on in free agency as they drafted Reggie Robinson in the fourth round of last year’s draft. Given their cap situation, Woods has more than likely played his final down in a Cowboys uniform.

Potential Cap Casualties

If the Cowboys have to use the franchise tag on Prescott, they will need to find a way to create cap space. Unfortunately, the Cowboys don’t have many cap casualty options. The Cowboys can open up cap space by restructuring DeMarcus Lawrence and Zack Martin‘s contract. The other way would be to trade trading Amari Cooper. By moving Cooper, the Cowboys would open up $14 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap. However, that appears unlikely to happen. Removing those two options, the Cowboys have limited ways to create cap space.

Greg Zuerlein, K ($2.2 Million Saved)

After eight seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, Zuerlein signed with the Cowboys last offseason. In his first year in Dallas, he had a league-high 41 field goal attempts, converting 34 of them. However, after making 60 percent of his kicks from 50 or more yards during his time with the Rams, Zuerlein made just 33 percent this season. If the Cowboys weren’t in a tight spot cap-wise, Zuerlein wouldn’t be at risk for being cut. However, $2.2 million saved is a meaningful amount for the Cowboys.

Dalton Schultz, TE ($2.2 Million Saved)

When Blake Jarwin suffered a season-ending torn ACL in Week 1, many thought the Cowboys wouldn’t get much production from the tight end position. However, Schultz broke out in his third year in the league. After totaling 13 catches over his first two seasons, Schultz had 63 catches for 615 yards and four touchdowns this season. Jarwin will be back in time for the start of the 2021 season and regain his starting role. While the Cowboys won’t cut Schultz, they could trade him for a day three draft pick and open up $2.2 million in cap space.

Michael Gallup, WR, ($2.4 Million Saved)

Before the entire Cowboy nation loses their minds, the Cowboys will NOT cut Gallup to save $2.4 million in cap space. However, Gallup is entering the final year of his rookie deal and likely won’t be in Dallas past this season. The Cowboys signed Cooper to a massive contract last offseason and spent their first-round pick on CeeDee Lamb. If the Cowboys can net themselves a second-round pick for Gallup, expect them to consider the offer.

Open Market Free Agent Targets

Given the cap situation, fans shouldn’t expect the Cowboys to be very active in free agency. However, they have several holes on defense they need to address. With their cap situation, the Cowboys will have to wait for the second or even third wave of free agency and try to add players on one-year prove-it deals. Expect Dallas to focus on the defensive line and cornerback positions.

Ryan Anderson, DE, Washington Football Team

In 2019, Anderson played a career-high 49 percent of the snaps and had a career-high four sacks. However, when Washington selected Chase Young, Anderson’s role on the team shrunk. He played a career-low 14 percent of the snaps in 2020 and failed to record a sack. When given reps, Anderson has proven to be a good rotational defensive end. Coming off a disappointing season, Anderson will likely take a one-year deal to improve his value for next offseason.

Dawuane Smoot, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars

Over the last two years, Smoot has been a consistent pass rush threat for the Jaguars, totaling 11.5 sacks. While the Jaguars have plenty of cap space, Smoot will likely move on this offseason after investing first-round picks on Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson over the past two years. Smoot has never played 60 percent or more of the snaps in any season of his career. If he signs with Dallas, Smoot could have a breakout season in 2021.

Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Arizona Cardinals

With three cornerbacks heading towards free agency, the Cowboys’ secondary will look very different next season. The Cowboys will likely use their first-round pick on a cornerback; however, that shouldn’t stop them from adding a veteran or two in free agency. Kirkpatrick matched his career-high three interceptions during his only season in Arizona. But at 31 years old, the Cardinals are likely to let him walk in free agency. He would be an excellent one-year stop-gap option for the Cowboys.

Fabian Moreau, CB, Washington Football Team

Much like his Washington teammate Anderson, Moreau had the best year of his career in 2019 with three interceptions. However, last season he played only 15 percent of the snaps and fell on the depth chart. Given the play of Ronald Darby, Washington isn’t likely to offer Moreau a new contract. Assuming he hits the open market, he is the ideal target for the Cowboys as he tries to improve his value and earn a long-term deal for the 2022 season.

Sam Young, OT, Las Vegas Raiders

Hopefully, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins can stay healthy in 2021, but it’s something the Cowboys shouldn’t anticipate. Veteran offensive tackle Cameron Erving is a free agent, while Brandon Knight and Terence Steele struggled last season. Last season, Young started seven games and committed only two penalties on 313 snaps. He has experience at both tackle spots and would be a cheap swing tackle option for Dallas.

Previewing the Draft

Entering the draft, the Cowboys will need to focus on rebuilding their defense. However, in the middle rounds, expect the Cowboys to spend a pick or two on the offensive line. Expect the Cowboys to spend most of their draft picks on the defensive players.

Round 1, Pick 10: Cornerback

As mentioned earlier, the Cowboys’ secondary will look very different in 2021. Hopefully, they can re-sign one of their three upcoming free-agent cornerbacks. However, even if they do, adding a new starter opposite of Trevon Diggs is the Cowboys’ biggest priority not named Prescott this offseason. Keep an eye on Diggs’ former Alabama teammate Patrick Surtain II with this pick.

Round 2, Pick 44: Defensive End

Lawrence has one starting defensive end locked down, but the other spot is up for grabs. Both Smith and Tyrone Crawford are free agents next month, while Dorance Armstrong is a free agent after the 2021 season. Even if the Cowboys re-sign Smith in the offseason, expect them to invest a day two pick on a defensive end.

Round 3, Pick 75: Linebacker

There are rumors that the Cowboys could move Jaylon Smith in a trade to open up $7.2 million in cap space. If they do, expect them to address the linebacker spot sooner than the third round. However, even if they keep Smith, Leighton Vander Esch is heading towards the end of his rookie deal. Furthermore, the Cowboys have three linebackers heading towards free agency. The Cowboys need to add a linebacker on day two.

Early 2021 Expectations

The Cowboys were the favorites to win the NFC East entering last season. However, a struggling defense and injuries crushed that dream by Week 5. Despite all their issues, the Cowboys were still in the playoff race till their loss in Week 17. If the Cowboys can bring back Prescott and add to their defense, they have a real shot to win the NFC East next season and make some noise in the playoffs.

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Mike Fanelli is the Editor in Chief and fantasy football expert for Prime Time Sports Talk since 2018. He is a featured writer for FantasyPros. Follow him on Twitter @Mike_NFL2 and reach out anytime with any fantasy football questions.

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