After a successful regular season, which included an NFC East title, it seemed as if the Dallas Cowboys were on their way to a solid postseason performance. However, the San Francisco 49ers earned a huge upset win in the Wild Card round to end the Cowboy’s playoff hopes, 23-17. After going 12-5 throughout the regular season, Dallas enters the offseason looking to strengthen their defense.
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Pending Free Agents
The Cowboys get to free agency coming off a disappointing playoff performance. According to Over the Cap, the Cowboys have a projected $22.2 million over the cap space. They also have 24 players scheduled to hit the open market. This puts the Cowboys into a situation where they have to make some serious cuts which could include wide receiver Amari Cooper, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, or offensive linemen La’el Collins. In a win-now situation, the Cowboys have a critical offseason ahead of them.
The Cowboys have pointed out that they want to re-sign Gallup this offseason. He took 497 snaps in 2021, despite two injuries throughout the season. He put up at least 30 receiving yards in every game from Weeks 10 to 17 but unfortunately suffered a torn ACL late in the season that complicates matters heading into 2022. As he is rehabbing from his ACL surgery, a lot currently is unknown. When will he be suited to play, and is he worth is more than the $13 million asking price that he is projected to have. The Atlanta, Georgia native likely won’t be at full strength by August, but his injury along with Cooper’s situation could affect his new contract.
Gregory is the top priority for the Cowboys this offseason. Gregory was a beast all season long in Dallas. He ended the season with a career-high six sacks and three forced fumbles. Along with that, he also had 29 pressures to opposing quarterbacks this season. The Jacksonville, Florida native is rumored to be franchise tagged by the Cowboys. The tag window will close on March 8, and most teams wait until the end to tag a player so they can try to work out a deal.
Schultz is the other player the Cowboys could consider using the franchise tag on. With 78 receptions for 808 yards this past season, he joined Jason Witten as the second tight end in team history with at least 70 catches and 800 yards in a season. The franchise tag projected nearly $11 million for tight ends. Along with his catching, the Cowboys are also rewarded with blocking abilities. Schultz had a run block win rate of 72.9 percent and a pass block win rate of 93.2 percent. If the Cowboys don’t tag Schultz or cannot sign him, they are likely to add a tight end or two from the draft or free agency.
Potential Cap Casualties
As the Cowboys are in the red with this offseason in cap space, necessary cuts will be coming their way. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the cuts might have to come from some of their biggest stars. If Dallas wants to get back to the playoffs and potentially a Super Bowl, their front office will take considerable actions with some of their star players this offseason.
Amari Cooper ($16 million saved)
Would the Cowboys move on from Cooper? This is one of the biggest questions the front office has to consider to maintain a roster around quarterback Dak Prescott. Cooper’s $20 million base salary in 2022 is fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year (March 21). Cutting him would free up $16 million. With the emergence of CeeDee Lamb and the ongoing decision with Gallup, Cooper could be on his way out.
DeMarcus Lawrence ($19 million saved)
Another question for the Dallas front office to answer. Is it time to move on from Lawrence? With the vast Prescott contract, the team must be careful about where their money goes this offseason. Lawrence is the most likely choice out the door. With the emergence of Micah Parsons and Gregory possible to draw a big contract, the Cowboys could offload Lawrence. This move would save them nearly $19 million.
La’el Collins ($10 million saved)
Collins played in Dallas’s season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before a suspension. He served a five-game suspension after failing seven drug tests and attempted at bribing the test collector. His suspension cost him $2 million, and his $6.48 million injury guarantee for 2022 is void. With that void, his spot on the Cowboys is in serious jeopardy. He’s got a $15.2 million cap hit in 2022 with nearly $14 million in dead money left on the deal. The Cowboys could create $10 million in cap space, pushing most of the dead money to 2023, if they make Collins a post-June 1 designation.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
With an already solid roster and the most likely losses on their defensive end, the Cowboys will look to strengthen their defense. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they will need to make some serious cuts before targeting different free agents. That said, the Cowboys will have to find a way to replace some of the players they potentially cut this offseason.
Jadeveon Clowney, Cleveland Browns
Not too long ago, the Cowboys were reportedly trying to sign Clowney. After a resurgent season with the Browns, where he had 37 tackles and nine sacks, teams could throw some money his way. Depending on offseason moves regarding Lawrence and Gregory’s future, the Cowboys could set their targets to Clowney.
Jessie Bates, Cincinnati Bengals
Regardless of whether or not the Cowboys add a cornerback, they still need additional help with their secondary. They could look to the free safety market and add Bates. The Bengal had two interceptions and eight passes deflected this season, but he had three picks and 15 passes deflected last year. If the Bengals choose not to re-sign Bates, mainly coming off a somewhat-down year, it could benefit Dallas to swoop in and sign him away. They could probably get him on the cheap as well.
D.J. Jones, San Fransico 49ers
The Cowboys could stand to add a defensive tackle this offseason, depending on how their offseason free agency turns out. Entering the playoffs, Jones recorded career-highs in combined tackles (56), solo tackles (40), tackles for loss (10), and forced fumbles (two). Jones recorded a solo tackle, a tackle for loss, a sack, and a quarterback hit when facing the Cowboys. A sixth-round draft pick in 2017 could be an excellent target for Dallas.
Previewing the 2022 NFL Draft
The Cowboys will enter the draft after a disappointing performance in the playoffs. With most of their issues coming from cap space within the free agency, most of their problems will need to be addressed through the draft. As we’ve talked about throughout their biggest needs, the Cowboys will look to strengthen their defense. However, they need to protect their star quarterback, and their first pick will likely be an offensive lineman.
Round 1, Pick 24: Offensive Line
While the defense is their most significant need, the Cowboys will look to protect Prescott with their first pick. An ideal candidate is Kenyon Green from Texas A&M. Green played both guard and tackle sports in college, which displayed how effective he is at multiple positions. The two-time Consensus All American could be exactly what the Cowboys are looking for.
Round 2, Pick 56: Defensive Line
With many questions regarding Gregory, Lawrence, and Parsons, the Cowboys will look to get an insurance pick. Travis Jones impressed many NFL scouts during the 2022 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. He had 25 pressures, and 21 run stops a season ago with the Huskies. He would be great fighting on the inside. While he may not record sacks, he does a great job attacking the rushing lane and forcing the opposing quarterbacks towards the edge.
Round 3, Pick 88: Linebacker
Leighton Vander Esch is likely moving on this offseason, which means the Cowboys will look towards a linebacker in the draft. The Cowboys could look towards Nebraska’s JoJo Domann. He’s a great linebacker who can cover tight ends or running backs with a safety in place. Domann played in the first 10 games of his final season before season-ending surgery forced him to miss the last two games. Domann posted 72 tackles in his 10 games with nine tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions, and three pass breakups.
Early 2022 Expectations
Don’t expect the Cowboys to go away. They built a contending squad in 2021 but now look to bounce back with Super Bowl aspirations. This square will likely lock up the NFC East Division title on their quest to the playoffs. Dallas has a talented offense, but a couple of pieces away on the defensive side from making a big push. Depending on how the offseason goes, the Cowboys could win the division again in 2022 or miss the playoffs.
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