It's been a rough year for the Dallas Cowboys overall but some individual players have still had success. This is particularly important for those becoming unrestricted free agents in 2021, so who's stock has gone up and improved their marketability for the next offseason?
You may be surprised to not see QB Dak Prescott on this list. The thought there is that Prescott's stock was already sky high and his play this year just confirmed those projections. And unfortunately, his major injury will now also be a factor in people's minds next year.
Dak's stock could be it's own article. To summarize, I would argue that his leverage in 2021 will be relatively unchanged from this past offseason. Unfortunately, if anything, concerns about Prescott's injury could undermine his value.
So with that disclaimer behind us, let's look at three Cowboys players who have definitely improved their value over these first nine games of 2020. And remember, they're all set to become UFAs after this season.
DE Aldon Smith
Making an improbable comeback to the NFL after a five-year absence, Aldon Smith hit the ground running. He had a sack and multiple pressures in the first two games and then had a breakout party in Week 3 with three sacks against the Falcons.
The numbers have trailed off a bit for Aldon since the Atlanta game; only one sack in six games and declining numbers in tackles, QB hits, and pressures. And there's really only one game, last week against the Steelers, that you can blame Randy Gregory's return for Smith getting less opportunities.
So given that, why do I still think Smith's stock's gone up?
Realistically, Aldon's NFL comeback was going to require patience. Such a long layoff from football, returning at age 30, means Smith is playing with a different body than he had in 2015. It was going to take time for him to get all the way back to playing shape.
Jerry Jones and the Cowboys front office appear to agree. Just a few weeks ago, Jones made it clear that he sees Aldon Smith as part of the team's future.
A few months ago nobody knew if Smith had a present in the NFL, let alone a future. Even if his effectiveness has waned since the start of the year, Aldon has apparently done enough to earn the Cowboys' loyalty.
QB Garrett Gilbert
A week ago we were upset to learn that Gilbert be getting the start against the Steelers over Ben DiNucci or even Cooper Rush. A few days later, we were disappointed that Dallas wasn't keeping Gilbert as starting QB over Andy Dalton.
That's about as sharp a turn in stock value as you can have from just one game.
Nobody expected Dallas to even be competitive against the undefeated Steelers but Gilbert's presence helped them nearly pull of a huge upset. A 6th-round pick in 2014, Gilbert's first real chance at NFL playing time has left people wondering what he could do with more.
The Cowboys' QB questions this offseason extend beyond Dak Prescott. Andy Dalton is only on a one-year contract and Ben DiNucci's one game left the team looking for other options.
Could Gilbert's one game be enough to keep him with the Cowboys beyond this year? And if Dalton struggles after the bye week, could it have created a QB controversy for the remainder of 2020?
Of course, we've seen a lot of fool's gold from single-game performances. Garrett Gilbert may have simply caught Pittsburgh off guard and not have any long-term potential.
But the fact that we're even asking these questions is a clear sign that Gilbert's stock has gone up.
CB C.J. Goodwin
Goodwin has stuck around in Dallas, and in the NFL as a whole, by being a standout special teams player. Even at age 30, C.J. keeps making plays and showing he's worth a roster spot.
I was actually surprised when Goodwin made the 2020 roster. I figured rookie Reggie Robinson would take over his special teams role and provide more value as a defensive back, making C.J. expendable.
But from big stops as a gunner on punt coverage, being the receiver on a fake punt attempt, or the recipient of Cedrick Wilson's backwards pass during last week's epic return play, Goodwin has provided John Fassel with a valuable weapon to deploy.
I would definitely like to see Robinson getting playing time and would feel more strongly about it if the Cowboys were out of the division race. But as long as the NFC East is within reach then guys like Goodwin, who can be a difference-maker in underrated ways, can help the Cowboys get wins in close games.
It may not be a huge uptick in his stock from previous years. Again, Goodwin was already seen as the team's best special teams player.
But this season has confirmed that he's one of those guys, like we used to have in Dwayne Harris, whose special teams value is greater than most in the NFL. He's a Swiss Army knife and, even at age 30, still as sharp as ever.