Every NFL offseason comes with a list of highest and lowest priorities. For the 2022 Dallas Cowboys, where do they already have assets under contract to lean on for the upcoming season? Where are they already strongest and able to do little, or even stand pat, so that they can focus cap space and draft picks elsewhere?
Earlier this week I did one of my favorite offseason rituals by constructing a possible roster using only the players Dallas currently has signed up for 2022. This is a great way to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the team before free agency and the draft, helping to then project where the Cowboys will likely focus their efforts in March, April, and beyond.
Based on the analysis in that article and other considerations, here are the three roster positions where I see Dallas having the most strength already before the 2022 offseason.
You can debate all day about Prescott’s elite status, contract, championship-worthiness, and other issues. And trust me, most of our readers and followers do.
However, you can’t deny that Dak and Cooper Rush give the Cowboys a solid starter and backup combination for 2022. Their presence allows Dallas to focus on improving on other parts of the team and not, like last year, having QB dominate much of the offseason talk.
Prescott has led the Cowboys to the playoffs three times in six years and put up some of the best numbers in the NFL during his career thus far. He has his own weaknesses, as most do, but he’s proven that he can be dynamic and even dominant when the rest of the offense is in synch.
Hopefully, the work that Dallas will assuredly be doing on the offensive line, plus replacing or retaining talent at WR and TE, will give Dak the tools and support he needs to get back to his best form.
With his strong showing last year in the road win over Minnesota, Cooper Rush finally gave us some real-game evidence of what he can do. Dallas has now trusted Cooper for several seasons to be the primary backup and the victory over the Vikings, forcing Rush to perform under pressure and in the clutch, finally gave him a real highlight on his NFL resume.
This isn’t to say Rush is the best QB2 in football. The Cowboys would certainly be justified by bringing in a more experienced veteran for competition. They already have a former 3rd-round pick in-house with Will Grier, who hasn’t played much but should at least put a little heat on Cooper this offseason.
Again, these positions listed today aren’t ones where Dallas couldn’t possibly get better. But with only so many resources to utilize this offseason, these are spots where they could go into 2022 with current talent and not have any glaring holes or issues.
Much like at quarterback, the RB position has a starter that not everyone is thrilled about coming out of a disappointing season. But Ezekiel Elliott is still one of the most productive backs in the NFL and his backup, Tony Pollard, may be the best RB2 in the game today.
Despite all the criticism heaped on him in 2021, Zeke still had a 1,000-yard season and 10 touchdowns. He only fumbled once, a huge improvement from his 2020 struggles. Of the 18 players who had at least 200 carries last year, Elliott’s 4.2 yards-per-attempt was right in the middle of the pack.
Last year we saw several instances where Zeke’s elite pass-blocking skills also came into play. With the offensive line having a rough season overall, Elliott was stonewalling pass rushers and helping keep Dak Prescott safe in ways few other running backs can.
Yes, Elliott has a contract and cap hit that makes many cringe. But since trading or releasing him won’t do the Cowboys any good this year when it comes to cap relief, all we can do is appreciate Zeke’s many strengths and accept that he’ll be back for at least one more year.
The key for Dallas in 2022 is finding the right mix of touches between their two great rushers. Tony Pollard is a play-maker with dynamic potential anytime he has the ball. It’s time for the Cowboys to get him more opportunities through a more creative offensive approach.
Even the RB3 spot could be solid next year if Rico Dowdle comes back strong from his 2021 hip injury. A standout on special teams in 2020 and showing offensive potential as well, Dowdle would’ve easily been the third back last year if not getting hurt late in the preseason.
Dowdle’s injury led to Corey Clement being signed and we saw some nice things from him last year. He’s a free agent again in 2022 but wouldn’t be a bad choice to re-sign as competition and insurance for Dowdle’s return.
There’s only one spot on defense you can argue is strong right now based on currently-signed talent. Even if the Cowboys make no additional moves at CB this offseason, last year’s group would give them a solid core and even depth for the upcoming campaign.
Obviously, there’s Trevon Diggs, the human interception machine, and a clear starting spot filled for next year. Plus you have Anthony Brown under contract for now and, despite a couple of bad games, his overall play in 2021 graded well and validated him as a capable starter.
Granted, Brown will likely be a cap casualty in 2022. Dallas can save $5 million of his $6.5 million cap hit and have bigger concerns at other positions. But part of why they can afford to let Anthony go is having other in-house options already signed.
Assuming Brown is released, Kelvin Joseph and Jourdan Lewis would finish out the top-three at cornerback. We didn’t see much of Joseph, a 2nd-Round rookie in 2021, due to a preseason injury but he flashed some great potential in limited late-season play. And Lewis quietly contributed three interceptions, a forced fumble, and some big tackles during a season where everyone got overshadowed by Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons.
If Dallas winds up keeping Anthony Brown then they will be especially deep at corner. But even if he’s gone, they will still have acceptable options for the primary roles and some intriguing depth to work within Nahshon Wright and Reggie Robinson.
The Cowboys will likely bring in some other mid-range veterans or even a Day 2 draft pick to bolster the position further. But in terms of the top three spots, all basically starting roles in the modern NFL, Dallas can feel way better about what they have to work with today than any other position on defense.