Every NFL offseason comes with winners and losers; players whose situation was either helped or hurt by their team’s activity. Today we’re going to look at the Dallas Cowboys’ 2020 roster and see who gained or suffered the most from the team’s moves in free agency and the draft.
You could argue that guys like Tavon Austin or Michael Bennett, who didn’t get a new contract and remain unsigned free agents, are the biggest losers. But we’re going to focus on players who are still actually on the team but perhaps losing status or facing more competition for their jobs.
As for the winners, well, they don’t need much explanation. Let’s start with them.
Winner – QB Dak Prescott
You might contend that Dak hasn’t won anything until he gets his new contract. But if you’re like me and have full confidence that a deal will be reached before July 15th, then you have to look at the rest of the offseason as a huge victory for the Cowboys’ quarterback.
It started in January with the firing of Jason Garrett and the arrival of Mike McCarthy as head coach. McCarthy brings a more modern and aggressive approach to offense which suits Prescott’s game. His background with the West Coast offense also suits a mobile passer like Dak. It’s definitely a better fit of coach and player.
Along with that, though, was the retaining of Kellen Moore. This provides a level of continuity while also not binding Moore’s hand with Garrett’s old school mentality. While McCarthy is still an offensive-minded coach who will want to have his say, hopefully he and Kellen are also a better match.
Another huge get for Prescott was the drafting of CeeDee Lamb. While Randall Cobb was a valuable third receiver in 2019, Lamb brings incredible potential and a better backup option if something happens to Amari Cooper or Michael Gallup. If CeeDee can hit the ground running as a rookie, Dak will have even more firepower now than before.
Dallas also made considerable investment to keep the offensive line solvent despite Travis Frederick’s retirement. While losing the All-Pro center hurts, Prescott should have someone solid in front of him between Joe Looney, Connor McGovern, or Tyler Biadasz.
And while this next item is also a potential win for Dak, it’s even bigger for the next name on our list….
Winner – TE Blake Jarwin
Jason Witten’s comeback came at a cost to Jarwin, who looked poised to become a breakout weapon in the Cowboys offense. With Jason having now joined the Poor Man’s Cowboys in Las Vegas, Blake finally gets a chance to be the top tight end in Dallas.
That could’ve changed at some point this offseason. The Cowboys had the cap space to sign an Austin Hooper or Eric Ebron in free agency. In the 3rd Round of the 2020 Draft, Dallas could’ve selected any TE prospect they desired other than Cole Kmet.
But no, the Cowboys are clearly committed to Blake Jarwin this season. Their only free agent addition was Blake Bell, a veteran blocking TE, and they went other directions with draft picks.
Jarwin will get to remain under the radar in Dallas’ offense despite moving into the starting role. Dallas made sure of that by drafting CeeDee Lamb to form perhaps the best trio of wide receivers in the NFL. And then of course there are guys named Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to worry about out of the backfield.
Blake Jarwin is going to get favorable matchups and be a low priority target for defenses throughout the season. He will have every opportunity to put up some big numbers if he makes the most of it.
Winner – DE DeMarcus Lawrence
Last season we saw Tank’s sack numbers take a big dive as he received consistent double teams and extra attention from opponents. Robert Quinn benefited and turned his big year into a big, new contract from the Chicago Bears. But even with Quinn’s departure, Lawrence stands to benefit in 2020 from Dallas’ considerable investment in the defensive line.
After many years of not doing much to improve the DT position, the Cowboys went out and added Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. While one is older and the other’s coming off an injury, both are immediate upgrades in the middle of the line. They, along with rookie Neville Gallimore, Antwaun Woods, and Trysten Hill in rotation, should help take some attention away from DeMarcus.
Dallas is also making the intriguing gamble of using Aldon Smith and hopefully Randy Gregory to replace Quinn’s pass rushing. Their combined efforts should at least supplement what Quinn did in 2019, and the upside for more significant. By the end of the year, offensive lines may be worried about stopping them over Lawrence.
Much of this is being taken on faith, of course, as we still need to see how all of these players perform in 2020. But even if only some of them live up to expectation, it still stands to give the Cowboys’ defensive line more playmakers and more guys for blockers to have to focus on.
That will help free up DeMarcus Lawrence, still the the Cowboys’ best defensive player, to get back to double-digit sacks.
Loser – DT Antwaun Woods
With those moves we just talked about came a pretty big hit to the job security and future of Antwaun Woods. He may go from a starting DT to a minor bench player, or perhaps not even make the final roster in 2020.
Even with Maliek Collins’ departure in free agency, Woods has likely lost his starting role to Dontari Poe as the team’s 1-tech, or run-stuffing, tackle. While he has the size and ability to replace Collins as the 3-tech, now you have McCoy, Gallimore, and Hill all vying for that spot.
That means Antwaun’s likely outcome for 2020 is to become Poe’s backup and a rotating player. But given that he’s an older player and a restricted free agent in 2021, Woods will also be a lower priority than Gallimore and Hill.
Dallas might be able to find a trade partner given Antwaun’s low cap figure for 2020 and his play the last two years. But if not, this could be a rough year for Woods as he loses playing time and remains stuck behind Exclusive Rights and Restricted free agency rules.
Loser – G/T Brandon Knight
Perhaps not someone you were thinking of when you started reading this, Brandon Knight’s hype was on the rise coming off last season. He played well in relief of La’el Collins at right tackle and looked like a good contender for the vacant swing tackle job in 2020.
That remained the case following last April’s draft. Dallas didn’t add any new tackles and Knight remained the top option on the roster. The only other scenario was perhaps Connor Williams getting moved to tackle if he lost his starting LG role to Connor McGovern, but that was a longshot.
But then the Cowboys made a surprising post-draft free ageny move and signed Cam Erving, a former 1st-Round pick who played offensive tackle last year for the Super Bowl Champions.
Turning just 28 in August, Erving arrives with experience, versatility, and pedigree. He can be the swing tackle while also providing depth across the line, having played both guard and center before in the NFL.
Brandon Knight also has some versatility as he entered the league as a guard. But not only does he lack Erving’s experience and cache; Knight hasn’t even shown he can handle playing left tackle in the pros.
With that one move, Knight went from being a front-runner for a key reserve role to perhaps not even making the 53-man roster in 2020.
Losers – CB Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis
The departure of Byron Jones to Miami seems like it would’ve made this a great offseason for Awuzie and Lewis. But while Dallas’ top corner from 2019 is gone, they have added several new players to create an incredible competition. Neither Chido or Jourdan has a certain role for 2020.
Dallas drafted Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson, re-signed Anthony Brown, and signed free agents Daryl Worley and Maurice Canady. Clearly, the music is going to stop with at least one or two of these guys not having a chair.
Worley may have been signed to play safety instead of corner, which he did recently for Oakland. But the veteran puts in solid work as a CB for the Panthers and could be a legit contender for the same role in Dallas.
Both Awuzie and Lewis are becoming free agents next year so the Cowboys will give their rookies every opportunity to learn on the job and take over the starting roles. They also are invested in keeping Anthony Brown, with his new three-year deal, as a steady part of the rotation.
All of this activity is a vote of no confidence, or at least not enough confidence, in the former 2017 draft picks. This fourth and final years of their rookie deals is critical to their career, and unfortunately Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis may already be seen as lame ducks by the Cowboys.