In his four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Donovan Wilson has far exceeded expectations. The Cowboys selected Wilson in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL draft. The assumption was for him to be a career-long backup and special teams player.
However, in recent years he has emerged as one of the most important players on the Cowboys' defense.
When Wilson replaced Darian Thompson in week four of the 2020 season, he wasted no time in making his mark. He quickly made his name as a thumping, physical, downhill safety.
Despite missing games in 2021, Wilson became Dan Quinn's best-kept secret.
His ability to play down inside the box and deliver decapitating hits turned him into a key player on the defensive side of the ball.
He entered the 2022 season in the final year of his rookie contract and had a career-best season while spearheading a three-headed monster in the Cowboys' secondary with Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker.
He led the Cowboys with 77 solo tackles and had a career-high five sacks and will enter the offseason as an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
But just how much higher should the Cowboys put Donovan Wilson on the list of priorities this season?
Dan Quinn will undoubtedly make a big push for Wilson to be part of his defense in 2023. After all, he turned down head coaching jobs to stay in Dallas, which may have come with some conditions.
Donovan Wilson was an unsung hero for the 2022 defense
Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, and DeMarcus Lawrence draw most of the media attention while Wilson quietly makes play after play.
In an ideal world, the Cowboys would ink Wilson to a multi-year contract. And in turn, make a significant stride in solving their somewhat constant defensive secondary woes.
However, as things stand, the Cowboys are $7 million over the 2023 cap space.
Even when they do make moves to get under the limit, they might not make enough space for Wilson to return.
Wilson could likely demand a $6 million-per-year contract in free agency, and he's shown to be worth it.
For the past three seasons, Wilson has played an important role in the defense and last year was one of the best players in the unit. And he never earned over $1 million a year.
The Cowboys definitely got their money's worth.
So, it's unlikely the Cowboys would be able to convince Wilson to pass up on testing the market and getting a big payday in favor of taking a hometown discount.
With Malik Hooker and Jayron Kearse under contract through 2023, the Cowboys might think the position is in good hands even without Wilson.
Kearse and Hooker have been solid at safety since joining the team in 2021. If Wilson does walk away, the position would not be completely lost without him.
Donovan Wilson, Dalton Shultz, Tony Pollard, and Leighton Vander Esch top the list of Cowboys free agents this off-season. On paper, it would be ideal to bring them all back for 2023 and beyond.
But CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs will be looking for big contracts this off-season too.
The Cowboys simply won't be able to keep up with the market value for Donovan Wilson. And with a worryingly long list of needs, the Cowboys probably shouldn't move mountains to keep the star on his helmet.