We’re now less than a week away from the annual NFL spending spree known as free agency, which opens March 13th. There’s been a lot of talk about how active the Dallas Cowboys are going to be this offseason, with them already linked to several high-profile free agents.
Jerry Jones’ recent comments would have you believe that the Cowboys will be aggressive in their attempt to improve a roster that went to the divisional round of the playoffs last season.
Other reports make it sound like the Dallas Cowboys will be business as usually in their pursuit of free agents starting next week. Namely, letting the top-tier players find their deals, while shopping for bargains after the first wave has passed.
Obviously, fans want their team to have a balance between smart spending and adding top-tier talent, but sometimes you have to compromise one of those. You can’t always get a top-tier talent unless you’re willing to spend freely. This is where the Dallas Cowboys find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
they've drafted well and managed their contracts well so that they have minimal dead money on their 2019 cap, but what good is that money unless they spend it.
As the Dallas Cowboys get ready for the first phase of roster building, let’s take a look at their top team needs heading into free agency.
1. Defensive Tackle
As it stands now, the Dallas Cowboys only have two defensive tackles on the roster for 2019. Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods, who both started the playoff games and should be penciled in to start week one of the 2019 season are the only two defensive tackles in the roster.
David Irving, Datone Jones, Daniel Ross, and Caraun Reid are all set to be free agents and there’s been no indication that they plan to bring any of them back. Tyrone Crawford who spends sometime on the Cowboys interior may be forced to be at right defensive end full-time this season if Randy Gregory’s “indefinite suspension” bleeds over into the regular season.
That leaves at least two spots in the defensive tackle depth chart that the Cowboys need to fill to have their rotational tackle group.
Free agency provides some options, but it’s the draft that provides the best opportunity to get players to fill in behind Woods and Collins this year. In many mock drafts, draft analysts have the Dallas Cowboys taking a defensive tackle in the second or third round. With the depth of talent available in 2019, the Cowboys could double up at the position.
The free agent safety group looks to be one of the best positional groups to ever walk into free agency.
The Dallas Cowboys have been linked to Earl Thomas for more than a year now, but the presence of this kind of free agent class could have the Cowboys looking in a younger or cheaper direction.
With Xavier Woods versatility to play either safety role, the Cowboys can approach the safety market with an open mind. Jeff Heath on the other hand left us with a bad taste in our mouths from the 2018 season. Heath’s a solid role player who contributes on special teams, but got over-exposed in 2018. Too many times he allowed ball carriers to pick up tons of extra yardage by trying to strip the ball out instead of just tackling. An upgrade is needed there.
While Earl Thomas is the top name that many in Cowboys Nation want, Landon Collins might be the player that makes the most sense. He’s only 25, been to three Pro Bowls and been selected to omen First-Team All-Pro Team.
Collins is a guy you can add to this young group and continue to build with, and allows Woods to stay in the more traditional free safety spot that he played last year. Woods played really well in 2018 and will be one of your full-time safeties when the 2019 season rolls around.
If a free agent safety isn’t your cup of tea, there will be options for the Dallas Cowboys at 58, such as Darnell Savage Jr. from Maryland.
3. Wide Receiver
Terrance Williams is gone, Allen Hurns is hurt, Cole Beasley looks to be on his way out, Noah Brown has some skill but is best served as your fourth or fifth wide receiver and Cedric Wilson isn’t really a known quantity. Outside of Amari Cooper, and to a lesser extent Michael Gallup, this wide receiver group has some needs.
This draft may be light at the top of the draft at wide receiver, but there are several guys that could be around in the second and third round when the Dallas Cowboys make their picks.
The Cowboys could go after a speed guy like Marquise Brown from the University of Oklahoma, a slot wide receiver like Andy Isabella or Deebo Samuel, or get a big target with a huge catch radius in Iowa State's Hakeem Butler.
4. Defensive End
What looked like a strength heading into the offense, with DeMarcus Lawrence set to get his big contract extension and Randy Gregory coming off of his first full season, now looks like an area of need.
DeMarcus Lawrence needs shoulder surgery. His contract situation looks like something that could drag on throughout the offseason and into training camp. Lawrence was tagged with the non-exclusive franchise tag, which means he could negotiate with teams, but the Cowboys would still have the opportunity to match any offer. This could be the Cowboys way of letting another team set his price. So long as it isn’t a team like the Colts or 49ers who have gone of cap space, Lawrence wouldn’t likely see an offer that the Cowboys couldn’t match.
When it’s all said and done, Lawrence will be suiting up week one for the Cowboys.
Randy Gregory however, may Ben a different story a season he’s been suspended indefinitely by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Gregory, will forevermore be one step away from his NFL career being over, and this latest suspension is a reminder if that. Gregory’s a terrific football player, but nearly impossible to count on him always being available.
Thankfully, like it is for defensive tackles, the 2019 NFL Draft is full of potential defensive ends throughout the draft. Names like Charles Omenihu and Chase Winovich could be options for the Cowboys at 58.
There are several intriguiging options the Cowboys could pursue in free agency from big money names like Justin Houston and Trey Flowers to lower prices options like Dante Fowler or Shane Ray.
Though they have Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, and Tyrone Crawford in the mix at defensive end, it would benefit them to add another player at the position, especially if Crawford has to continue splitting snaps between end and tackle.
5. Running Back
It may be odd to look at a position group that features the NFL’s league leader in rushing two out of the last three seasons, and while the need at running back isn’t exactly about Ezekiel Elliott, it kind of is about Ezekiel Elliott.
The Dallas Cowboys are looking to extend their dynamic runner and if they do so, it would be wise for them to get someone who can share some of the running and passing game burden.
Whether they trade for Duke Johnson or sign a free agent like TJ Yeldon or Jalen Richard, the Cowboys hope ave some options to explore.
The NFL Draft is another place to find a guy who can give you 5-10 touches per game. In particular, the Dallas Cowboys could use a player to help in the passing game and be a “change of pace” back for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys appeared to make a concerted effort to throw the ball to Ezekiel Elliott last season, but it didn’t always turn out to be a good thing. Finding a player with more suddenness and burst as a receiver will help the offense when Quarterback Dak Prescott goes to check the ball down. Also, adding a receiving back has the added benefit if keeping Elliott fresher throughout the game and in the regular season.
If paying Ezekiel Elliott is a priority, then finding a player to compliment him and give the team quality snaps should be a priority too.
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The beginning of the 2019 season may still be six months away, but preparation and roster construction begin soon on March 13th. Armed with $50 million in salary cap room, the Cowboys have the opportunity to be players in the early stages of free agency this year at positions of need.
How they end up using the cap space will be an interesting storyline to watch throughout March.