Despite being “America’s Team” and the most valuable franchise in professional sports, the Dallas Cowboys‘ free agency plan is to be as boring as possible. The team with their owner and VP on local radio twice weekly and the head coach once weekly, creep into the shadows during this exciting time.
The last significant free agent deal the Cowboys made was with cornerback Brandon Carr back in 2012, signing him to a five-year, $50.1 million deal, including $26.5 in total guaranteed money.
Entering the 2022 season, the Cowboys led the entire NFL in homegrown talent, a staple of their overall philosophy. Dallas drafts well, and they pay the picks they hit on. So, realistically, what could possibly be their best- and worst-case scenarios heading into the NFL’s free agency period in 2023 if they are laggards?
Dallas Cowboys Free Agency Predictions
Well, there certainly won’t be any fireworks unless it’s in the form of a trade, which the Cowboys have done from time to time, like with Amari Cooper back in the day. It’s not a best- or worst-case scenario, but there seems to be a real chance that Ezekiel Elliott will be cut. Even if he remains a Cowboy in the long run, it will be on a significantly different deal than the one he currently has.
Best-Case Scenario Includes Re-Signing Donovan Wilson and Signing DJ Chark
Dallas had a good offense in 2022, but it was clearly missing a critical component; speed.
While there was certainly some flirtation last season with Odell Beckham Jr., someone who can take the top off a defense and open up the middle of the field for Dak Prescott is imperative. T.Y. Hilton proved what speed can do for an offense, but DJ Chark is younger, bigger, and faster, and yet, shouldn’t break the bank.
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Chark would help open the middle of the field for CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and the young tight ends in Dallas. The Detroit Lions’ passing attack averaged 0.15 EPA per play with Chark on the field compared to 0.04 off it. So even if he’s not making a direct impact on the box score, he’s helping the team.
Meanwhile, losing Donovan Wilson wouldn’t cripple the Cowboys’ defense. They already have two starting-caliber safeties in Malik Hooker and Jayron Kearse, and Israel Mukuamu made an impact late in 2022 at multiple positions. However, Wilson’s physicality makes him a weapon against the run and short passing attack, and he survives on the back end in split-safety looks.
Worst-Case Scenario Includes Losing Leighton Vander Esch, Not Extending Dak Prescott
“I’ve really felt for quite a while that Dak [Prescott] has the ability — I don’t want to dare do this to Dak or me or anybody. But I think just as [Tom] Brady became, in my mind, better and better and more impactful on how they won as he got into his career, I think Dak really has those qualities. I think he can get better.”
That’s what Jerry Jones said about Dak during an interview on his famed NFL Combine bus. With as often as both Jerry and Stephen Jones discuss the “pie” in regard to building a team around a high-paid QB, they usually exhibit a “woe is me” attitude toward adding good players alongside an expensive passer.
So why would they want Prescott to account for $49 million of their 2023 salary cap? His deal expires after next season, and extending the 29-year-old now could spread out larger cap hits for when the cap ceiling has exploded due to the new TV rights deal.
MORE: 2023 NFL Free Agency Predictions
Leighton Vander Esch, meanwhile, is coming off his best season since 2018, and the Cowboys have no other viable options at linebacker. They certainly have hope that Damone Clark rounds into a difference-maker, but it’s far too early to tell. They’re pretty much lost, otherwise.
Vander Esch was outstanding in coverage a season ago and made more plays in the backfield and at the line than he ever has before. Yet, he had major injury concerns entering the NFL, and the troubling neck remained troublesome at the NFL level.
In 2020, he told Jon Machota of The Athletic, “I feel amazing. That’s all behind me. I’m not worried about my neck anymore.” However, he suffered a scary neck injury in Week 15 against Jacksonville and was sidelined for the next three weeks with a stinger. LVE’s market may not be in line with his ability because of it, which should please the Cowboys because losing him could be catastrophic to the middle of their defense.
Dallas Cowboys Free Agent Targets
Here is a list of free agents by position the Cowboys should at least consider targeting in free agency (not including their own, like Wilson and Vander Esch).
- DJ Chark, Detroit Lions
- Odell Beckham Jr., Free Agent
- Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
- Nelson Agholor, New England Patriots
- Parris Cambell, Indianapolis Colts
- Bobby Wagner, Los Angeles Rams
- Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings
- Germaine Pratt, Cincinnati Bengals
- Drue Tranquill, Los Angeles Chargers
- Dalton Risner, Denver Broncos
- Ben Powers, Baltimore Ravens
- Isaac Seumalo, Philadelphia Eagles