Out of all 32 teams in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys have the most significant name hitting free agency in 2021. While other players on the Cowboys will be free agents in 2021, the eyes of Texas and the football landscape will be fixed squarely on Dak Prescott.
Dallas faces an uphill battle after a disappointing 2020 season
If you watched the first few games of the 2020 season, there is no way you would have thought the Dallas Cowboys finished 6-10. The offense was scoring 30 points a game, but the defense was allowing even more. Once the defense could get it together, the team could pull it together. However, that all came crashing down when QB Dak Prescott suffered a brutal injury in Week 5, which ended his season.
Having been franchise tagged once, Prescott was playing to prove he deserved a massive contract. A topic we will get to later on. He is not the only player Jerry Jones and the Cowboys have had to negotiate with in recent seasons.
Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, Byron Jones, and Ezekiel Elliott all entered 2019 on the last year of their deals. Dallas worked deals to sign both Cooper and Elliott to contracts totaling $190 million with $110 million in guaranteed money. Jones is now on the Dolphins, and Prescott is in limbo.
According to Over the Cap, the Cowboys enter 2021 with an estimated cap space of $19.31 million due to these large signings.
Dallas will need to get creative with the salary cap since they’ve overpaid some of their own talent.
Every Dallas decision revolves around Dak Prescott’s impending free agency in 2021
Of all the free agents slated to hit the open market, none are more significant than Dak Prescott.
The Dallas front office has made it clear they intend to sign Prescott to a long-term deal, but can they get it done? They have the franchise tag in their back pocket, but their salary cap will be wrecked if they have to use it.
Prescott signed his franchise tender last year, costing the Cowboys $31.4 million in guaranteed salary and the cap hit. They could tag him a second time this season if they don’t get a deal worked out, but that would cost $37.7 million. According to Spotrac, Prescott carries an estimated market value of $36.8 million per season on a four-year deal worth $147 million in total.
Prescott is among the 22 Cowboys players scheduled to become free agents when the new league year begins in March.
Prescott is not the only large name the Cowboys could lose in the 2021 free agency period
Following Travis Frederick’s retirement, who was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome in 2018, Joe Looney proved to be a versatile offensive lineman for the Cowboys. He filled in for Fredrick in 2018 and then again in 2020 when rookie Tyler Biadasz suffered an injury. Biadasz and Connor McGovern slightly diminish his value, but offensive line depth is critical to success. If they can afford him is another matter entirely.
Also, QB Andy Dalton will be a free agent in 2021. After finding his rhythm once taking over for the injured Prescott, Dalton played admirably. He played well enough to come out and say he wants to be a full-time starter again. If that is the case, it won’t happen with the Dallas Cowboys. We will see if his argument and film convince another NFL team. He is a low-tier starter in the NFL but could be a bridge for a team that drafts a rookie until that player is ready to start.
There are big questions on the defensive side of the ball when looking at the Cowboys’ free agents
On defense, the Cowboys have several players who could be lost to free agency in 2021. Notable names are DE Aldon Smith, DL Tyrone Crawford, CBs Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, and safety Xavier Woods.
Awuzie had his moments in Dallas but has never proven to be consistent. He never became the playmaker the Cowboys envisioned when they drafted him in 2017. A potential move to safety in the new scheme under newly signed defensive coordinator Dan Quinn could be what he needs to get his career on track.
Woods was also part of the same 2017 NFL Draft class. He played in 15 of 16 games for the Cowboys and recorded 72 tackles (48 solo) with 1 pass defended. For a sixth-round pick, Woods was a solid player during his time in Dallas, but it seems likely that time will come to an end.
Lewis is also another player who is likely going to another team in free agency. Lewis recorded a career-high 59 tackles (40 solo) and added 2 sacks, 2 passes defended, and 1 fumble recovery in 15 games during 2020.
Alson Smith is interesting. He ended the year with 5 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries, with one returned for a touchdown. Given this was coming off a five-year hiatus from the game makes it more impressive. Smith likely played well enough to warrant a larger contract. However, it is unlikely the Dallas Cowboys will have the space to sign him during the 2021 free agency period due to cap constraints.
Dallas Cowboys’ 2021 offensive free agents
TE Blake Bell, 30
WR Noah Brown, 25
QB Andy Dalton, 34
T Cameron Erving, 29
RB Sewo Olonilua, 24
QB Dak Prescott, 28
T Greg Senat, 27
WR Malik Turner, 25
WR Cedrick Wilson, 26
Dallas Cowboys’ 2021 defensive and special teams free agents
DT Eli Ankou, 27
CB Chidobe Awuzie, 26
DE Ron’Dell Carter, 24
DE Tyrone Crawford, 32
CB C.J. Goodwin, 31
LS L.P. Ladouceur, 40
LB Sean Lee, 35
CB Jourdan Lewis, 26
LB Justin March, 28
LB Aldon Smith, 32
LB Joe Thomas, 30
DT Antwaun Woods, 28
S Xavier Woods, 26
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