Dallas moves quickly to attempt to mitigate the losses they have suffered (2023)

Let’s start with two of the most basic but missed truths of this time of year:

1. There are almost no occasions where the winners of the first week of free agency still feel great about their spending spree in 24 or 36 months. In fact, a brief glance at the 2019 free agency supposed home runs will quickly turn into warning track fly balls. Here were the top signings of 36 months ago: Trey Flowers to Detroit ( five years, $90 million) — cut last week after three years and 10 total sacks. Landon Collins to Washington (six years, $84 million) — cut last week. Trent Brown to Oakland (four years, $64 million) — traded a year ago to New England and just re-signed. C.J. Mosley to New York Jets (five years, $85 million) — still with team but has only played in 18 games in three seasons. And, Le’Veon Bell to the Jets (four years, $52 million) — lasted about one season there and has been on four teams since and is looking for work. Those were the top five players in that group and all of them were pretty large failures. We didn’t even look at Earl Thomas to Baltimore (four years, $55 million) or Golden Tate to the Giants (four years, $37.5 million). In other words, this often doesn’t work out really well for the big spenders. And you can also pick just about any year you want.


2. There are 175 days until opening Sunday for the 2022 NFL season. There is a long way to go. Everybody calm down.

But, that isn’t always the best analysis I can provide, so now, after a week of letting the bullets fly around the league, let’s take a brief look at as many of these moves as possible that have affected the Dallas Cowboys in some way, shape or form. Let’s do a brisk walk through the past two weeks to catch you up to where we are in the story as of this Monday:

MARCH 8: Cowboys decide to place the franchise tag on Dalton Schultz at $10.9 million.

If you have read some of my earlier pieces, you probably know I didn’t think this was the greatest move, but I get it. There were two players the Cowboys really wanted to retain and they figured that their best bet was to franchise Schultz to keep him from moving and then get Randy Gregory done without the tag (since they felt really good about that one and also the DE tag was up near $18 million for 2022. I have already stated my reasons for being mixed on this, but retaining Schultz must be regarded as a positive. They can now explore an extension with him, but might resist until they see who they can take in the draft and perhaps this is just a one-year deal before his replacement is ready. We shall see. And, more on Gregory here in a few days.

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March 12: Cowboys trade Amari Cooper and a sixth to Cleveland for the Browns’ fifth- and sixth-round picks.

This was a move that is more frustrating than surprising. They were very clear about falling out of love with Cooper and thus, we were pretty sure they were moving on and pushing CeeDee Lamb into his spot. They also liked Michael Gallup on an extension (below), so Cooper at $20 million per season was not going to work unless he was dominating and he was not in 2021. This was clearly about money and now with $20 million, the Cowboys believe they can employ Schultz and Gallup for the price of Cooper. I don’t love the decision there, but you can at least understand it and we can all admit they didn’t get enough of one of the more gifted and talented receivers in the league. Maybe his next chapter in Cleveland will restore his position in the league rankings. Dallas gained picks No. 155 and 193 in this trade and sent No. 202 to Cleveland.

March 13: Cowboys sign Michael Gallup to a five-year, $57.5 million deal with $23 million fully guaranteed.

This is a very fair deal signed for all parties and gives Gallup his first payday as he attempts to recover from his ACL in January. His availability before October should not be assumed, but there is a real nice chance that they won’t regret this contract. He is a fine player and this is roughly WR2 money in the league these days at about $11.5 million a year through his age-30 season. I don’t hate this although I certainly didn’t expect that he would get more than a one-year deal after his injury and perhaps they bid against themselves. At the same time, we should be aware that this is a pay far less now than what his value could be on the market when he restores his health and productivity in 12 months, so we will never criticize betting on your own guys with early extensions to save money.

March 14: Cowboys extend and retain DeMarcus Lawrence on three-year, $40 million deal with $30 million guaranteed.

This was originally billed as a deal that can help keep Gregory in town, but might actually end up being Jason Pierre-Paul or Za’Darius Smith or Jadeveon Clowney, I suppose. Either way, we suggested they do this a month ago (not that it was a difficult prediction) to get his cap number down from a ridiculous $27 million per year to about half that. Then, they take the other half and get his bookend partner which everyone in the organization was pretty sure was what Gregory would need. Everything was working out just as they planned … until it didn’t.

March 14: Cowboys lose Cedrick Wilson to Miami for a three-year, $22.8 million deal with $12.8 million guaranteed.

This is another player the Cowboys hoped to retain, but they knew their ceiling was well below what Miami offered him up near $8 million per season. That one was expected, but still smarted a bit.

March 15: Cowboys agree to terms with Randy Gregory and then lose him to Denver.

Without spending 2,000 words on this twisted ordeal, I will simply say that Dallas did this to itself and should shoulder all of the blame here for trying to push through a clause that they push through when players do not have another team on the phone saying the opposite. Dallas seldom has to compete with contract language in unrestricted free agency so it can dictate terms and with Gregory on the open market, the Broncos (and more importantly, his agent) used this to push back. This led to the Jones family and agent Peter Schaffer locking horns in a battle that actually extends back to another Schaffer client La’el Collins getting jammed up with this very issue when he lost his guarantees because of a league suspension over a missed drug test. Did Schaffer and Gregory need to turn this into a huge incident? No. But, Dallas played the hand like it had 100 percent of the leverage and it definitely misread the situation and lost its “priority” as the Cowboys called him over a paragraph that they insist they weren’t going to use. This was not the organization’s finest hour. It is amazing to see so many claim Dallas was a victim here, but I concede (back to the top of this piece) that Denver might have done them a favor here unless Gregory hits his ceiling in Colorado.

(Video) Never try tackling an NFL Running back cause this will happen .. 😨

Dallas moves quickly to attempt to mitigate the losses they have suffered (1)

Malik Hooker (Robert Deutsch / USA Today)

March 15: Cowboys agree to terms with Malik Hooker on a two-year, $7 million deal.

I like this quite a bit and think he played very well as Dallas gradually worked him back up to health last season. He is immensely talented and this number is more than fine to add him as the starting free safety in place of Damontae Kazee. I think Hooker is the better player and we shall really see it in 2022 and 2023. I think this is superb.

March 15: Cowboys lose Connor Williams to Miami for two years, $14 million with $7.5 million guaranteed.

Not even sure Dallas bid on him, but if there was one thing we learned last week, starting offensive linemen who get to free agency are targeted by teams who need starters. It almost doesn’t matter if they are good starters, because those teams are saying, “Well, he started all of those games in Dallas” and Williams is not alone at all. I don’t know if he actually makes Miami significantly better, but he raises the floor quite a bit at guard for them. Dallas, meanwhile, will manage at a much lower price point with Connor McGovern, we assume.

March 17: Cowboys release La’el Collins on a June 1 release designation.

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I assume things got rather icy between Schaffer and the Cowboys and the Gregory and Collins situations are attached. This was probably going to happen either way, but I stress to the readers here (and my fellow media colleagues) that there is no planet in which Terence Steele is a better or even equal player to Collins. If you think you can replace a $10 million tackle with one who will barely make 10 percent of that, then fine. Mike McCarthy has done this 10 times over his coaching career where he finds O-line starters who can play a gritty style and not take up much cap space. But, let’s not kid ourselves. Steele is a decent reserve and now we are going to spend the next six months acting like they didn’t just downgrade here because Dallas won a bunch of games when Collins was suspended last year. They did. And Jerry Jones is famous for saying “don’t let your money get mad”, but I am almost certain that is what happened here. Either way, he joins the LSU party in Cincinnati on a deal that is nearly identical to the one he just left in Dallas, so Collins will be fine as he joins the AFC champions (still weird to say). Dallas will be able to continue to gather money to perhaps help its offensive line with this move, but we should check the draft first.

March 17: Cowboys reach deal with Dorance Armstrong on a two-year, $13 million contract.

Had no idea he would be able to get this much in free agency, but good for him. He did play plenty and had his moments in 2021, but he basically received what Williams got in Miami on this deal. Maybe the Cowboys could have afforded Wilson instead, but either way, they need to maintain the depth on the defensive line and Armstrong will help provide that and has always anchored the special teams, too. Interesting that they chose to push so much money in on this one.

March 18: Cowboys sign three free agents to one-year deals: Leighton Vander Esch, Luke Gifford and James Washington.

Now the market is cooling and your own guys have perhaps seen their opportunities in the wild and are circling back to familiar waters. Vander Esch was given one year for $3 million and Gifford was at the veteran’s minimum. They both are depth linebacker options and special teams help for Gifford. That is strong business, I should think. Washington adds a one-year piece at WR who offers deep ability from Oklahoma State. I definitely liked him out of college but he has had a tough time making his way with the Steelers, save for a 2019 stretch where college mate Mason Rudolph was playing QB for an injured Ben Roethlisberger. Nothing wrong with this no-risk play at all. Here is my Draft Digest write-up on him from 2018. I was a big fan.

Dallas moves quickly to attempt to mitigate the losses they have suffered (2)

Dante Fowler (Matt Pendleton / USA Today)

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March 19: Cowboys do a one-year deal with edge rusher Dante Fowler for $5 million.

This is exactly the type of signing you love. Fowler has always put heat on the QB, but has never been elite enough to be a lead dog. On a one-year deal, this has a chance to be Robert Quinn all over again. There is no way you would rather have him than Gregory, but it will be interesting how they are compared this year as Dan Quinn has another reclamation project. I think this could be a great deal and people forget Fowler is only 27. I give this move two thumbs up and really think Fowler is a guy with a tremendous value at this price.


I did not spend any time on Jake McQuaide or Jeremy Sprinkle, but Dallas got them done as well on small one-year deals. All told, they did some nice business, but also lost major pieces.

This weekend, there has been more linking Dallas and that pile of Gregory money on continuing to improve the defensive pass rush with names like Pierre-Paul and Smith, so I may need to be on stand-by for that. I expect they will try to get at least one more piece for the pass rush and then throw many picks at the offense in the draft.

But we must remind you about the 175 days thing again. We should never write a game summary after the first quarter and we shouldn’t grade an offseason after 10 days. But, it has been pretty eventful so far, for sure.

(Photo of Michael Gallup: David Eulitt / Getty Images)


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