It’s been a wild and wonderful offseason for many teams already. The Bengals gave their offensive line a massive facelift and some teams that needed quarterback upgrades got massive ones. One team that’s had a lot of turnover without adding many players is the Dallas Cowboys. The biggest question that remains is how the Cowboys will address the recent roster turnover as well as the team needs that existed even before some key player departures.
The first wave of free agency is mostly over, and rather than making any big adds, the Cowboys’ primary focus thus far seems to have been holding onto players already on their roster. They began by placing the franchise tag on breakout tight end Dalton Schultz. Then, they cut Greg Zuerlein and Blake Jarwin to free up some cap space before using that extra room to sign DeMarcus Lawrence and Michael Gallup to three- and five-year extensions, respectively.
That didn’t mean the Cowboys were done or that all of their big pieces stuck around.
Just a few days after Gallup and Lawrence inked their new deals with Dallas, the Cowboys traded star receiver Amari Cooper to the Browns and cut right tackle La’el Collins to free up more space. Receiver Cedrick Wilson left for the Dolphins on a three-year deal and pass rusher Randy Gregory signed with the Broncos after initial reports indicated he was returning to the Cowboys.
Locking in guys like Gallup, Lawrence and Schultz are definitely solid moves, but Dallas will still have to make up for losing Cooper, Collins, Wilson and Gregory this offseason. It’s how they plan to do so that is the bigger question.
Dallas has already made some minor moves to patch up the roster in the wake of so many key players’ departures. Former Steelers receiver James Washington signed a one-year deal with the team and Dante Fowler is joining the Cowboys’ pass rush after a couple of years with the Falcons. While those are some solid moves to shore up the roster in spots of need after the first wave of free agency, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Cowboys fans are well aware of the need to upgrade the offensive line. Its inconsistencies all of last year were just a precursor to the season-ending performance against the 49ers, in which quarterback Dak Prescott was sacked five times. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin are both excellent pieces, but Smith hasn’t played a full season since 2015 and both of them are on the wrong side of 30.
That’s why the Cowboys’ strategy for the rest of this offseason should primarily focus on upgrading that line. It may be tempting to look at some of the top receivers still available on the free agent market—Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, etc.—or in the draft, especially with Wilson and Cooper’s departures. But keeping Prescott well-protected will be a better long-term investment.
For one thing, the Cowboys are keeping Gallup around for a while and CeeDee Lamb has looked more and more like a number one receiving option each year he’s been in the league. Taking a receiver in the first round would certainly make Dallas’ leading receiver duo formidable once again but it isn’t the right move to make in the long-term.
It was the lack of a strong and consistent offensive line that held the Cowboys back from advancing in the playoffs last season. Now, Connor Williams and Collins are gone, and Dallas could use a further upgrade over Connor McGovern at left guard. There will likely be some very solid options for interior offensive linemen when the Cowboys are on the clock at 24. Guys like Kenyon Green and Zion Johnson would be great options to either compete with McGovern for a starting job or at the very least provide extra depth.
Bolstering that offensive front would not only do well to keep their franchise quarterback protected, but it might also allow running back Ezekiel Elliott to return to more meaningful levels of production. Tony Pollard, too, could put together an even better season than last year, provided he gets more touches behind a stronger line.
As the offseason wears on, Dallas can’t get too distracted trying to fill in the holes that have appeared in their roster since free agency began. They’ve already made a couple of solid moves to plug those holes for the time being. Going forward, in both free agency and the draft, the Cowboys should go full steam ahead in upgrading their offensive line.
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