Cowboys offseason guide 2020: Key free agents, team needs, targets, salary cap & draft picksSporting News — (Vinnie Iyer)
The Cowboys are in the middle of one the NFL's trickiest offseasons. Dallas, coming off a disappointing 8-8 non-playoff season, has some big personnel concerns to address to answer should the team hope to return to real contention.
Sporting News takes a deep dive into the Cowboys' to-do list from before NFL free agency through the 2020 NFL Draft.
Cowboys' top priority: Sign Dak Prescott
Depending on what report you hear, Prescott and the Cowboys are either somewhat close to coming together on an agreeable new long-term deal that will keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent or both sides are somewhat far apart. There's no doubt Prescott should be pushing to be the new highest-paid QB in the NFL in terms of average annual salary, or at least matching what the Seahawks gave Russell Wilson ($35 million a season, $70 million of $140 million over four years guaranteed at signing).
That would best what Prescott's high first-round NFL draftmates from 2016, Jared Goff (Rams) and Carson Wentz (Eagles) got in terms of total value last summer. Prescott, similar to Wilson, has been well underpaid in arrears as a non first-rounder. Given Chiefs Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes is about to reset the market with his deal, Prescott also needs to maximize his value.
With each passing day, there's a greater chance Prescott will be franchise-tagged with an exclusive designation. The first day for the Cowboys to do that is Feb. 25, and the deadline to tag him is March 10. In that scenario, Prescott would be set to make more than $33 million (in the Goff and Wentz range) on a fully guaranteed one-year deal should he sign the tender.
The Cowboys are willing to lock up Prescott and have created the money under the cap to do so. The concern lies in both paying him and taking care of other key pending free agents to their satisfaction. Ideally, Dallas can take care of Prescott long-term before needing to tag him, giving the team the flexibility to use the tag on another pending free agent (such as wide receiver Amari Cooper).
Jerry Jones hired Mike McCarthy as head coach and Kellen Moore was retained as offensive coordinator with Prescott in mind most. He's not going anywhere, however the Cowboys get it done with their quarterback.
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Cowboys free agents 2020
Here's a look at the Dallas Cowboys' key unrestricted, unsigned players for next season:
- QB Dak Prescott
- WR Amari Cooper
- WR Randall Cobb
- WR Tavon Austin
- TE Jason Witten
- G Xavier Su'a-Filo
- DE Robert Quinn
- DE Michael Bennett
- DT Maliek Collins
- DT Christian Covington
- OLB Sean Lee
- ILB Joe Thomas
- CB Byron Jones
- CB Anthony Brown
- S Jeff Heath
Amari Cooper is the clear No. 2 priority behind Prescott, because when you invest greatly in a quarterback, it makes sense to keep the go-go guy around. Cooper is looking at $18 million a season (which is also the projected franchise-tag value for wide receiver). Look for Jones to come through and make sure his triplets stay intact after rewarding running back Ezekiel Elliott first early last season.
Randall Cobb is interested in coming back to man slot receiver with McCarthy, his former Packers coach, in town. Austin is unlikely to return as a limited gadget player. Witten wants to continue playing, but is open to doing it elsewhere, maybe with Jason Garrett's Giants offense.
Jerry Jones would love to keep the coverage skills of Byron Jones, but the cornerback will test a good market for his versatile services. He won't get a top-end contract from the Cowboys once the deals for Prescott and Cooper are done and will find a new home at around $15 million a season. Robert Quinn, Michael Bennett and Maliek Collins are also all expected to depart, causing a big shakeup on a defensive line that's also in a scheme transition.
With limited means under the cap, the Cowboys will need to be judicious with spending on their own guys after Prescott and Cooper. Cobb's value also is attached to them and he'll be a relative bargain. The Cowboys want to leave a little room to get some preferred veteran outside help for their new coach.
Dallas Cowboys salary cap
The Cowboys have more than $75 million in salary cap space available, but that number will shrink quickly to below $30 million once Prescott and Cooper get on the books with their deals. Should Cobb return on the cheap, there will be room to pursue 2-4 middle-tier free agents to either address current areas of need or help replace those who leave.
Biggest team needs
Assuming Prescott, Cooper and Cobb stay, there won't be a concern on how to fill quarterback and wide receiver via trades and other free-agent moves. But beyond those skill positions and running back with Elliott, the Cowboys have varying degrees of need across the board:
• Defensive end: With the aging Quinn and Bennett on the way out, Dallas will need to boost its complementary edge pass-rush presence opposite Demarcus Lawrence. The team was No. 19 in the NFL with 39 sacks last season.
• Defensive tackle: Considering Bennett did slide inside to be part of the rotation here and Collins is set to hit the market, the only reliable regular the Cowboys have in the plans for 2020 is restricted free agent Antwaun Woods. They need big bodies to keep the run defense strength intact and also could some inside pass-rush juice.
• Safety: Jeff Heath is unlikely to be re-signed, too, entering his age 29 season coming off shoulder surgery. He's a well-documented liability in coverage and the team could use a more well-rounded player at the position next to active playmaker Xavier Woods.
• Cornerback: With Jones out of the mix, Chidobe Awuzie will be the Cowboys' top corner. That might prompt them to keep the versatile Brown for depth, knowing Jourdan Lewis has also offers promise at the position. At worst, the Cowboys should look for a sub package player.
• Linebacker: Lee wants to keep playing for the Cowboys and even with his age (33) and diminished skills, he might be a necessity to continue to flank Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylen Smith on the strong side. If they keep Thomas, he would better off remaining a swing backup.
• Tight end: Witten did un-retire in 2019 to pretty much duplicate what he did in 2017 for the Cowboys as a very limited possession receiver. The Cowboys need someone who can better complement the occasional big-play threat of Blake Jarwin in the passing game with adept red zone work.
• Offensive line: The Cowboys remain solid with their starting line, but they will need some inside depth with Su'a-Filo entering free agency and possibly a swing tackle, too, should they not pick up the club option on Cameron Fleming.
Top free agent targets
The Cowboys already need to worry about re-signing both the top quarterback and top wide receiver on the market, so it's unlikely they can land a high-end pass rusher such as Jadeveon Clowney or Chris Jones (the Chiefs' defensive tackle, not their own punter).
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan hasn't led a unit since the Falcons' base 3-4 in '14 and he comes from coaching the linebackers in the Saints' 4-3. A hybrid scheme opens the door for different types of players up front (bigger) and in the back seven (more blitzing capacity).
With a reasonable end being pricey, at defensive tackle, they can consider a traditional nose such D.J. Reader or Javon Hargrave. Given their recent effective scheme versatility, Ndamukong Suh and Shelby Harris are good (and maybe more viable) targets.
Should the Cowboys want to move on from Lee, a sleeper to watch is Nick Kwiatkoski, who was a stat-stuffing supersub with the Bears last season. At cornerback, Darqueze Dennard, Brian Poole and Mackensie Alexander are worthy nickel package options.
Flipping to offense, the Cowboys have been attached much to tight end Eric Ebron, as he's an athletic "move" option to boost them with a skill set that blends well with McCarthy and Moore concepts.
Cowboys draft picks 2020
The Cowboys will have the standard seven picks, only minus a sixth-rounder (because of their trade with the Dolphins for Quinn) and likely plus a fifth-rounder (because of losing wide receiver Cole Beasley to the Bills in 2019 free agency). While their Day 3 picks are still being sorted out, including the latter compensatory selection, here's where the Cowboys pick over the first three rounds:
- No. 17 overall (first round)
- No. 51 overall (second round)
- No. 82 overall (third round)
Sporting News' latest mock draft has the Cowboys taking LSU safety Grant Delpit as a immediate starter in Round 1. They can also consider cornerback early, and rebuilding the defensive line will consistently be in play. The good news, there are plenty of good defensive values in relation to where they are picking to stockpile without reaching. In an offseason of big contracts, it's imperative Dallas nails its 2020 class with Jones now operating with McCarthy.