Free agency and the draft are over, so now the Dallas Cowboys are setting up for training camp.
When the season ended against San Francisco, it seemed like the more it rained, the more it poured. Players walked or were unable to be retained. In any case, the Cowboys showed an obvious decline in quality from where they finished at the end of the season.
The Cowboys retained who they retained, signed who they’ve signed and drafted who they drafted. What we see is what we get.
In truth, the team overall is still a playoff team. They have quality players at key positions. But have they gotten better?
More specifically, which positional groups have gotten better?
The Dallas Cowboys allowed Connor Williams to walk and traded away La’el Collins with the belief they could win with Terence Steele and whoever they would end up drafting. Objectively, Collins is a better player than Steele, but to his credit Steele allowed only two sacks (same as Collins) all season, playing 290 more snaps all season according to PFF.
Smith comes in as a better, more physical run blocker but doesn’t yet have the smoothness and skill in pass protection. Good news for the running backs, but not so much for Dak Prescott.
Former 105.3 host (and Fan Cam operator) and current @PFN365 analyst @DaltonBMiller joined the @Nosebleeds1053 to talk about Tyler Smith's huge upside. Check out the full conversation on our website! https://t.co/Wy96Xb00to@ZachWolchuk @KevinGraySports @Peyton_Russell1 pic.twitter.com/K2FFGRXEU7— 105.3 The FAN (@1053thefan) May 6, 2022
The Dallas Cowboys should’ve already looked into adding a veteran guard as security in case Smith hasn’t yet figured out the position. At the moment, the only sure thing on the offensive line is Zack Martin.
Tyron Smith can’t stay healthy, and we still don’t know who the center will be. Needless to say, there are more questions than answers for the men up front.
Rookie Jalen Tolbert and veteran James Washington both add quality depth to the position. Pairing them with CeeDee Lamb gives Prescott weapons to work with as Michael Gallup continues to rehab from a torn ACL.
Tolbert and Washington are worthy replacements to fill in for Cedrick Wilson and Malik Turner. Players who can work well with the offense and stretch the field, allowing players like Dalton Schultz, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to play the underneath routes.
The issue is that the loss of Amari Cooper takes away the dynamic route runner who’s almost always open. A player who has been Prescott’s most targeted player since he arrived in 2018. Without Cooper, it’s going to take a number of players to replace the effect he had on the offense, since there’s no one true consistent playmaking receiver.
Not yet, anyway.
This might be the first position group we can say has improved. The loss of Blake Jarwin takes away the ability to stretch the field at the position, but he has only played nine games the last two seasons and is uncertain when he will be back.
Jake Ferguson is a similar player to current TE1 Schultz as a receiver. He can run intermediate routes and create plays after the catch with some of the best hands in the draft. He’s a good blocker on the edges and on the second level, which by itself is an improvement.
You can make strong argument that @BadgerFootball TE Jake Ferguson has the most natural hands of any prospect in 2022 #NFLDraft. The guy literally catches everything. One of best grabs of @seniorbowl week here with great backline awareness & toe-tap.🖐#TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/VmSe1iwr1o— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 19, 2022
The return of Sean McKeon and Jeremy Sprinkle adds familiar depth to the position, and likely means we’ll see plenty of 12-personnel featuring Schultz and Ferguson. A step in the right direction.
The loss of Randy Gregory is a tough pill to swallow. A pill the Dallas Cowboys didn’t want to take, but served themselves during contract negotiations. Now, the re-signing of Dorance Armstrong and addition of Dante Fowler will hopefully prove to be an adequate replacement. However, if you need two players do the work of one, it’s usually a bad thing.
Even with the additions of a talented edge rusher in Sam Williams, and a pure, run-stuffing nose tackle in John Ridgeway, it’s unlikely the team would rely heavily on these rookies early. Barring injury or outplaying the veterans, that is.
DeMarcus Lawrence is the only sure thing on the defensive line. He only played in seven games in 2021 and is now 30. The hope is that young players like Osa Odighizuwa, Neville Gallimore or Chauncey Golston can take the next step, but it will all be in a heavy rotation.
Micah Parsons is a superstar, and the best first-round pick the Cowboys have made since Ezekiell Elliott in 2016. Outside of him, the Cowboys have nothing but questions at linebacker.
Leighton Vander Esch is on a one-year deal and played inconsistent throughout the 2021 season. Jabril Cox is the hopeful next starting linebacker but is coming off a torn ACL his rookie season. Luke Gifford is almost entirely a pure special teams player, similar to CJ Goodwin.
Rookies Damone Clark and Devin Harper likely won’t have an effect this upcoming season. Clark might miss his entire rookie season, dealing with spinal fusion surgery and Devin Harper is a project player, who needs plenty of development.
Thankfully Jayron Kearse sways this a bit playing the STAR position. Overviewing the position room from the outside, the depth will be something to monitor during the season.
The loss of Damontae Kazee doesn’t hurt the secondary as bad considering Malik Hooker is back on a two-year deal. While Hooker doesn’t have the same play-making ability as Kazee, he’s been better in coverage and a more willing tackler.
When Kearse is playing in the nickel or near the line of scrimmage, Donovan Wilson takes over the box safety role. Health was a question for him last season but has played very well when on the field. Adding big safeties like Israel Mukuamu and Markquese Bell gives the Dallas Cowboys defense added dimensions flexibility throughout the defense.
I wrote on this earlier but if I had to guess which #DallasCowboys UDFA makes the team, I’d bet on FAMU S Markquese Bell. Ran a sub 4.5 40 @ the combine, plays w/ great instincts & was also ESPNs @Jordan_Reid #1 HBCU prospect last fall: #CowboysNation pic.twitter.com/YyYId3k7ua— Shane Carter (@ShaneCarterTx) May 3, 2022
That’s just the safety position. Miraculously, the Cowboys didn’t have an immediate need to add a cornerback.
Dallas brings back their starters from 2021 in Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis. As well as second-year players Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright. Even with Joseph dealing with the murder investigation, there hasn’t been any indication the Cowboys are moving on from him as of yet.
The addition of DaRon Bland is an athletic player who might be a potential safety switch, or a flex Z/slot corner. Even if he’s a pure special teams player in year one, he has the skills to develop into a quality secondary piece like Brown.
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports