You don’t want to look ahead to the off-season in the middle of a great season like the Dallas Cowboys are in. They’re 11-4 and just won the NFC East for the 1st time since 2019.
However, they do have 20 players prepared to be unrestricted free agents in 2022. Some names who are going to be earning between $15-$20 million per year for how they’re playing.
This list includes none of them.
We’ve talked for months about players like Randy Gregory, Dalton Schultz, Michael Gallup and Connor Williams: How much will they make? Will another team overpay for them? Should the Dallas Cowboys spend the money to bring them back?
What we need to realize is that there are players playing the best ball of their careers, and they’re earning more money than anyone expected.
The Cowboys cheap out on free agency every year, and this year it has worked out for them. Now, if they want the success to continue, they’ll need to pay a bit more for players who, until now, cost almost nothing.
Success comes from opportunities. Needless to say, Cedrick Wilson is making the most of his. All 3 starting Cowboys receivers have missed time, dealing with injuries as well as COVID. In their place has been the team’s WR4, who is having a career year.
Wilson has appeared in all but 1 game this season, with career highs in targets (49), receptions (34), receiving yards (448) and touchdowns (3). He’s also been their primary punt returner, along with CeeDee Lamb, having returned 11 punts.
Cooper Rush finds Cedrick Wilson for the 73-yard house call 💨
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 1, 2021
Cedrick Wilson has a career earning of less than $4 million under his rookie contract. According to Spotrac, his estimated free agency value is around $6.1 million per year, in the same realm as the Kendrick Bourne/DeVante Parker deals.
If they can’t re-sign Michael Gallup, Wilson needs to be a priority. He’s shown plenty of a connection with Dak Prescott, completing 67.4% of his passes to him this season. He won’t cost as much as other receivers hitting free agency, but is impacting the Dallas Cowboys enough to earn more money.
What hurt Carlos Watkins early in his career was situation. He spent the 1st 4 seasons of his career just 3 hours away down Highway 45 in Houston. There, he played primarily as a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defensive front.
In Dallas, he plays in a similar role to where he played (and succeeded) in Clemson. An interior defensive tackle in a 4-3 defensive front. Here, he is exceeding expectations as a the team’s starting nose tackle, and already set career highs in tackles for loss (5) and tackles overall (28). Not to mention, a little extra.
Carlos Watkins with an interception and a TD on the return! pic.twitter.com/bWOrRHOYiM
— Dallas Cowboys Collaboration (@mailman_phil) December 3, 2021
Watkins is 28, so he won’t break the bank but he also will likely get more than the $1.5 million he got for this season. He might only be able to get as much as $4 million per year in the open market. The Dallas Cowboys will need to decide if they can pay him, while dealing with other players on the defensive line. Players like the next on this list.
It’s been well documented how much Jerry Jones loves Dorance Armstrong. His 1st three seasons have been contrary to the admiration being received from the outside. Despite being largely a role player his entire career, 2021 has been worth celebrating.
Armstrong is in the middle of his best season so far, with career highs in sacks (3.5) and tackles for loss (2), in a rotation role. The injuries to both DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory have given him more opportunities to play on the edge, and has made him one of the team’s best edge rushers.
It also doesn’t hurt that he can play special teams as well.
Good for Dorance Armstrong.
Good for Nahshon Wright.
— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) November 14, 2021
He isn’t going to earn a large pay day, but he will be in the same market the Dallas Cowboys got Tarell Basham in. A raise of around $2.5 to $3 million per year is still a fair bump in pay for a reliable defensive end who can play multiple roles. You can never have enough good edge rushers.
Despite being primarily a special teams player, it’s hard to argue any Dallas Cowboys players has made more with their limited opportunities. Malik Turner was thought to be a camp body, not really a serious contender for the final roster.
A strong preseason ended that conversation, but still started the season as WR6 playing a big role on special teams. He’s only seen 16 targets so far but has caught 75% of them, turning 3 into scores. At the same time, he has shown his ability to stretch the field as well.
He’s been so effective as a receiver that it makes you wonder why he wasn’t getting some of those offensive snaps Noah Brown was given.
Malik Turner goes 61 on this impressive catch and run 🔥
— NFL (@NFL) December 27, 2021
Michael Gallup will demand the most money in free agency among the Cowboys receivers. As mentioned before, Cedrick Wilson would be next in line to get paid and won’t cost as much, but still isn’t a guaranteed return.
Turner is only 25 years old and is showing upside when on the field. Since the Cowboys have Amari Cooper under contract and will have CeeDee Lamb for at least another 3 seasons, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they go the cheaper route. Turner won’t cost near as much, but might be another developmental gem in the Cowboys arsenal.
It took long enough but the Dallas Cowboys have a punter in the Pro Bowl. Another offseason addition that has paid dividends is the 10-year vet on his 4th team, having his best season.
Bryan Anger leads the league in net average (44.3) and ranks 5th in yard per punt (48.4). In fact, in his single season is averaging the most yards per punt in team history.
COWBOYS PRO BOWL NOTES:
— 0 players were selected last year … 5 were selected this year
— Micah Parsons is the first Cowboys rookie selected to the Pro Bowl since Dak and Zeke in 2016
— T̷R̷O̷Y̷ ̷H̷U̷G̷H̷E̷S̷ (@TommySledge) December 23, 2021
2 things about punters: you always need one and they’re not expensive. The highest earning punter in the league is Michael Dickson at around $3.6 million per year. Anger will only get over $1 million this season and shouldn’t cost much more to retain.
Last but not least is this season’s Addition of the Year. At the cost of only around $1 million for one year, Kearse was thought to be just like Carlos Watkins or Malik Turner: a camp body. Maybe just a special team player. What he’s done has been wildly unexpected.
Instead, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has him in a role that uses his size and skills to the very best. Instead of being a traditional strong safety, or playing high most of the time, Kearse plays the STAR position. In this, he plays at or near the line of scrimmage or in the box, essentially as a linebacker.
Here, he’s making a clear and present impact, making plays like the one’s below.
Jayron Kearse >
— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) December 3, 2021
He’s started more games in 2021 than any previous season combined, and is setting career marks in just about every statistical category. Like Randy Gregory, he’s a bit older at 28, but the Pro Bowl snub shows value that warrants a return.
He’ll cost more than he did last March, but shouldn’t be so much more that the Cowboys can’t re-sign him. The effect he has on this defense with players like Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs is worth it.