The Dallas Cowboys' 2023 offseason got off to a rocky start in early February when owner and general manager Jerry Jones displayed an inability to distinguish between the 2021 Los Angeles Rams' and 2022 Philadelphia Eagles team-building approaches. It appeared as though the game had passed Jones by between those comments, the Cowboys' 12th consecutive playoff run without a conference championship game appearance (the longest such streak in NFL history), and continuing to pay sentimental favorite and Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who averaged 3.9 yards per touch in 2022 (the lowest in the NFL among players with at least 200 touches).
Maybe all that was Jones bluffing because Dallas has since done a 180 and earned an 'A' in CBS Sports' team grades of all 32 teams in the 2023 NFL free agency cycle, one of the highest marks in the league. Keeping running back Tony Pollard (franchise tag), safety Donovan Wilson (three-year, $21 million contract), linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (two-year, $11 million deal), left tackle Tyron Smith (contract restructure), and backup quarterback Cooper Rush (two-year, $5 million pact) around were no-brainer decisions. The Silver and Blue releasing Elliott, the fourth overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft whom they gave a six-year, $90 million contract extension, is a pleasant surprise given that Zeke totaled 16 more carries than Pollard in 2022. That's with Elliott having the worst yards-per-touch average in the league while Pollard had the best (5.9).
However, the Cowboys' two best moves of the offseason were via trades, acquiring cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 32-year-old 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and wide receiver Brandin Cooks, 29 years-old, from the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans respectively. These weren't typical trades, at least for the Cowboys, as they were the ones receiving proven veteran talent in exchange for late round picks (two 2023 fifth picks and a 2024 sixth round pick combined for both Gilmore and Cooks). A stark contrast to an offseason ago when the Cowboys sent four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper, at 27 years old, to the Cleveland Browns along with a sixth round pick, in exchange for a fifth and sixth round pick in a clear salary dump. Quarterback Dak Prescott clearly missed Cooper, locking on to CeeDee Lamb too much in 2022, part of the reason why he became the first player in NFL history to lead or co-lead the league in interceptions despite missing five or more games.
With Dallas seemingly learning from their past mistakes, here's out how each of their new moves graded out in order for them to receive one of the top marks of the 2023 offseason.
Contract: Two years, $20 million
This was the Cowboys' home run move that they desperately needed to make in order to help get Dak Prescott back on track. Cooks, who will turn 30 during the 2023 season, still provides plenty of speed and production as he's had over 1,000 yards receiving with all four teams (New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams, and Houston Texans) that he's played for in his nine-year career. He cooked, pun intended, man defense last season, registering a career-high 71.6% success rate last season, according to Yahoo Sports' Matt Harmon. Cooks' work on intermediate route's like posts, digs, and out routes can provide Prescott with a checkdown option should Lamb or Michael Gallup not break open deep.
Lamb accounted for 30% of the Cowboys' team receptions in 2022, the second-highest rate in the entire NFL. Cooks' presence should prevent some of the quarterback's force-feeding to Lamb that costed Dallas dearly in their NFC Divisional Round loss at the San Francisco 49ers that ended their season.
Contract: One year, $9.9 million
The Dallas Cowboys number two cornerback position opposite Trevon Diggs was a mess last season. Anthony Brown began the season holding it down, but it then rotated between second-year cornerbacks Nahshon Wright and Kelvin Joseph after Brown tore his Achilles in Week 13 against the Indianapolis Colts on "Sunday Night Football." As a result, the Cowboys allowed 15 receiving touchdowns and a 126.8 passer rating against wide receivers when in man coverage, both the worst in each category in the entire NFL.
Cowboys vs WRs in Man Coverage
Comp Pct Allowed
Pass TD Allowed
Passer Rating Allowed
Trading a fifth-round pick for cornerback Stephon Gilmore -- the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year who has five Pro Bowl appearances and two First-Team All-Pro selections -- is a fantastic move to fill a huge need. Yes, he'll turn 33 by the time the season rolls around, but he posted the sixth-highest coverage grade in the NFL among cornerbacks with over 200 coverage snaps. Plus, Gilmore will likely be operating as the Cowboys' CB2, meaning he won't be tasked with always chasing around top receivers. This will make life much easier for Diggs and the rest of Dan Quinn's secondary.
Contract: One year, 1.2 million
Just six days after releasing the franchise's No. 3 leading rusher in Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys signed a younger running back with less tread on his tires in the 25-year-old Ronald Jones. Jones has been a part of two of the past three Super Bowl champions, suiting up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2020 season and the reigning champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, in 2022. Now, he will likely serve as the franchise-tagged Tony Pollard's backup. Rather, he will have the opportunity to compete to be Pollard's backup since Dallas could easily draft a running back in the upcoming draft. A smart, "cover your bases" signing for the Cowboys.
Contract: One year, 1.2 million
Given Tyron Smith's (32 years old) advancing age and that he missed 13 games in 2022 because of injury, Edoga could be a decent backup in case of injury to him or any of the others Cowboys' offensive line starters. Right tackle Terence Steele, whom the Cowboys made a restricted free agent by applying a second-round tender on him, is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last season.
The Cowboys will be Edoga's third team after beginning with the New York Jets (2019-2021) and spending last season with the Atlanta Falcons. The soon-to-be 26-year-old was the Jets' third round pick (92nd overall) in the 2019 NFL Draft. Edoga has totaled 13 starts in 26 career games played, including starting half of his games with the Jets (12 of 24). A knee injury limited him to two games played with the Falcons in 2022. Another need checked off the offseason to-do list by the Jones family.
Contract: One year, 1.2 million
On Monday, the Cowboys lost long-snapper Jake McQuaide to the Detroit Lions. By Wednesday, they found their guy in Trent Sieg. The soon-to-be 28-year-old has been the Raiders' since entering the NFL in 2018. Per ESPN, Sieg will be Dallas' youngest long snapper since former longtime staple at the position L.P. Ladouceur in the 2009 season. Sieg has a chance to perhaps lock down the gig for a number seasons given most NFL teams look for stability at the position.
Contract: One year, $10.09 million (franchise tag)
With Ezekiel Elliott no longer the headliner of the Dallas Cowboys running back room, the Cowboys needed to do whatever it took to retain Tony Pollard, the NFL's leader in yards per touch last season (5.9). Whether it was as a rusher or receiver, Pollard was the four-wheel drive the Cowboys used to get their offense out of the mud when they were in a rut or looking to spring a big play. His nine plays of 25 or more yards were tied for the second-most in the entire league last season behind only 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey's 11.
The only reason this signing doesn't have a grade in the A's is because paying $10 million in a season to the running back position just isn't usually a wise use of resources. However with Pollard coming off a gruesome leg injury, it made sense for the Cowboys to only guarantee the 2023 season.
Most Yards Per Touch
2022 Season (Min. 200 Touches)
|Team||Yards Per Touch|
San Francisco 49ers
|Cleveland Browns||Nick Chubb||5.4|
* Most by Cowboys player since Herschel Walker in 1987
Contract: One year, $4.3 million (second-round restricted free agent tender)
Terence Steele was playing the best football of his young, three-year career in 2022 before a torn ACL in Week 14 against the Houston Texans derailed his season. He earned the eighth-best run blocking grade of any offensive tackle last season (82.1), so the soon-to-be 26-year-old was someone Dallas needed to keep around. At his age and with modern medicine, Steele should be able to bounce back in 2023. The second-round tender is a smart move because it locks in his salary, and it's a high enough pick to where the Cowboys likely don't need to be worried about another team swooping to grab him.
Contract: Three years, $21 million
Donovan Wilson, 28 years old led the team with 101 tackles and ranked fifth in sacks with 5.0 in 2022. He was a must-keep player for the Cowboys defense, especially with how much trust and admiration he earned from defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
Wilson's versatility as a tackler and pass rusher from the safety position is historically unique as his 2022 season made him only the fourth defensive back to total over 100 tackles (101) and five or more sacks (5.0) in a single season since combined tackles have been tracked beginning in 1987. He joins Hall of Fame safety Rod Woodson's 1992 season, retired Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison's 2000 season and retired Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson's 2005 season. Not bad company at all. Securing his services at an average of $7 million per year through his age-31 season is a strong value.
Defensive backs with 100+ tackles and 5+ sacks in a single season since 1987
|Season||Team||Player||Tackles & Sacks|
101 tackles, 5.0 sacks
109 tackles, 8.0 sacks
San Diego Chargers
127 tackles, 6.0 sacks
100 tackles, 6.0 sacks
Contract: Two years, $8 million
Once again, an incredible value signing for Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys' front office. Sensing a trend? Two years and $8 million for a 27-year-old former first round pick who plays a crucial role in the Cowboys' fifth-ranked scoring defense (20.1 points per game allowed) is phenomenal. Vander Esch has been a key piece in the Dallas defense since he was selected 19th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. A Pro Bowl selection in Year 1, Vander Esch has started in 60 of his 66 regular season games. The former Boise State Bronco recorded 90 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble in 14 games last season. With big deals on the horizon for both Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons, locking down many other defensive starters like Vander Esch for cheap is gigantic.
Contract: Two years, $5 million
Could the Cowboys have let Rush walked and drafted a late-round passer to take up less cap space at the backup quarterback spot? Sure. However, Rush definitely earned this deal, keep the Cowboys offense afloat during Dak Prescott's thumb injury that cost him five games. He completed 58% of his throws with five scoring strikes and three interceptions. Having a reliable backup quarterback is a big deal when employing a starting quarterback with Prescott's injury history. Can't fault Dallas too much for keeping Rush around.
Contract: One year, $950,000 (per ESPN)
Rico Dowdle's career totals of seven carries for 24 yards aren't anything special, but re-signing the soon-to-be 25-year-old undrafted running back to a deal just under a million doesn't hurt the cap space figure much. He'll have to fight Malik Davis and Ronald Jones for a roster spot in training camp.
Contract: One year, $1.3 million
While C.J. Goodwin doesn't see the field on defense, he's been a valuable cog on special teams. Someone has to lead the charge and get guys fired up to sprint downfield to make tackles in the return game, and Goodwin has been that guy for the Cowboys. Continuity has been a strong theme for Dallas this offseason.
Contract: One year, $3 million
Dante Fowler, who'll turn 29 in August, totaled six sacks in 2022 with the Cowboys, his best single-season total since a career-high 11.5 with the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. That tied him with Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence for the third-most on the team last season behind only First-Team All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons' 13.5 sacks and defensive end Dorance Armstrong's 8.5 sacks. The figure is even more impressive considering Fowler played less than a third of the team's defensive snaps, 27.2% to be exact. His presence allows Parsons to be able to move all around the line of scrimmage instead of exclusively lining up as an edge rusher. Nice value for a player who might be as close to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as any in the entire NFL.
Contract: One year, $1.3 million (per ESPN)
Takk McKinley, 27 years old, spent the bulk of the 2022 season on the practice squad, not playing in a game for the Cowboys this past year. He's another former Quinn player from their Atlanta Falcons days when was selected 26th overall in the 2017 Draft when the Cowboys current defensive coordinator was the Falcons' head coach. The price tag is a little rich for someone who couldn't get on the field for the Cowboys a year ago, but for one year, it's a low-risk proposition for a player who was once thought to have a pretty high ceiling.
Overall Grade: A
The grades on the Cowboys' moves are nearly all A's and B's with Dallas plugging significant holes in key areas, wide receiver and cornerback, while retaining most of their defensive starters on team-friendly deals. The trade acquisitions of receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore can't be overstated enough in terms of how helpful they'll be in helping the rest of the Cowboys on both sides of the ball be in roles they're more comfortable in.
Michael Gallup can return to the number three receiver role where he found success when Amari Cooper was on the team, and CeeDee Lamb can play even more in the slot, a place where he racked up the most receiving yards in the NFL (867) in 2022, as most of Cooks' success comes when lined up as an outside receiver. On defense, teams may have to test Trevon Diggs a little more in 2023, which could help his interception numbers climb back closer to the league-leading 11 he had in 2021. Gilmore isn't someone opposing offenses can routinely pick on. Dallas can now enter the 2023 NFL Draft picking purely based on the best player available approach since the vast majority of their team needs are filled. The 2023 offseason has been an atypical run of continuously smart moves by Jerry and Stephen Jones, a welcome sight for Cowboys Nation.