2023 NFL Offseason: Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys (Last Year: 12-5)

2023 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
RB Ronald Jones, WR Brandin Cooks, G Chuma Edoga, CB Stephon Gilmore.
Early Draft Picks:
DT Mazi Smith, TE Luke Schoonmaker, LB DeMarvion Overshown, DE Villami Fehoko, OT Asim Richards, CB Eric Scott. Cowboys Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Noah Brown, TE Dalton Schultz, G Connor McGovern, G Jason Peters, OLB Anthony Barr, CB Anthony Brown, K Brett Maher.

2023 Dallas Cowboys Offense:
Some teams fall apart without their starting quarterback. Consider the Eagles last year, who went 0-2 without Jalen Hurts, or better yet, the Dolphins, who had no chance late in the season when Tua Tagovailoa was sidelined. The opposite was true for the Cowboys, who were 5-1 with Cooper Rush this past season when Dak Prescott was hurt.

Perhaps this should have been predictable, given that Prescott is someone who only excels when everything is perfect around him. Prescott has had some struggles in recent years when his offensive line has been in shambles. This was not the case last year, as Dallas maintained a terrific blocking unit. A big reason for that was rookie Tyler Smith. Chosen in the opening round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Smith is a long-term tackle, but started at both left tackle and guard at times this past season. Smith moved to guard later in the year when Tyron Smith returned from injury. Tyler Smith will be at left guard once again, and if he improves, he and Zack Martin could form the best guard tandem in the NFL. They’ll sandwich Tyler Biadasz, a mediocre center.

As for Tyron Smith, he didn’t play a single snap last year until Week 15 because of his hamstring. When he returned, he wasn’t even close to his old self. Smith, who has missed an absurd 33 of 50 possible games in the past three seasons, is on borrowed time in Dallas. He’s certain to miss more action in 2023, so Tyler Smith could play on the edge again. Regardless, right tackle will be occupied by Terence Steele, who was a pleasant surprise for Dallas last year.

Prescott and Rush also had a talented, albeit thin receiving corps at their disposal last year. CeeDee Lamb posted his best numbers yet, hauling in 107 passes for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns. Dalton Schultz was also an effective threat over the middle of the field, while Michael Gallup was also present, though he wasn’t 100 percent off his ACL tear. This wasn’t enough for Jerry Jones, who acquired T.Y. Hilton in the middle of the season. Hilton didn’t do much outside of convert a crucial third-and-33 versus the Eagles in a December matchup. The Cowboys lost Schultz this offseason, but found a stronger second receiver instead, trading for Brandin Cooks. The former Texan was disgruntled last year, but should be able to rebound as Gallup gets healthier.

Outside of Lamb, Dallas’ best threat is in the backfield. That would be Tony Pollard, who can go the distance whenever he touches the ball. The Cowboys wasted too many carries on Ezekiel Elliott last year, but that won’t be the case in 2023 because Elliott was released. This means more touches for Pollard, which can only make Dallas’ offense more dynamic.

2023 Dallas Cowboys Defense:
The Eagles recorded the most sacks in the NFL last year, but there was one team that maintained a higher pressure rate than them. That would be the Cowboys, who beat them out by a tenth of a percentage. Dallas hounded opposing quarterbacks relentlessly, which is the primary reason why it maintained the best record of all the non-divisional winners in the NFC.

Everyone knows about Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence, and both of them performed extremely well last year, especially the former. It could be argued that Parsons is the best defensive player in the NFL; he recorded 13.5 sacks in his second season after notching 13 as a rookie. It was expected that he and Lawrence would generate lots of pressure, but many didn’t expect Dorance Armstrong to do the same. Armstrong, a former fourth-round pick, collected 8.5 sacks despite playing about half the team’s snaps. Second-round rookie Sam Williams contributed with four sacks.

The Cowboys’ defensive interior didn’t produce the same sack numbers, as Osa Odighizuwa led the way with four. Odighizuwa will have a new starter playing next to him, as Dallas used its first-round pick on Mazi Smith. The Michigan product is a specialist in run support, which made the pick odd because Dallas ranked third versus the rush last year.

The Cowboys’ pass rush was able to mask their weakness at cornerback last year, but Jerry Jones still wanted to address the position. He did so by trading for Stephon Gilmore. The former Patriot Pro Bowler is no longer the elite shutdown corner he once was now that he’s in his mid-30s, but he’s still a great performer. He’ll be a huge upgrade across from interception machine Trevon Diggs. Dallas’ nickel corner, Jourdan Lewis, was lost for the season in Week 7 last year, but the team still had positive production at the position because it was able to use one of its safeties, Jayron Kearse, in that spot.

Speaking of the safeties, the Cowboys have three good ones in Kearse, Donovan Wilson, and Malik Hooker. Kearse is very versatile, while Wilson is much better in run support than coverage. Hooker has extensive injury history, so Dallas’ depth at the position will be crucial.

Linebacker, conversely, isn’t as deep for the Cowboys. There’s also a very injury-prone player here, as Leighton Vander Esch always seems to have neck problems, which caused one team to remove him from their board ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft. If/when Vander Esch misses time, the Cowboys will be hurting with the mediocre Damone Clark and third-round rookie DeMarvion Overshown as the best options at the position.

2023 Dallas Cowboys Schedule and Intangibles:
Brett Maher kicked very well for the Cowboys in the regular season, but missed four extra points in the playoff battle against the Buccaneers. Dallas brought in Tristan Vizcaino as a replacement. Vizcaino has attempted just two kicks in his career.

Bryan Anger maintained the league’s top net punting average in 2021. He was ninth last year, and he did a good job of pinning the opposition inside the 20.

The Cowboys have a mixed schedule. They have some easy games, including matchups against the Cardinals, Rams, Patriots, and Panthers. They also have tough battles versus the 49ers, Bills, Jets, Dolphins, and Lions.

2023 Dallas Cowboys Rookies:
Go here for the Cowboys Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2023 Dallas Cowboys Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2023 Dallas Cowboys Analysis: The Cowboys still have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball to compete for the NFC East crown. However, it’s more likely that they’ll be a wild card team that exits in the second round once again, given that they are coached very poorly.

Projection: 10-7 (2nd in NFC East)

2022 Projection: 8-9. 2022 Actual Result: 12-5.
2021 Projection: 6-11. 2021 Actual Result: 12-5.
2020 Projection: 8-8. 2020 Actual Result: 6-10.
2019 Projection: 7-9. 2019 Actual Result: 8-8.
2018 Projection: 5-11. 2018 Actual Result: 10-6.
2017 Projection: 11-5. 2017 Actual Result: 9-7.
2016 Projection: 10-6. 2016 Actual Result: 13-3.

NFL Draft Team Grade: D Grade

Goals Entering the 2023 NFL Draft: The Cowboys lost Amari Cooper and Dalton Schultz recently, so they need to acquire some play-makers to help Dak Prescott. Otherwise, they have some holes to plug in their defense, primarily at defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback, and safety.

2023 NFL Draft Accomplishments: When the Cowboys made their initial selection, I saw “Smith” on the screen and figured they drafted Nolan Smith. Either he or Michael Mayer would have been outstanding at No. 26. Instead, Dallas opted for Mazi Smith, which allowed Nolan Smith to fall to the Eagles. This was a grave blunder that will have horrible ramifications in the coming years.

The Cowboys compounded errors by reaching on Luke Schoonmaker in the second round. Had they drafted Mayer, they wouldn’t have been forced into this second mistake. This was poor drafting by Jerry Jones.

I liked some of Dallas’ picks made in Rounds 3-6, particularly DeMarvion Overshown. However, this was a very disappointing output by the Cowboys, who reached for players and handed a Pro Bowl-caliber pass rusher to their biggest rival.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

26. Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan – C- Grade
With Nolan Smith and Michael Mayer available!? I don’t like this pick very much. Run-stopping defensive tackles tend to go later than expected, but Jerry Jones apparently didn’t get the memo. Smith will help stop the run, but the NFL is now a passing league. This selection would have been good if it were made in 1995, but it’s not 1995 anymore.

58. Luke Schoonmaker, TE, Michigan – C+ Grade
The Cowboys are paying the price for passing on the talented tight end at the end of the first round. All of the second-round tight ends were off the board, so the Cowboys had to settle for a lesser prospect at the position. This is an OK choice, but it seems like Dallas’ draft could have gone much better.

90. DeMarvion Overshown, LB, Texas – A- Grade
DeMarvion Overshown flew all over the field at Texas. I think he could have gone a bit earlier than this, so I like the pick. Dallas needed a linebacker with Leighton Vander Esch’s troublesome neck, so I’m a fan of this pick.

129. Villami Fehoko, DE, San Jose State – B Grade
The Cowboys made a big mistake by passing on Nolan Smith and allowing him to fall to the Eagles, but they eventually got the additional edge rusher they were looking for. Villami Fehoko made nice improvements throughout his career at San Jose State.

169. Asim Richards, OT, North Carolina – C Grade
The Cowboys needed some offensive line depth, so Asim Richards is a logical pick from that perspective. However, I never had him in any of my mock drafts. He’s limited as an athlete, so I don’t think the upside is there.

178. Eric Scott, CB, Southern Miss – C Grade
Eric Scott was a very fringle draftable prospect, so I’m not a huge fan of him in the sixth round. He’ll probably be limited to slot duties in the NFL, so this isn’t a very good pick.

212. Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas State – A- Grade
I don’t like this as a match for Tony Pollard, as Deuce Vaughn is a smaller, albeit explosive back. However, he’s a great value pick here toward the end of the sixth round, as I thought Vaughn could have easily gone in the fourth frame.

244. Jalen Brooks, WR, South Carolina – C+ Grade
Jalen Brooks is a receiver with speed concerns and poor hands. He’s a good route runner, but there are plenty of holes in his game.

Season Summary:
The Cowboys had yet another season full of promise end with an early-playoff exit against the 49ers. The window is quickly closing for this team to win a Super Bowl with this group of players.

Offseason Moves:
  • Cowboys sign RB Ronald Jones
  • Cowboys sign OT/G Chuma Edoga
  • Cowboys acquire WR Brandin Cooks from Texans for draft picks
  • Cowboys acquire CB Stephon Gilmore from Colts for draft pick

    Team Needs:
    1. Wide Receiver: Dallas sorely missed Amari Cooper this past season, as the team didn’t have a viable No. 2 receiver to complement CeeDee Lamb. Traded for Brandin Cooks

    2. Defensive Tackle: Imagine how potent Dallas’ pass rush would be if it obtained a dominant presence in the interior. Defensive tackle is a weakness.

    3. Cornerback: The Cowboys need to find a better cornerback to play across from Trevon Diggs. This has been a liability for the past couple of seasons. Traded Stephon Gilmore

    4. Running Back: Tony Pollard is an impending free agent who must be re-signed because Ezekiel Elliott looks like he’s running in quicksand. Franchised Tony Pollard; signed Ronald Jones

    5. Two Linebackers: Both Leighton Vander Esch and Anthony Barr are set to hit free agency, so they must be re-signed or replaced. Re-signed Leighton Vander Esch

    6. Guard: It seems like the Cowboys lose at least one blocker every offseason. It could be Connor McGovern this time because he’s an impending free agent. Signed Chuma Edoga

    7. Tight End: Dalton Schultz is an important impending free agent who should be re-signed.

    8. Kicker: Can Brett Maher recover from suffering the yips in the playoffs when he missed four extra points? Either way, his contract is expiring in March.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2023 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Chuma Edoga, G, Falcons. Age: 26. — Signed with Cowboys
    2. Ronald Jones, RB, Chiefs. Age: 26. — Signed with Cowboys

    Dallas Cowboys Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Tony Pollard, RB, Cowboys. Age: 26.
      Franchised by Cowboys

      Tony Pollard is an electric play-maker capable of going the distance any time he touches the ball. The Cowboys don’t seem to recognize this because they feed the ball to Ezekiel Elliott way too much.

    2. Dalton Schultz, TE, Cowboys. Age: 27.
      Signed with Texans (1 year, $9 million)

      Dalton Schultz is a talented receiving threat at tight end. He’s coming off a down year, but he caught 78 passes in 2021.

    3. Donovan Wilson, S, Cowboys. Age: 28.
      Re-signed with Cowboys (3 years, $24 million)

      It’s hard to believe that Donovan Wilson was a sixth-round pick entering the NFL because he has emerged as a quality safety with no weaknesses.

    4. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Cowboys. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Cowboys

      One NFL team removed Leighton Vander Esch from its draft board ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft because of concerns with his neck. We see why now, as Vander Esch struggles to stay healthy. It’s a shame because he’s a fantastic player.

    5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys. Age: 28.
      Ezekiel Elliott was a dynamic running back to begin his career, but things have changed since 2020. He has become a mediocre plodder in the past few seasons, but there are still some positives to his game: Elliott can be an effective receiver out of the backfield, and he’s a great short-yardage back, particularly at the goal line. There’s also a chance he could rebound with some better performances if he’s motivated after being released.

    6. Brett Maher, K, Cowboys. Age: 33.
      Brett Maher was excellent during the regular season, going 29-of-32, including 9-of-11 from 50-plus. However, he seemed to suffer the yips in the playoffs, becoming the first kicker in NFL history to miss four extra points in a single game.

    7. Connor McGovern, G, Cowboys. Age: 25.
      Signed with Bills

      Connor McGovern is a decent pass protector but struggles to open up running lanes.

    8. Anthony Barr, OLB, Cowboys. Age: 31.
      Anthony Barr is an effective blitzer and can play well against the run, but tends to get beaten in coverage.

    9. Cooper Rush, QB, Cowboys. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Cowboys (2 years, $6 million)

      Cooper Rush did a great job in relief of Dak Prescott, going 4-1 as a starter.

    10. Jason Peters, G/OT, Cowboys. Age: 40.
    11. Noah Brown, WR, Cowboys. Age: 27. — Signed with Texans
    12. Anthony Brown, CB, Cowboys. Age: 29.
    13. Carlos Watkins, DT, Cowboys. Age: 29. — Signed with Cardinals
    14. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Cowboys. Age: 33.
    15. Dante Fowler, DE, Cowboys. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Cowboys (1 year)
    16. Johnathan Hankins, DT, Cowboys. Age: 31. — Re-signed with Cowboys (1 year)
    17. Luke Gifford, LB, Cowboys. Age: 28. — Signed with Titans
    18. C.J. Goodwin, CB, Cowboys. Age: 33. — Re-signed with Cowboys

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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