Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper are the two biggest names you’ll hear this offseason for the Dallas Cowboys, but Jerry Jones faces some other difficult roster decisions.
Next year’s Dallas Cowboys team could look very different from the one fielded this year. For a team that went 8-8, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
According to the team’s official website, DallasCowboys.com, nearly 30 players on this year’s roster will be eligible for free agency. The two biggest names are obviously quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper, both of whom are set to become unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins in March.
What to do with Prescott and Cooper will undoubtedly be Jerry Jones’ hardest decision this offseason, but they won’t be the only tough choices the Cowboys’ general manager will have to make. Tight end Jason Witten, linebacker Sean Lee, safety Jeff Heath and cornerbacks Anthony Brown and Byron Jones are among the team’s 24 unrestricted free agents. Those are some pretty big names that have contributed quite a lot to the franchise over the past years.
Of course, decisions regarding all of these players’ futures with the team won’t entirely be up to Jerry Jones. Jason Witten and Sean Lee, for instance, haven’t decided on retirement yet. Both players are taking some time to see how they feel before deciding what’s next for them.
For Witten, he came out of retirement for his 16th season to help lead Dallas to the Super Bowl. He came well short of that goal, and his future in the NFL remains in question.
In his Week 17 postgame interview, an emotional Witten sounded like a player ready to hang up his cleats, telling reporters “I left everything I had out there” this season. If Witten does choose to return for a 17th season, he’ll probably only want to play for Dallas. Should Jerry Jones bring him back?
Witten’s one-year deal only came with a base salary of $2 million so it’s not like it wasn’t cap friendly. He was certainly serviceable this year, catching 63 passes for 529 yards and four touchdowns. Those stats are pretty in line with his two prior seasons and comparable to other starting tight ends around the league.
The biggest knock against the veteran tight end is that his presence blocks the progress of younger players, like Blake Jarwin, who showed flashes of promise during the season. Is it time for the Cowboys to move on from Witten regardless of what he decides to do?
Speaking of Blake Jarwin, he’s set to become a restricted free agent this offseason. Do the Cowboys re-sign him and continue to develop him in hopes that he becomes the next Jason Witten, or do they turn to the draft?
The same applies to backup quarterback Cooper Rush, another work-in-progress for the team. Rush has spent three years with Dallas but has only attempted three career passes, all in his rookie season. With a new coaching staff likely coming, do the Dallas Cowboys sign Rush or look for a backup with a little more experience under his belt?
While most would agree that the Cowboys never properly utilized Austin during his time in Dallas, Cobb went on to catch 55 passes for 828 yards and three touchdowns this season. The former Packers receiver played well enough for Dallas in the slot, but there were also some games where he completely disappeared. Is either player worth bringing back next season?
Linebacker Sean Lee is another veteran who is also set to become an unrestricted free agent after signing a six-year deal in 2013. Selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Lee became a cornerstone on defense and one of the team’s most respected leaders.
He restructured his deal to remain with Dallas in 2019, but now there’s another difficult decision to be made. First, Sean Lee has to decide if he wants to keep playing or not. The oft-injured linebacker told DallasCowboys.com he’s going to take some time and “see where I’m at physically in a month or two and made a decision then.”
At 33-years-old, Lee had a productive season with the Cowboys. He appeared in all 16 games, racking up 86 total tackles (55 solo). He’s a leader on defense and veteran in the locker room, but it’s kind of another Jason Witten situation. Could Lee’s roster spot be better-utilized on a younger, more athletic linebacker with a bigger upside?
The list goes on, too. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins and safety Jeff Heath are also set to become free agents. Both players have spent their entire professional careers in Dallas and have become household names for most fans, though not exactly fan-favorites. Heath has been serviceable, but most agree the Cowboys need an upgrade — a big-time playmaker — at the safety position.
Then there’s Anthony Brown, Byron Jones and C.J. Goodwin; all three cornerbacks are up for free agency as well. Are we looking at a complete retooling of the Cowboys’ secondary?
For a team mired in mediocrity, it might be best to just part ways with a lot of these players. It sounds ruthless, for sure, but the NFL is a “What have you done for me lately?” league. And lately, this Dallas Cowboys team hasn’t done much of anything, especially as it pertains to the playoffs.
Saying goodbye to a lot of these free agents probably won’t be a bad thing for the team. The hardest decisions Jerry Jones will have to make this offseason are the ones that involve franchise players who have spent their entire careers in Dallas and are clearly important to the organization.