FRISCO, TX — There is no shortage of talent heading into NFL free agency this offseason, and the Cowboys will do their best to try and keep several of their own players from heading out of town, their journey toward trying to achieve that mission beginning with the decision to place a franchise tag on Pro Bowl running back Tony Pollard.
That move will guarantee him $10.1 million in 2023 if the two sides can't come to terms on a long-term deal before mid-July, and removes one of the biggest names from the NFL free agency pool.
It will not be an easy task for the Cowboys this offseason in the realm of trying to retain even most of their in-house talent, considering the laundry list of names they have on the current roster that will be free to sign with whomever they choose when the league year officially opens on March 15 (legal tampering can begin on March 13).
Here's a list of the players with expiring contracts.
Unrestricted Free Agents
These players can only be secured with a new contract or a tag:
- Dalton Schultz
- Cooper Rush
- Jason Peters
- Connor McGovern
- T.Y. Hilton
- Noah Brown
- Donovan Wilson
- Leighton Vander Esch
- Anthony Brown
- Dante Fowler Jr.
- Anthony Barr
- Johnathan Hankins
- Carlos Watkins
- C.J. Goodwin
Special Teams —
- Brett Maher
- Jake McQuaide
- Matt Overton
Sidebar: Goodwin can and should be viewed as more of a special teams ace, though he is actually a defensive back.
Restricted Free Agents*
The following have accrued greater than three years but not yet four, and the latter would qualify them for unrestricted free agency in 2020. Instead, while they are allowed to negotiate with other clubs, each can be assigned a respective tender -- first-round, second-round, original-round -- or the Right of First Refusal to give the Cowboys a chance at receiving compensation in the event they decide against matching another team's offer.
- Terence Steele
- Rico Dowdle
The Cowboys have no Exclusive Rights Free Agents in 2023.*
For the purposes of explaining fully how RFAs work, the caveat lies in the original-round tender and the Right of First Refusal, because if a player went undrafted there is no compensation by default, making them basically one in the same.
The Cowboys must be strategic in how they label such a player, because the higher the tender, the higher the salary if the player is retained -- e.g., the second-round tender on David Irving in 2018.
Below are the projected tender costs, per OvertheCap.com:
First-round tender: $6.01 million
Second-round tender: $4.31 million
Original-round tender: $2.63 million
It's plenty to digest for the Cowboys, as they do their best to keep as much of the core band together while also upgrading the roster over the next several months. They performed very well regarding their hit rate on headline names acquired in 2022, most on a one-year deal, and time will tell which, if any, they're able to secure again for 2023.
The latter applies for those who were drafted and developed by the Cowboys and who are coming off of a breakout season — e.g., Tony Pollard, Leighton Vander Esch, Donovan Wilson — in what will ultimately be one of the more interesting offseasons in recent memory.