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Free Agency Tracker | 2023

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Mick Shots: The Many Faces Of NFL Free Agency


FRISCO, Texas – Busy, busy, busy. Like a bunch of busy bees.

That's your Dallas Cowboys since March 13 when the free agency negotiating period opened. Seemingly every day for the next 10 days doing something, and you know, even before that when they began restructuring the contracts of their owns guys to give them some salary cap flexibility.

Why, even today on the 10th day of activity, Wednesday, not only re-signing defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. to a one-year deal, along with their practice squad linebacker Takk McKinley, but after losing free agent deep snapper Jake McQuaide on Tuesday, signing Raiders free agent deep snapper Trent Sieg.

Can't wait for what tomorrow brings.

In all, over these 10 days the Cowboys, plus the pre-March 13 contract restructures for Dak Prescott, Zack Martin and DeMarcus Lawrence, have dealt with 24 roster adjustments. That includes adding two players by trade, three unrestricted free agents from other teams, re-signing seven of their own unrestricted free agents, franchising one player, tendering another restricted free agent, losing five of their own unrestricted free agents after deciding not to retain them, gritting their teeth to make Ezekiel Elliott a June 1 release and restructuring two more contracts of their own guys (Tyron Smith and Michael Gallup), along with, as part of the trade for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, restructuring his deal too.

And they still are focusing on re-signing defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and likely need to add some kicking contenders to Tristan Vizcaino for competition if indeed continuing to be dead set against bringing back Brett Maher to join the fray.

Hey, Stephen, come on, catch your breath. Palm Sunday is a week-and-a-half away. The NFL Draft 36 days away.

But look, this is what happens when you head into this free agent period with 19 unrestricted free agents, two restricted, umpteen holes to fill, having to spend $10.1 million to franchise tag Tony Pollard while being more than $16 million over the $224.8 million salary cap back in early March.

Time to take some shots!

  • Twitter Verse: Shame on me for giggling but went back to some of my Twitter mentions from March 13, and these things don't just disappear into space unfortunately, but already Tweets were screaming for the Cowboys to "do something." In fact, one wise guy actually had this to say: "You know who's probably the most under-worked writers in the NFL on the opening of free agency? @nickeatman and @Spags52 and any Dallas Cowboys employee. Saw Nick today. Looks like he needs a Spring Break.
  • Best Saves: Other than tagging Pollard, a no-brainer, the best unrestricted free agent saves of the other 18 is the re-signing of Donovan Wilson and Leighton Vander Esch, preventing those two veterans from reaching fee agency. Do you realize Wilson (108) and LVE (100) led the team in tackles, combining for 208 of them? That's 208 of the 32 players totaling 1,069 tackles in 2022. That's right at 20 percent. That right there would have been a lot to lose.
  • Triple Treat: Hail the trades for cornerback Stephon Gilmore and now Cooks, neither breaking the cap bank. Those two guys replenished two spots in dire need. So does the signing of UFA running back Ronald Jones from nearby McKinney North High School. These three moves keep the Cowboys draft pure. Don't have to unnecessarily reach for one of those positions out of dire need. Can now let the draft come to them. If there happens to be a guy at one of those three positions worthy of the 26th pick, go ahead and grab him. Gilmore is on a one-year deal. Cooks on a two. All that buys time to continue developing at cornerback Da'Ron Bland, buys time for guys such as Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright to possibly come around and is insurance on Jourdan Lewis returning. Gives Jalen Tolbert time to mature. And at running back, at least there is a proven commodity behind Pollard, er, maybe with him, with Jones. Never know what Malik Davis or Rico Dowdle might turn into without being, uh, rushed.
  • Toughest Decision: Biting the bullet on Zeke. Not only must the Cowboys replace his 12 rushing touchdowns and the locker room juice he brings, but also while recouping his $10.9 million base salary on June 2, basically a three-month CD to finance their rookie draft pool, but also they must endure his $11.86 million of dead money to be spread over these upcoming two seasons. And who knows? If there are no takers, Zeke might be willing to return for a third of that base salary if the Cowboys have cap space to spare.
  • Biggest Loss: Most would automatically say tight end Dalton Schultz. Not sure what the Cowboys were offering, but Schultz, who was not happy being franchise-tagged last year for right at $11 million guaranteed, just might have overplayed his hand in free agency. While his one-year deal reportedly is for $9 million MAX, there is a good chance his salary is not much more than $6 million with the rest based on incentives. And since the Cowboys are high on last year's rookies Jason Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot, along with utility tight end Sean McKeon, draft and develop is in play, along with using the tight-end heavy draft. But to me, it's the versatility of Connor McGovern who might be most missed, capable of starting at guard (14 games), sliding over to center in a pinch (one start, one out of the bullpen), but also lining up at fullback. He's so valuable, Buffalo signed him to a three-year, $22 million deal, including an $8 million signing bonus and $11 million guaranteed. That's huge bucks for a guy who made $3.6 million these past four years with the Cowboys.
  • Runner-up: That would be Luke Gifford. You realize the guy led the Cowboys with 12 special teams tackles, four more than esteemed veteran special teamer C.J. Goodwin, and for a mere $1.1 million. Why, Tennessee thought enough of the linebacker to sign him to a two-year, $4 million deal, with $1 million guaranteed. In four seasons with the Cowboys as a backup linebacker/special teamer Gifford made just $2.8 million.
  • Leftovers: When all was said and done with the Cooks contract, what with the Texans picking up $6 million of his original $18 million guaranteed base salary and the Cowboys paying him an $8 million restructuring bonus on his remaining $12 million base, his 2023 salary cap hit comes to palatable $6.35 million … Speaking of Houston, see that former Cowboys defensive tackle Malik Collins did well for himself signing with the Texans since his $7.25 million base for 2023 currently is third highest on the team, as is his $9.85 million cap hit … And former Cowboys 2019 second-round pick Trysten Hill is getting another chance after being released by the Cowboys after seven games last year and picked up by the Cardinals for another six games, signing with the Cleveland Browns for a cap hit of just $1.04 million and $300,000 guaranteed … And maybe the best under the radar signing was bringing back Cooper Rush on a two-year, $5 million deal, with $2.75 million guaranteed, a bargain for a guy who is 5-1 in his six NFL starts, going 4-1 last year to preserve the Cowboys season.

For this week's final word, let's hear from Cooks, engaging in a conference call this past Monday and, after seeing the 5-10, 183-pound receiver earlier walking through the Training Table at The Star, appearing to be a mighty sturdy 183 pounds. Amazing that a guy now on his fifth team, the trade to the Cowboys from Houston the fourth of his career, has been dealt that many times after putting up six 1,000-yard receiving seasons during his nine-year career while starting 120 of his 132 games while playing previously for the Saints, Patriots, Rams and Texans.

"I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. I really can't answer that honestly," Cooks said when asked why he think he's been traded so many times. "I mean, you ask any of my teammates and my coaches that I've been a part of, I would think they would say I was one of the best teammates they've had. And there is a reason why former teams have tried to come back and trade for me.

"So, I don't know, you know. I don't know."

Always the usual mystery shrouding free agency.

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