Offseason | 2022

Spagnola: Needing To Get Much Better, But How

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FRISCO, Texas – Day by day, this start of the 2022 NFL league year for the Cowboys is turning into an Abbott and Costello routine with unanswered questions after unanswered questions multiplying as I type.

Think not, with 12 days to go? Well, check this out.

Who is playing tight end?

What will be at wide receiver?

At this point, don't know at defensive end.

And linebacker? Well, because since the two guys not named Micah Parsons taking the next-most snaps there this past season are unrestricted free agents.

Plus, this does not even account for safety or punter or guard, where need is needed at each position.

Thank the football gods the Cowboys have Dak Prescott.

And with salary cap dollars scarce and the Cowboys under the microscopic surveillance of the other 31 NFL teams, this here is no laughing matter. Not this year, and when looking at the cap, as COO Stephen Jones points out from the NFL Scouting Combine, "We're thinking about '23 and '24," meaning what you do this year impacts the next couple of budget years.

Yet, as Jones says, "There is no question we've got to get better."

That brings us to how, where the answer might be out in, uh, left field.

Look, everyone wants to know, hey, what are the Cowboys' draft priorities, their free agency priorities?

Well, here is the grocery list, Bill Parcells.

Wide receiver.

Tight end.

Linebacker.

Offensive linemen.

Defensive end.

Safety.

Punter.

Who knows, a kicking competitor.

Exhausting.

Too bad they don't get fuel points for each purchase.

This 2022 NFL Draft will be the most critical one in years. The Cowboys need players. And players ready to play. Now! The least expensive way to restock a roster.

And they need more guys from the 2021 draft to step up into prime-time players. Looking at you Kelvin Joseph. And Odiggy. And Nahshon Wright. And Chauncey Golston. And Jabril Cox. And Josh Ball. And Simi Fehoko. And Quinton Bohanna. And Israel Mukuamu. And Matt Farniok.

Hey, as good a draft as the Cowboys were praised for having in 2021, other than finding the Defensive Rookie of the Year in Parsons and working Osa Odighizuwa for 615 snaps, the rest had little impact. Let's go, year two.

Still, the problems mount.

Now we find out tight end Blake Jarwin has undergone hip surgery, putting his availability in question for this coming season. Compound that with tight end Dalton Schultz, the team's second leading receiver in 2021 with 78 catches, the most by a Cowboys tight end since Jason Witten had 101 in 2012, set to become an unrestricted free agent.

And get this, in one ranking of the top 101 free agents, Schultz came in 22nd, the second tight end listed to only Mike Gesicki (No. 12).

Worse, the Cowboys had three of their unrestricted free agents ranked in the top 30, with defensive end Randy Gregory 24th and wide receiver Michael Gallup 27th. That means other teams with a wealth of cap space will come calling, and likely, if they want to, can outbid the Cowboys for their services. Sort of like putting blind bids on houses around here these days.

That is why this notion of cutting DeMarcus Lawrence to save cap space is frightening. What if you can't re-sign Gregory? Or Dorance Armstrong? And please, when anally crunching D-Law's 2021 numbers, remember he only played seven games after fracturing his fifth metatarsal.

That, too, is why this notion of cutting Amari Cooper for cap-saving purposes is frightening. What if you can't re-sign Gallup or Cedrick Wilson or Noah Brown or Malik Turner?

And forget this grand idea of trading Amari. First, you'd only have five days to get that done before his $20 million base salary guarantees. And who is going to give you more than pennies on the dollar for a guy everyone and their brother is claiming the Cowboys are going to cut. All teams would have to do is wait, then sign him to their contract, not inherit the Cowboys' one. Sure, pricy to keep him, but also would become a wasted 2019 first-round pick, not getting more than three and a half seasons out of that.

And don't come in here with "receiver by committee." Found out that was hogwash in 2018, and the reason why the Cowboys were forced to trade for Coop during the bye week, turning a 3-4 team into 7-2 over the second half and division champs. Plus, even if the Cowboys managed to re-sign Gallup, chances are he's not ready to start the season just seven months removed from ACL surgery.

Makes your head spin, don't it?

Can you say restructure on Tank and Coop? And I get it, it's hard kicking the salary cap can down the road, but is there a feasible choice without being resigned to starting over?

Now then, linebacker. There's Parsons and …

Keep hearing Cox. But can you count on that happening, Cox having played limited snaps last year and coming off ACL surgery? Because aside from Parsons, there is no ready alternative if not-re-signing Leighton Vander Esch. And there is a chance that might be too rich for the Cowboys' cap blood. Remember, too, Keanu Neal safety-to-linebacker turned into a limited nickel-defense role, and he's unrestricted.

OK, safety. As it stands now it's Donovan Wilson and Mukuamu unless the Cowboys think Anthony Brown can move from starting cornerback to safety and Joseph, last year's second-round pick, is ready for prime time. Or maybe Wright. Be nice to have Jayron Kearse back, only the team's leading 2021 tackler, unless they roll the dice on Mukuamu being ready for that big nickel role.

As owner Jerry Jones said from the Senior Bowl, "We need Cox and Wright to become stars," as an example for what desperately needs to transpire with some of the 2021 draft choices.

So, you say, "the draft." Great, but with potentially this many needs, it'll take three first-round picks to cover yourself. The Cowboys only have one, and 24th at that. And this century when drafting no higher than 24th (Dez Bryant line of demarcation) the Cowboys have netted Taco Charlton (28), Byron Jones (27), traded down from 18 to 31 for Travis Frederick and picked up a third (Terrance Williams), Felix Jones (22) and Anthony Spencer (26).

Ain't no Micah Parsons in that bunch.

All makes you want to squint, doesn't it?

As Stephen Jones says, "You know, feel like we've got a lot of good young players on this football team. You don't want to be starting over, if you will, if we did too much. Obviously, we can do some things that would allow us to keep most of our guys if we wanted to push it all out, but then we'd have a much bigger problem next year and the year after that."

And we'd be right back where we are today, wondering about who, what, where and how, and blaming it on that darn because.

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