Free agency has a major impact on fantasy football. We’re a long way from the 2018 league year, but for dynasty team owners — especially those who’ve missed the playoffs — it’s never too early to start thinking about how player values could change.
I’m taking a look at the Dallas Cowboys’ fantasy-relevant free agents, especially as it relates to the team’s salary cap. I’ll also look at their most urgent needs and discuss where they may look to supplement through the 2018 NFL draft.
Free Agents information and cap numbers are courtesy of OverTheCap.
As it stands, Dallas currently has $18,470,415 in projected cap space heading into the new year, assuming a team salary cap figure of $178 million.
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The Cowboys are already stuck with almost $14 million in dead money owed to Tony Romo, Cedric Thornton, and Nolan Carroll. If they want a chance at keeping even half of the players on their free agent list, they’ll need to clear some cap space, and they can start with Randy Gregory. A 2015 second-round pick, Gregory is currently serving his third suspension after repeated failed drug tests. There is no more time (or money) to waste waiting around for Gregory to get his act together.
Chaz Green proved this season that he cannot compete at the physical caliber needed to replace constantly injured Tyron Smith. The Cowboys will need to search free agency or the draft to find a replacement. Additionally, Damien Wilson and Datone Jones can be easily replaced.
WR, RT/G, LB
Before Jason Witten replaced Zach Ertz in this Sunday’s Pro Bowl, the Cowboys only had Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and Travis Frederick representing them – and both Martin and Smith needed replacements due to injury. This is indicative of the troubles for the team as a whole and especially for what was once the leading offensive line in the league. Even with problems on the offensive line, the biggest question mark going into free agency is what will it take to keep Demarcus Lawrence?
If a deal can’t be made this offseason, the Cowboys will likely use their franchise tag on Lawrence, who emerged as a hungry pass rusher this season, ranking second in the league in sacks. By tagging Lawrence, it’s likely the Cowboys will have to forgo paying Anthony Hitchens.
In the meantime, this would leave the Cowboys room to focus on filling other key positions, starting with receivers. Dak Prescott is in dire need of weapons, but Brice Butler isn’t the answer. After the claims and demands he made to start the offseason, it seems like the two parties will reach a mutual decision to part ways.
While the Cowboys will likely look to draft a wide receiver, it would be beneficial if they also looked for a well-established vet – a secondary target who is a tad more modest than Butler or Dez Bryant. Whether they find a vet or rookie, dynasty owners of Bryant should be on alert. Bryant has been on a slow regression, particularly fantasy-wise, and is not the same threat he once was. Dallas is locked into Terrance Williams’ contract for 2018,1 but they could potentially move on from Cole Beasley2 if they feel Ryan Switzer is ready to take over.
The Cowboys have their answer at running back, but to win the war of attrition in the NFL, Dallas needs a reliable backup. Alfred Morris has proven to be a fine fill-in, but Rod Smith seems capable of leading the Cowboys in such a scenario.
Along the vaunted offensive line, Byron Bell isn’t capable of filling the big shoes of Tyron Smith and can be replaced. Meanwhile, though the defensive line was much improved this season, the Cowboys will likely let David Irving walk as well.
The primary focus in the offseason should be adding depth at offensive tackle and wide receiver. The Dallas offense has succeeded the last few years because their line opened up holes in the running game and protected the quarterback. They did not do that this year, and we saw how that went.
If they want to turn the tide in 2018, they need to continue to invest in their offensive line. Tyron Smith is locked up through 2023 and right tackle La’el Collins is under contract through 2019. Neither Travis Frederick or Zack Martin can play tackle, and the Cowboys cannot allow their line to fall apart. Drafting a guard who can fill in at tackle would shore up the most important unit on this football team.
Successfully investing in their line would also boost the value of both Prescott and Elliott in dynasty.
The injury bug is not exclusive to the offensive line. As mentioned, the Cowboys had a breakout year along the defensive line and the young cornerbacks appear to be on their way to becoming a fearsome unit. But the linebacking core held the defense back. Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith have had a tough time staying on the field, making it imperative for Dallas to draft a young linebacker.
The Cowboys have rarely had the cap space to make any noise during free agency. But Jerry Jones isn’t one to sit quiet. My bold prediction would be for the Cowboys to trade up and snag wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who had three strong years as the starter for Alabama. Jerry Jones loves the SEC and loves to stir the pot even more. If the media wants to push the narrative of Dallas losing faith in Bryant, Ridley can add some fuel to the fire while adding substantial value to the Cowboys’ depth at the receiver position.
If there isn’t any draft day drama, I would expect the Cowboys to draft linebacker Roquan Smith from Georgia should he fall to pick 19, or linebacker Rashaan Evans from Alabama. This move would be a huge step in bolstering a strong defensive unit and could provide immediate dividends with one of these young linebackers playing alongside, and learning from, Sean Lee.