The Dallas Cowboys have a lot of money tied up with their star players and because of that, they're going to have to be extremely careful with future signings. Right around the corner, all the remaining players from their 2018 draft will be entering free agency. The team drafted extremely well that year and has gotten great contributions from players such as Leighton Vander Esch, Connor Williams, Michael Gallup, Dorance Armstrong, Dalton Schultz, and Cedrick Wilson. It would be great if the Cowboys could hang on to some of them, but doing so would be quite challenging.
While it's going to be disappointing to lose some of these players, the team might have a nice contingency plan as there are some interesting candidates who could step in and fill their shoes. Let's examine what life could be like for the Cowboys after the 2021 season.
Instead of Leighton Vander Esch...
Four more years of Micah Parsons ($3.8M, $4.6M, $5.4, plus fifth-year option)
The Cowboys declined to pick up Vander Esch's fifth-year option this offseason leaving him in the last year of his rookie deal. LVE had a promising first year where he became just the fourth ever Cowboys' player to earn All-Pro honors his rookie season. Unfortunately, it's been a struggle ever since as the once-promising young linebacker has had trouble staying healthy. Stephen Jones has said that Vander Esch is part of their future, but then the team went out and brought in Micah Parsons (first-round draft pick), Keanu Neal (free agent), and Jabril Cox (fourth-round draft pick).
The rookie Parsons has looked outstanding so far in camp and in preseason games. His speed will be an immediate plus for this defense.
Instead of Connor Williams...
One more year of Connor McGovern ($1.1M)
Being able to find a four-year starter in the second round of the draft is a win for any team and that is what the Cowboys found in Williams. His first two seasons were a little rocky at times as injuries and suspect play cast him as the team's weakest link on the offensive line. To his credit, Williams keeps getting better and is coming off a solid 2020 campaign. And just when fans are finally warming up to him, he'll be entering the last year of his rookie deal.
The team spent a third-round pick on McGovern in 2019 as they continued to collect offensive line talent, but with Williams playing well, the younger Connor hasn't had much opportunity to see action. He's looked good in camp this year, even to the point where it looked as if they were trying to find a way to get him on the field (like moving Williams over to center), but he's still likely going to be confined to a reserve role once again. He should assume the starting left guard job next year if Williams leaves in free agency; however, that only leaves one additional year of player control. That still gives the Cowboys two drafts to find a new guard as well as seeing what they have in this year's rookie Matt Farniok.
Instead of Michael Gallup...
Three more years of Simi Fehoko ($885k, $1M, $1.1M)
The team's biggest value of the 2018 draft came in the form of the third-round wide receiver from Colorado State, Michael Gallup. All Gallup has done over his first three seasons in the league is rack up 158 catches for 2,457 yards and 13 touchdowns. His value to the team is often overlooked because of a couple of bigger name receivers in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, but don't let these other stars bamboozle you into underestimating what Gallup is capable of. Unfortunately for Dallas, forking up the cash to retain him might be an overload of cap resources at the wide receiver position.
The Cowboys didn't need to go out and draft a wide receiver this year, but they couldn't resist passing up on Stanford's Simi Fehoko when he was still available in the fifth round. The rookie is still raw and shouldn't be much of a factor this year, but he's got the skill set to be a complementary receiver for this team in the future.
Instead of Dorance Armstrong...
Two more years of Bradlee Anae ($954K, $1.1M)
The Kansas edge rusher hasn't been able to deliver the level of play that matched the excitement the Cowboys war room had when he was selected in the fourth round. Like Gallup, Armstrong has only missed two games over his first three seasons in the league. Unlike Gallup, Armstrong's role on the team has been limited to a rotational player who has been buried behind more experienced defensive ends. That's not likely to change much this year with DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory securing the edges, but Armstrong is playing with enough tenacity where he could earn himself a little more playing time this year. And that would be great timing considering he's entering a contract year.
Just like Fehoko, Bradlee Anae was selected in the fifth round with the 179th overall pick. Buried even deeper within the depth chart, Anae was made inactive several games once Gregory returned to action last year. He's still fighting to earn a roster spot but showed some nice promise during Friday's preseason game against Arizona.
Instead of Dalton Schultz...
Two more years of Sean McKeon ($899K, RFA)
The career of Schultz has been a weird one. When the team originally selected him, he didn't appear like anything more than just a serviceable inline blocker to help in the running game. And for the first two years of his career, he was virtually invisible as all his contributions came as a blocker. He only had one catch during his second year in the league. Of course, all of that changed dramatically when he was thrust into the lead tight end role last year where he compiled 63 catches for 615 yards and four touchdowns.
As much as I have come to love what Schultz brings to the Cowboys, I'm starting to have similar feels for what second-year UDFA Sean McKeon is doing on the field. Like Schultz, he was nothing more than a blocking tight end in college. And like Schultz, he looks like he might turn out to be a reliable pass-catcher as well. I'd love to retain Dalton, but when you weigh the cost, they might be able to get similar production for a lot less money.
Instead of Cedrick Wilson...
Three more years of Brandon Smith ($829K, $944K, RFA)
Wilson missed his rookie season with a shoulder injury and started on the practice squad his second year as he didn't make final roster cuts. Wilson did get promoted to the active roster and played in six games in 2019 and all 16 last year. He doesn't get many looks as the Cowboys are stacked at wide receiver, but he's carved out a role in this offense. He's playing on a one-year tender worth $2.1 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent next season.
The Cowboys have a lot of young receivers on the roster vying for a spot on the team. Many of them won't make it, but that doesn't mean their journey ends. Brandon Smith is my personal favorite as he has a nose for making plays. While he won't crack the roster this year, remember his name, especially if he's one of the players the team signs to their practice squad.
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