COWBOYS FREE AGENCY
It’s the end of an era in Dallas. No more feeding the Zeke.
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|Leighton Vander Esch||LB||Re-signed|
2-years, $8 M, $5 M guaranteed
3-years, $21 M, $13.5 M guaranteed
|Stephon Gilmore||CB||Trade|| |
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|Ezekiel Elliott||RB||Released||TBD|| |
|Connor McGovern||OG||Free Agency||BUF, 3 years, $23 million|| |
|Dalton Schultz||TE||Free Agency||TBD|
Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys first-round pick in 2016, No.4 overall, was released from the team a few days after Dallas slapped the franchise tag on former fourth-round pick Tony Pollard. Elliott burst on the scene as a rookie, rushing for 1,631 yards and another 363 yards receiving for a total of 16 touchdowns.
His signature gesture of spooning himself after big runs became an NFL meme.
He rushed for more than 1,300 yards in three of his first four seasons. He just missed another 1,000-yard season in 2017 despite being suspended for six games for domestic violence.
But his production dropped significantly in 2020 and by last season he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry after averaging 5.1 as a rookie. Elliott said he was willing to take a pay cut to remain with the team, but the two sides never got that far.
BACKFIELD IN MOTION
With Elliott gone (he could be resigned), the Cowboys run game is in Pollard’s hands. He gained 1,007 yards on 5.2 yards per carry and caught another 39 passes for 371 yards. He scored 12 touchdowns and ran with a burst that Elliott no longer had.
The Cowboys made two key in-house moves, resigning linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and safety Donovan Wilson. Vander Esch had a bounce back season in 2022 with 90 tackles and reestablished himself as the heart of the Cowboys run defense.
The Cowboys got him a cap-friendly number of $8 million over two years. Dallas is hoping to get more out of young linebackers Damone Clark and Jabril Cox.
Wilson is a key cog in defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s attack. He’s excellent in run support and improved his coverage skills last season. Wilson got three-years at $21 million. He had a career-high five sacks last season.
The Cowboys might have gotten a steal in trading for CB Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore, the Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, hasn’t played at that level but the Cowboys have had success bringing in veteran defensive backs.
Because the Cowboys have focused on defense in free agency, it’s logical to assume the team will target the offensive side of the ball in next month’s draft. Dallas has a glaring need at tight end where the team is not expected to retain Dalton Schultz and wide receiver where Michael Gallup struggled in his first season back from ACL surgery.
The Cowboys went 12-5 last season, beat the Tampa Bay Bucs in a Wildcard Game before losing 19-12 to the 49ers at home. Dallas hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1995 but the team thinks it has a window if 29-year-old Dak Prescott rebounds from his 15-interception season.