24. DALLAS COWBOYS (12-6)
LAST SEASON: The Cowboys won the NFC East before a wild-card loss at home to San Francisco, an outcome that clearly rankled owner Jerry Jones. The disappointment wasn’t enough for him to replace coach Mike McCarthy after two years. An offense that was among the best in the NFL before QB Dak Prescott’s calf injury was inconsistent at best the second half of the season. The sputtering of that unit cost the Cowboys against the 49ers. NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons helped Dallas improve significantly on that side of the ball, with a big assist from new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. But the defense was more opportunistic than dominant, using turnovers to influence outcomes.
FREE AGENCY/TRADES: WR Amari Cooper traded to Cleveland for a fifth-round draft pick and a swap of picks in the sixth. Cowboys wanted to re-sign DE Randy Gregory, but he opted for Denver because of language about guaranteed money in his contract. Dallas signed two outside free agents in DE Dante Fowler and WR James Washington. Cowboys so far have kept 12 of their own free agents, led by WR Michael Gallup, who might miss start of season recovering from torn knee ligament, and TE Dalton Schultz ($10.9 million franchise tag). Others are S Jayron Kearse, LB Leighton Vander Esch, DE Dorance Armstrong, DT Carlos Watkins, WR Noah Brown, S Malik Hooker, TE Jeremy Sprinkle, LB Luke Gifford, P Bryan Anger and LS Jake McQuaide.
THEY NEED: OL, WR, DE.
THEY DON’T NEED: QB, RB, LB.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: Arkansas WR Treylon Burks; Boston College G Zion Johnson; Texas A&M G Kenyon Green.
OUTLOOK: The Cooper trade, a move made to create space under the salary cap, dinged the depth of a receiving group now led by 2020 first-round pick CeeDee Lamb. The Cowboys are facing the most uncertainty in their offensive line in a decade. Age (31) and injuries are a growing issue for eight-time Pro Bowl LT Tyron Smith. As a result, the only true anchor left is five-time All-Pro RG Zack Martin. The release of RT La’el Collins in a cost-cutting move apparently clears the way for undrafted third-year pro Terence Steele, although the draft could change this outlook. Dallas also has to replace penalty-plagued LG Connor Williams, who signed with Miami. The loss of Gregory in free agency increases the urgency at defensive end, while Parsons’ versatility as a pass rusher keeps Dallas from being desperate. The Cowboys seem forever destined to enter the draft with a need at safety.
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