Dallas Cowboys evoking change with hard-ball offseason approach

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Too often, the Dallas Cowboys have been criticized for overpaying their free agents or overplaying their hand in trades. Now, with this version of the Dallas Cowboys, they’ve begun to draw hard lines in the sand with some of their in-house personnel and trade moves.

To be frank, as a fan, it’s refreshing to see. This plan has Stephen Jones’ handprints all over it, but it takes a group effort to execute it.

The Dallas Cowboys have finally transitioned away from playing underhand pitch to hard ball and it’s beginning to pay dividends.

Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Elliott were perfect examples of “need” based signings that the team was hog-tied into making. For Lawrence, he had been a good player for Dallas but during his negotiations he had the leverage (limited pass rushers on team) and was able to convert it into a contract in the neighborhood of then star players Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald.

Ezekiel Elliott decided to make the Dallas Cowboys jump earlier than expected. With two years left on his rookie deal, he took his talents to Cabo, Mexico while Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett decided when and where was the proper place to cave into the contract demands of their superstar running back.

2023 is a new year and it’s a new story. The Dallas Cowboys are negotiating from a position of strength. Their model of ‘draft and develop’ has allowed them to build up their roster. So, while the “Feed Me” train won the short game with his contract negotiations, Dallas won the long game by drafting his eventual replacement which allowed them to deal with the impact of showing their seventh-year runner the door. 

Both Leighton Vander Esch and Donovon Wilson thought it would be in their best interest to agree to terms within the Cowboys free agency approach. Dalton Schultz has different plans. The open market was not kind to the fifth-year pro from Stanford. He betted on himself and landing a 1-year deal with the Houston Texans would constitute a loss in my book.

Dalton Schultz had been a fantastic ‘safety blanket’ for Dak Prescott but he had a few things going against him heading into free agency and Dallas knew it. One, he was coming off one of his lowest producing seasons (57 receptions – 577 yards) since 2019. Not to mention, many teams look at his value as scheme specific and may be more valuable to Dallas than other organizations. It didn’t help that he is coming off a season where he battled through injuries.

Schultz had no leverage versus Dallas’ free agency approach. The competition arriving at his position in the draft cut him off at the knees. While the money hasn’t been confirmed, there are reports that the team offered him a multi-year deal. So far this offseason, the most lucrative contract agreed upon by a tight end has been Hayden Hurst (3 years – $21.75 million) and the Carolina Panthers.

Three years ago, Schultz would have probably won this negotiation standoff. From Dallas’ perspective, their drafting process will save them again. They have two young tight ends in Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot and will have the option of adding a third in the first or second round of the draft. They didn’t need to give in to what Dalton Schultz wanted.

Lastly, the trades for both Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks for fifth round picks were stellar. They obtained two starting level players for day three draft picks. The highway robbery was the Brandin Cooks trade. I must admit I thought it would take a third-round pick to get him from the Texans. Getting Houston to commit to pay $6 million of Cook’s 2024 salary is one of the reasons Houston has been at the bottom of the NFL since their inception.

Dallas’ approach to this offseason is one that I have to tip my hat to. There is still work to do but I can’t find a reason to criticize what they’ve done and more importantly, how they done it. Obviously, Jerry Jones is still the owner/general manager, but I feel a changing of the guards is upon us.