DALLAS — The Dak Prescott signing was the biggest item on the to-do list for the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. However, with the contract extension for their franchise quarterback checked off and in the rearview mirror, the organization can now get down to the business of making the Cowboys better around him.
Signing Prescott before free agency opened on March 17 was important for two reasons, the first being that the team gets their team leader and one of the best QBs in the game back under center. Secondly, it means the Cowboys now know how much money they have to spend in regards to keeping the roster under the salary cap.
In preparation for the days ahead, Dallas has continued to make room under the cap even after signing Prescott by restructuring a number of current deals.
With the Cowboys opening up some money to play with in free agency, and with room to get more, here’s a list of five of the best options to help the team in 2021. Signing just two or three of these free agents could swing the Cowboys back into contention, even before the draft brings reinforcements in April:
Dalvin Tomlinson – DT
You’d be hard-pressed to find another player in free agency who could help the Cowboys more than Tomlinson. The New York Giants defensive tackle produced 8 tackles for a loss and 10 quarterback hits to go along with 3.5 sacks for the 10th overall run defense in 2021.
The Dallas defense has long needed a run stuffer and a guy capable of pushing the pocket in the middle of the defensive line, Tomlinson can do both.
It won’t be cheap to bring in the veteran DT, but he would be worth it for the Cowboys, who were next to last in the league at stopping the run in 2020. Dallas doesn’t have any depth behind a couple of young starters up the middle, nor do they have anyone close to as good as Tomlinson.
This is the best fit for the Cowboys’ defense when free agency opens. There’s not a player on the open market who could help more than Tomlinson.
John Johnson – Safety
A new offseason, a new call for safety help for the Cowboys. Some things never change. The position has been ignored for too long and Johnson would be a big addition to Dan Quinn’s defense. As a third-round pick out of Boston College in 2017, Johnson has started 48 games in the last four years and recently earned high grades for his 2020 season.
Johnson has eight interceptions and 32 passes defensed since entering the league, both would be tops on the current Cowboys roster. The former Los Angeles Rams free safety would immediately upgrade the defense and Johnson’s best football is ahead of him at just 25 years old.
William Jackson – CB
The Cowboys, as it stands right now, only have two clear cut starting-level cornerbacks returning. With Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis set to become free agents, the defense has Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs as their top corners. More help is needed and Jackson would be a day one upgrade over anyone Dallas has now.
Jackson is one of the more underrated CBs in the league and has 48 career starts under his belt from his time with the Cincinnati Bengals. Though he’s only picked off three passes in his four seasons, Jackson does have 41 passes defensed and is a willing tackler. Standing at 6’0 and close to 200lbs, Jackson also has the size the Cowboys look for in a corner.
A veteran who is familiar with Quinn such as Richard Sherman would also be a big help, but Jackson’s age (28) tilts the scales in his favor if the Cowboys actively seek a top corner on the market.
Anthony Harris – Safety
Harris is another safety option for the Cowboys and he’ll probably come at a cheaper cost than Johnson due to being four years older. That fact alone might make the former Minnesota Vikings standout a legitimate target for Dallas when considering the tight purse strings gripped by Stephen Jones when it comes to the first wave of free-agent talent.
The best season from Harris was his 2019 campaign where he picked off a league-high six passes, so it was disappointing that he didn’t grab any last year. However, Pro Football Focus did have Harris as their top-rated safety in 2020.
Harris is good in coverage, is a physical tackler and has emerged as one of the best all-around safeties in the game. Harris looks like an ideal candidate to pair with Donovan Wilson and make an oft-ignored position in Dallas a plus for upcoming seasons.
K.J. Wright – LB
Wright might be getting up there in age at 32, but he’s still an effective linebacker. The Cowboys desperately need help at the position since their top two LBs – Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch – have been ineffective and injury-prone over the last two seasons. The team doesn’t have much depth or experience behind their two top options, either.
Wright might not be spectacular in any one facet of the game, but he is solid in all phases and can be a mentor for Quinn’s defense. In addition, 2016 Pro Bowl performer played for Quinn with the Seattle Seahawks and would be an ideal fit with the Cowboys.
Wright also has played in every game in the past two seasons and, aside from 2018 when he missed 11 games, he has played in at least 15 games in six of the last seven years. That’s some outstanding insurance against injury for a defense desperately seeking a sturdier foundation.
Which free agents would you like to see the Dallas Cowboys sign this spring? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.