In the salary cap era of the NFL, rosters inevitably undergo an annual churn every off-season. This reality is especially true on the Dallas Cowboys who are aggressively frugal with their roster spending and are constantly on the lookout for younger and cheaper options.
Talent plays a part in roster decisions but money is often the driving force. Such is the case when the decision-makers gate to keep every dollar they don’t spend – but that’s a topic for another day…
The offseason of 2023 will no doubt see plenty of churn to the roster. With Trevon Diggs, Micah Parsons and CeeDee Lamb one year closer to free agency, Stephen Jones will surely be tightening the belt in anticipation.
For the Dallas Cowboys to move forward, they will have to say goodbye to these five players this winter.
We start with a progress stopper…
Noah Brown, WR
After years of grinding and developing, Noah Brown has finally hit his ceiling. Used early in his career as a blocking specialist, Brown carved out a role as one of Kellen Moore’s favorite tools. Brown is an effective blocker lined up in the formation, spread out, or even on the move.
When the Cowboys lost Dak Prescott early in the season and Cooper Rush had to take over, Noah brown became one of Rush’s favorite targets. The duo played a big role in the Cowboys success early on and helped Dallas survive a period of time without Prescott, Michael Gallup, and Tyron Smith.
Brown’s breakout season lost its luster when Dak Prescott made it back into the starting lineup. Dropped passes lead to some distrust as Brown faded down the depth chart while players like Gallup and T.Y. Hilton rose up.
It appears Brown has now become a progress-stopper in Dallas. The Dallas Cowboys have two young receivers in Simi Fehoko and Jalen Tolbert they would like to develop and with Brown on the roster the opportunities to advance are limited.
Young players have two things Stephen Jones loves:
- Higher ceilings
- Lower paychecks
Noah Brown’s time is likely up in Dallas
Dallas Cowboys who have to go: Ezekiel Elliott RB
The Ezekiel Elliott era simply must be over in Dallas. Regardless of what the Cowboys decide to do with Tony Pollard, Zeke is not a player the Cowboys can afford to keep around.
Slated to cost $16,720,000 against the cap in 2023, the Dallas Cowboys can save $4.86 million if they cut him pre-June 1 or $10.9 million as post-June 1 cut. Either way, the Cowboys save money by cutting bait and given his production level, even a restructure would result in a massive overpay.
Ezekiel Elliott is producing at a replacement level output, so the Dallas Cowboys should have no problem replacing him with rookie. Zeke is currently ranked 27th in rushing yards over expected so it’s perfectly possible a mid-round rookie could even be an upgrade.
What complicates matters is how much this team adores No. 21. Elliott is beloved by teammates and a leader in the locker room. He’s Dak’s best friend and a fan favorite. Because of all of this his release should in no way be seen as imminent. But taking out the money, personality and all other outside factors, his performance on the field doesn’t warrant a roster spot.
Dallas Cowboys who have to go: Dalton Schultz TE
Dalton Schultz is severely underrated in Cowboys Nation. Dalton Schultz is also a luxury the Dallas Cowboys can’t afford. Both can be true so allow me to elaborate…
Schultz is a top-10 player at the tight end position and big part of the Cowboys’ offense. Despite the constant criticism, he’s well rounded as well. Schultz is a TE who can flex out and run routes or lineup inline and block. He even regularly plays the X receiver spot when the Cowboys go trips on the opposite side.
If you take Dalton Schultz's production over the last six games and average it out over a 17-game schedule, you get 82 receptions, 932 yards, and 11 touchdowns.
— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) January 19, 2023
While he’s no Jason Witten, he’s also no Anthony Fasano either.
But the Dallas Cowboys are always on the lookout for savings (did we mention Stephen Jones is cheap?) and cheaper options exist behind the Stanford product.
The rookies Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot have flashed potential this season. And even the 25-year-old Sean McKeon has proven competent. This year’s NFL Draft also appears to be a deep TE class. None of this bodes well for Schultz’s future in Dallas.
It’s telling the Dallas Cowboys made little effort to offer Dalton Schultz a multi-year deal last off-season and just happily slapped him with a franchise tag. They know they can’t afford to re-sign everyone and have made it very clear which of their free agents they consider high priority.
Dallas Cowboys who have to go: Tyron Smith OT
Tyron Smith is one of the greatest Dallas Cowboys to ever play. He’s been a fixture on the line for over a decade and a sure-fire Hall of Famer. But as everyone knows, his body isn’t what it used to be and injuries have become a common occurrence.
Smith hasn’t played a full season in seven years and over the past three seasons, Smith has just played in 17 games, missing 32. At the price of $17,605,000 against the cap in 2023, it’s clear Smith is no longer worth it.
The Dallas Cowboys will save nearly $10 million by cutting Smith this winter. That’s $10 million that can go to make upgrades elsewhere or used to retain key players like Trevon Diggs who will be a free agent after next season.
The tackles of the future in Dallas appear to be locked in. Tyler Smith has had a tremendous rookie season and h only scratched the surface on his potential. Terence Steele has developed into one of the top run blocking OTs in the NFL. Expect both to be in Dallas for a long time.
The Dallas Cowboys even have a couple developmental guys worth nurturing. The 2022 rookie Matt Waletzko has a tremendous skill set, he just needs to add weight to his frame and clean up technique. Josh Ball might have been terrible in pass protection opportunities last season, but he’s a strong run blocker and could be a Terence Steele starter kit.
There just isn’t much room for Tyron Smith going forward. Despite always staying in peak physical shape, he’s a constant injury risk and not someone the Cowboys can rely on.
Dallas Cowboys who have to go: Anthony Brown
To all the Dallas Cowboys yelling out “it’s about time!” hold on. I’m not on your side. To all the Dallas Cowboys fans yelling “Anthony Brown gets no respect” stay with me. I can explain.
Anthony Brown has been one of the most cost-effective players the Dallas Cowboys have had in recent years. Signed as an inside cornerback but played as an outside cornerback, the Dallas Cowboys essentially hacked the market by playing an inexpensive veteran at an expensive spot.
Everyone owes Brown a debt of gratitude for what he’s done for the Cowboys. He’s filled in when needed and played well in the process. Is he Pro Bowl level? No, but he’s a top-30 cornerback and that’s pretty darn good.
2022 was terrible for Brown. He was having his worst season as a pro (he seemed to be playing injured all year) and then he tore his Achilles late in the year, putting his 2023 season in jeopardy. At this point, the Cowboys have to take a step forward and make an honest effort to upgrade the CB2 spot.
DaRon Bland looks best inside and Israel Mukuamu is best as a CB4/SAF4 hybrid. Dallas has to invest more in the CB position especially with Trevon Diggs approaching free agency.