The Dallas Cowboys will enter the NFL’s free agency Wednesday – the first day of the 2018 league year – with several key pieces of their depth chart in limbo.
The first domino to fall was DeMarcus Lawrence, the top player in the Cowboys' crop of free agents who tied for second in the NFL with 14.5 sacks last season, who will return on a $17 million franchise tag.
We’ll keep track of who’s signing and who’s leaving below:
A quick rundown:
- DeMarcus Lawrence, DE - Returning on franchise tag
- Anthony Hitchens, LB - Signed with Kansas City Chiefs
- David Irving, DE - Returning to Cowboys on second-round tender
- Brian Price, DT - Returning to Cowboys on two-year deal
- Alfred Morris, RB
- Jonathan Cooper, OL
- Brice Butler, WR
- Kyle Wilber, LB
- Joe Looney, OL
- L.P. Ladouceur, LS
- Byron Bell, OL
- Keith Smith, FB - Reportedly signing with Oakland Raiders
- Bene Benwikere, S
What it means
Lawrence will once again be the anchor of the Cowboys’ defensive line after a breakout 2017 campaign. The Cowboys had until March 6 to place the tag on Lawrence and did so on March 5, eliminating the possibility the Pro Bowler would field offers from other teams. He can still sign a longterm deal with Dallas this offseason.
Multiple media outlets reported on March 13 that Hitchens intends to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs on a deal worth $9 million per year.
The presumed loss of Hitchens ups the Cowboys’ need to find a linebacker in free agency or the draft. Sean Lee has missed 42 games over his eight-year NFL career and questions still surround Jaylon Smith after a rookie season that followed major surgery to repair a devastating knee injury suffered in his final collegiate game.
Price returns to the Cowboys after playing eight games at defensive tackle last year. He figures to be an insurance policy behind Maliek Collins in the middle, giving the Cowboys depth if they don't add a DT in the draft.
In an expected move, Irving will return to the Cowboys on a one-year, second-round tender worth $2.914 million. He can still negotiate with other teams but the Cowboys would be given the chance to match any offer.
Irving burst onto the scene at the end of the 2016 season, posting three sacks in two games at the end of the year. He served a four-game suspension at the start of the 2017 season after failing an offseason drug test, but recorded seven sacks in eight games before a concussion ended his season.
He figures to factor largely into the Cowboys' pass rush as the team figures out what it has in second-year defensive end Taco Charlton.
Smith appears to be headed to the Oakland Raiders. He posted a farewell to Cowboys fans on his Instagram page Thursday.
Don't even know where to start being that the last 4 years of my life have been spent wearing the Star on my helmet. But imma start by saying thank you to all the great fans of Dallas who supported me and my teammates through and through it was never taken for granted. I want to thank all of my teammates for the relationships built throughout my journey in Dallas through the ups and downs that locker room was a blessing to be apart of and I appreciate all the memories good and bad. I thank the Cowboys Organization The Jones family and all the coaching staff that helped guide me to this point in my career. Coach Gary Brown for helping me make the transition into the rest of my career at a new position and helping me put myself in a position to take care of my family and I. I thank the city of Dallas for accepting me and my time spent in the community and for always being kind. I leave with nothing but love and appreciation for the city of Dallas!... Thank you, Beef
A post shared by Keith Smith (@beef31) on
The Cowboys opted not to give Keith Smith a restricted tender like Irving, making Smith an unrestricted free agent. According to ESPN's Todd Archer, the team hopes to keep the fullback on a multi-year deal at a cheaper rate.
Between free agency and the NFL Draft, the Cowboys will be in the market for help at left guard, linebacker and safety. Wide receiver Dez Bryant's future has been rumored to be in question as well, but the Cowboys did not sign either of the top free agents at the position.