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Cowboys take the scenic route in first wave of free agency

The Dallas Cowboys opted for the same formula of the recent era by mostly focusing on their own players through the first week of the new league year.

DALLAS — While busying themselves with balancing the pocketbook earlier this week, the Dallas Cowboys got some business taken care of while some of the bigger names signed elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the rumor mill never stops spinning as there remains strong buzz that Dallas has their sights on a big addition for the offense in the coming days.

While the roster yearns for another aggressive move, the Cowboys already made themselves better with the maneuvers accomplished during the first week of free agency. True to the franchise’s nature, most of the moves included re-signing their own players, but the Cowboys also pulled off a trade to improve one their biggest weak spots on the roster.

Here’s a recap of what the Cowboys did in the first week of the new league year:

A usual start

Free agency didn’t go at a fast pace for Dallas, as it usually doesn’t. Early on, the team lost offensive lineman Connor McGovern, linebacker Luke Gifford, and wide receiver Noah Brown. No one in the trio is a star, but all three made significant contributions and left the team short at each position.

McGovern leaves the Cowboys thin on the interior of the offensive line, Gifford hurts a weak linebacker corps, as well special teams, and Brown was the offense's third leading receiver last year. All three can be replaced, but their vacancies leave holes dotted along the roster.

Front office answers back

The Cowboys of the current era rarely add expensive, external talent on the first days of free agency. However, the front office had a response this offseason, trading for one of the better veteran cornerbacks in the game. Dallas sent a fifth-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for Stephon Gilmore, who had a great 2022 season.

This was the type of move that avid fans have been begging the Cowboys to make as they look to complement their draft-and-sign philosophy with the hired guns needed to put them over the top.

In addition to adding Gilmore, the Cowboys kept two of their more pertinent free agents on defense, re-signing safety Donovan Wilson and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. Both players were priorities for the team, and Dallas was able to bring them back on reasonable deals.

Wilson is one of the enforcers for the defense on the backend, while retaining Vander Esch was essential to keep any semblance of depth at linebacker.

Economics takes over

After bumping up on the ceiling of the salary cap, the number crunchers went to work for Dallas to clear out some space to improve the roster. The Cowboys got a few of their higher paid veteran players to restructure their contracts or convert bonuses to give the team more money to play with. 

Wide receiver Michael Gallup and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence led the way in cooking the books. In addition, future Hall of Fame left tackle Tyron Smith restructured his deal to reduce his cost and ensured that he now gets paid according to how many games he plays. 

The toughest part of the week also included carving out some extra money. The Cowboys cut their former All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott to save themselves over $10 million this season. 

Elliott was designated as a June 1 cap casualty, so the team won’t have the money to use until June, but they’ll recoup some cap space at a time where they generally like to add a player or two around training camp.

Role players remain

While there is anticipation for Dallas to sign a star wide receiver in the coming days, the Cowboys kept moving forward with their plan in the meantime by re-signing a pair of important role players. The impact might not be as significant as a new toy for Dak Prescott, but Dallas kept two core players vital to their success.

The team re-signed cornerback C.J. Goodwin to a one-year deal and kept backup quarterback Cooper Rush on a two-year contract.

Goodwin is a cornerback in name only, but he is one of the team’s best special teams players. After losing their other special teams leader Gifford, keeping Goodwin was a smart move.

Rush comes back after his best season with the Cowboys, winning four of his five starts and proving that he is capable of winning games if starter Prescott gets injured again. Despite lacking elite physical traits, Rush plays smart football where he doesn’t turn the ball over and keeps the Cowboys’ offense on course. Those are important attributes needed to win games when called upon.

The Cowboys love to keep their own drafted success stories and they enjoy a sense of security by retaining their own players. The team does not feel comfortable paying big money to free agents from outside the building, which is why the re-signings of Wilson and Vander Esch were prioritized, while keeping Goodwin and Rush doesn’t shock anyone. 

Dallas is usually much more active in the second and third wave of free agency, so it was a bit of a surprise to see the Cowboys make a few moves. Now that the top names that come at a price too distasteful for Dallas are off the menu, there are expectations for additions to the roster from the next tier.

The real fun is just about to begin.

Are you happy with how the Cowboys handled the first week of free agency? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi

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