Grading the Cowboys’ 11 in-house free agency moves so far

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You would think the Dallas Cowboys would learn from past mistakes. For several years, Stephen and Jerry Jones seem to love two things: shopping the bargain bin in free agency and signing internal free agents. This offseason has been no different. Before finally signing former Steelers WR James Washington last Friday, the Cowboys were the only team in the NFL that had yet to sign an external player. The front office signed both Washington and former Falcons DE Dante Fowler Jr. last week, but neither signing was anything jaw-dropping.

The lack of high-level external moves has left Cowboys fans frustrated. When Dallas lost out on the chance to re-sign Randy Gregory, it left the front office with savings to spend on names like Von Miller, Bobby Wagner, and other players. Yet, the staff chose to remain in-house, shelling out several frugal or one-year contracts to players who bring depth more than starting talent.

It’s a tale as old as time for the Joneses. The hope is that these deals end up working out in the Cowboys’ favor. But, recent history paints a different story. For now, let’s take a look at all of those in-house signees and give them grades. Keep in mind that this list only includes players who were free agents heading into the 2022 season.

Handing out grades for the 11 in-house free agent signings the Cowboys have made so far this offseason

Cowboys, Dalton Schultz

Nov 25, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz (86) in action during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Las Vegas Raiders at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

11. Dalton Schultz, TE

Grade: B+

Contract: Franchise tag worth $10.9 million

The future of tight end Dalton Schultz was very up in the air for the month of February. The former backup had a breakout season in 2021 becoming a consistent target for quarterback Dak Prescott while TE Blake Jarwin yet again sat out most of the year with a hip injury. Last year, Schultz became only the second tight end in Cowboys history (Jason Witten) to have over 70 receptions (78) and over 800 yards (808) in a single season.

Because of his impressive performance, the front office knew that Schultz had outplayed his small contract. Initially, several reports said that the Cowboys would not want to use their franchise tag on Schultz due to serious salary cap issues. However, when news broke that Jarwin would likely not be ready to play for the start of the 2022 season, the narrative quickly changed. The front office was left with little-to-no choice but to keep Schultz around if they wanted a tight end who could start in September.

On Tuesday, March 8, the Cowboys officially placed the franchise tag on Schultz, and Jarwin was cut just three days later. We gave this signing a B+ because the Cowboys clearly need Schultz. Getting him back will be huge for Prescott and will secure a starting tight end for the start of 2022. However, the huge salary cap hit is not ideal. In this particular situation, though, it really felt like there was no other choice.

10. Jayron Kearse, S

Grade: A

Contract: Two-year extension worth $10 million

Jayron Kearse is a perfect example of what every player attempts to do when they sign a one-year, prove-it deal. When Kearse originally signed with the Cowboys ahead of 2021, there was little-to-no buzz about him. He was a typical Jerry Jones bargain bin signing. However, after five years in the NFL, Kearse had his best year yet in Dallas. He started in 15 games and had two interceptions, nine tackles for loss, six QB hits, and 101 tackles.

Dallas stayed dangerously quiet for a while with Kearse. Many were worried that the team wouldn’t be willing to pay the safety what he earned himself for the next year. Thankfully, on Monday, March 21, the team announced they would be re-signing the safety to an extension. The deal is worth up to $11 million and essentially quadruples what he made in 2021.

This move gets an A for a couple of reasons. To start, Kearse deserves to stay. He will be a starter and he isn’t just a random depth choice. Additionally, while it was much more than what he was paid in 2021, the deal is still pretty inexpensive. Lastly, safety has long been a position of struggle for the Cowboys. If the team was not going to make a go at Tyrann Mathieu, they certainly needed to keep a high-level safety around. This was one of the only good moves from Dallas so far.

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