The NFL’s legal tampering period begins in just over an hour, which means Dallas Cowboys fans are bracing themselves for disappointment. For years on end, the team has prioritized re-signing their own free agents instead of pursuing top-of-the-market outsiders who can have a serious impact on winning.
That streak will continue this offseason, as ESPN’s Todd Archer reported early Monday the Cowboys are focused on retaining their own players, including Donovan Wilson, Leighton Vander Esch, and Dante Fowler.
“As much as you want them to, they [Dallas] won’t deviate from their free agency plan in recent years. The last time they made huge splash was 2012 with Brandon Carr. They tried to sign Sammy Watkins a couple years ago. So go in with low expectations and hope to be surprised,” Archer added.
If 2023 goes according to plan, it would mark 11 years since the franchise made a notable splash in free agency. Carr was a legitimately solid signing, but suffice it to say Dallas dodged a bullet by not landing Sammy Watkins.
Regardless, the Cowboys waiting until legal tampering period day to re-sign important free agents leaves them little margin for error.
Cowboys focused on re-signing Donovan Wilson, Leighton Vander Esch, and Dante Fowler in free agency
Time really is a flat circle with this team.
While fans will be disappointed that the Cowboys (seemingly) won’t go big-name hunting for another offseason, the front office does deserve some benefit of the doubt. Back-to-back 12-win seasons in nothing to sneeze at, and they hit on a number of pickups last year, including Fowler, Johnathan Hankins, Jason Peters, and TY Hilton.
Of course, Fowler was the only player acquired through free agency in the offseason. Their other noteworthy external signing — wideout James Washington — suffered a broken foot in training camp and didn’t manage a single catch in two games upon returning before he was released in early January.
They also re-signed Jayron Kearse, which was arguably the biggest victory of last offseason, as well as Noah Brown and Carlos Watkins. Kearse is the most important player on Dan Quinn’s defense not named Micah Parsons, and Brown and Watkins morphed into quality role players in their own right.
If two of Wilson, Vander Esch, and Fowler are re-signed, there won’t be much turnover in defensive personnel for Quinn to navigate, and defense was certainly the Cowboys’ biggest strength in the playoffs.
All of that benefit of the doubt we just brought to life will mean nothing if Wilson and Vander Esch aren’t Cowboys in 2023, however. If re-signing them is the front office’s main focus, there’s no reason they should sign elsewhere.
Like we said, the margin for error is rail thin.