When discussing the Dallas Cowboys team needs, the conversation ultimately centers around the defensive backfield. Dallas needs major help at both corner and safety, not only because of poor play but also because they have a number of impending free-agent cornerbacks and safeties. The terrible secondary of the Cowboys was a major factor in the team finishing with the 28th overall ranked defense, the 22nd overall defense in terms of yards per play, and giving up a ridiculous 34 touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, there is not much from 2020 that we can use to judge the Cowboys’ offense. They were playing most of the season without their starting quarterback, Dak Prescott, their starting left tackle, Tyron Smith–and as mentioned before, they were playing with a bottom-barrel defense that had the team playing from behind in most games. This makes it hard to tell which positions should and shouldn’t be on the Dallas Cowboys team needs list.
For this article, however, we will try to see through all of the mess down in “Jerryworld” and project what the Cowboys will do in free agency and in the 2021 NFL draft. No one can ever predict what owner Jerry Jones will have up his sleeve when it comes to luring players to “Big D”, but in recent years “Dem Boyz” have actually been pretty tame in free agency. With that said, I’ll jump into the Dallas Cowboys team needs and dish out some predictions to fill those spots.
Big Decisions In Dallas
Projected cap space: $48 million (Not Including Dak’s eventual long-term deal or franchise tag)
2021 NFL Draft picks: 1.10, 2.12, 3.11, 4.10, 6.7, 6.11 and 7.10.
Obviously, before they can start to address any of the real Dallas Cowboys team needs, the team must first deal with the Dak Prescott contract situation. Playing on the franchise tag in 2020, Prescott suffered a season-ending leg injury that further complicates his contract situation. Dak has still has most of the leverage here, as the Cowboys struggled severely without him. The injury, though, might just drive his price down just enough that Dallas is comfortable committing to him long-term.
Prediction: Dallas re-signs Prescott to a long-term deal. 4 years, $140 million with $100 million guaranteed.
After they decide on whether to sign Prescott long-term, the Cowboys must decide if they want to re-sign any of their impending free agent defenders. Out of all of the Cowboys players to play 60 percent of the team’s snaps in 2020, only four are free agents but three of them are on defense. Xavier Woods (89.5%), Jourdan Lewis (73.8 %), and Aldon Smith (73%) were all huge parts of taking up snaps in this defense. Smith was extremely effective in his first year back in the league following a personal hiatus, but could easily find a bigger payday outside of Dallas.
The salary cap situation for the Cowboys is pretty tight. Just to get the Prescott contract done, the team will have to give up all of their higher-priced unrestricted and restricted free agents. This means that Smith is likely a goner and adds yet another position to the Dallas Cowboys team needs list.
Prediction: Smith and Lewis are allowed to walk, Woods re-signs with the Cowboys on a one-year, $3 million “prove it” deal.
Dallas Cowboys Team Needs: 2021 NFL Draft
A Run Defending Safety
After taking care of Prescott and bringing back Woods, that still leaves a few holes on the Dallas Cowboys team needs list. Trevon Diggs has seemingly locked down one of the starting corner jobs, but that still leaves a need for one more outside corner and a run-stopping safety to pair with Woods and his 67.2 pass coverage grade–per profootballfocus.com (PFF). Adding a safety that is sure against the run will also allow Woods to blitz more, and that was his specialty in 2020. The fourth-year safety out of Louisiana Tech had an elite 83.8 pass-rushing grade from PFF.
Prediction: Dallas drafts FSU safety Hamsah Nasirildeen at 3.11
Anthony Brown really struggled in coverage in 2020 but is under contract with a dead cap number of $3 million, he plays excellent run-support and frankly, Dallas doesn’t have very many other options. With other holes to fill at safety, linebacker, and defensive line, the Cowboys can probably only devote one early pick to the cornerback position. Not to mention the spots on the offensive line that might need addressing.
All of this means that they will definitely not be active when it comes to big-name free agent acquisitions at the position. If so, Cowboys fans everywhere surely hope that this ends up being number one on the Dallas Cowboys team needs list for the draft at least.
Prediction: Dallas drafts South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn at 1.10
This is a big one on the list of Dallas Cowboys team needs and only gets bigger if the team is unable to retain Aldon Smith. Tyrone Crawford is a free agent, Trysten Hill is coming off of an injury and Antwaun Woods is both a free agent AND coming off of an injury. Adding a defensive lineman–especially one that can pass rush from the interior–to take the pressure off of Demarcus Lawrence, will be critical this off-season. Lawrence was the lone bright spot on an otherwise awful Cowboys defense in 2020 and will need to produce in 2021, as well, in order to justify his $25 million cap hit.
Prediction: Dallas draft Iowa IDL Daviyon Nixon at 2.12
Despite devoting a lot of draft capital and money into the linebacker position, this is still a major point on the Dallas Cowboys team needs list. Leighton Vander Esch has played about as many games for the Cowboys as Ludwig Van Beethoven has. Sean Lee is older than Stan Lee (RIP) and Jaylon Smith plays football like Jaden Smith raps–not well. The Cowboys were absolutely exposed as a run defense for the entire year, giving up a crazy 158.8 yards per game through the ground. The only team worse than them was the other Texas team, the Houston Texans, who gave up a league-high 160.2 rushing yards per game.
Prediction: Dallas drafts Arizona State linebacker Merlin Robertson at 4.10
This is going to be a major part of the Dallas Cowboys team needs and could get even bigger if the La’el Collins and Tyron Smith can’t return to their previous form. Joe Looney played 67 percent of Dallas’ offensive snaps in 2020 and is a free agent that the Cowboys will be hard-pressed to bring back.
That immediately opens up a spot at one of the guard positions and one more could be opened up after the aforementioned trade. Look for Dallas, who has devoted money and picks to the offensive line to great success in recent years, to continue that trend and select a few offensive linemen in the draft.
Prediction: Dallas drafts Kentucky OT Landon Young at 6.07 and Georgia OL Ben Cleveland at 6.11
Dallas Cowboys Team Needs: Free Agency
As mentioned before, despite many positions being on the Dallas Cowboys team needs list, most are likely to be filled through the draft. Prescott will take up around $35 million of their $48 million in cap space, and the rest must be devoted to the draft and re-signing Woods. However, if Dallas is able to make a trade or two, they will open up a little bit of cap space to possibly re-sign or franchise tag Aldon Smith.
Bringing Smith back into the fold while adding the pieces mentioned above will definitely have the Cowboys competing for the division title in 2021. Don’t forget, they are playing in one of the worst divisions of all-time, so even a small improvement could have them back in the playoffs.
Prediction: Dallas sits out free agency aside from a one-year $3 million deal for pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley
Dallas Cowboys Team Needs: Trades
Dallas does not have many players that they would benefit from trading. The only two that would actually save the team money would be to trade Collins and Prescott. That would give them about $53 million to fix all of the other Dallas Cowboys team needs. Saving $5 million by releasing a very good right tackle and then trading away one of the league’s best quarterbacks would be counterproductive to winning, however, and Dallas has no interest in a re-build. Don’t look for the Dallas Cowboys team needs to be filled through trades.
Prediction: Cowboys hang on to both players and head into the draft with the picks they currently have
As we head into the 2021 off-season, the Dallas Cowboys team needs will consist of a lot of help on defense, locking up their star quarterback, and then making sure the QB is protected. If they can figure out at least a few of these issues, this could easily be the turnaround team in 2021. Dallas needs to take advantage of having franchise cornerstones on the team in Prescott and Lawrence, before those players age and the team needs to start thinking about a future without the pair.