Every team in the NFL has a laundry list of items to check off of their offseason task list with the hopes of scaling the postseason mountain in 2020 and planting their flag on the podium following Super Bowl LV, but not many can claim there’s is as daunting as what the Dallas Cowboys are up against. It’s not that the Cowboys are in rebuilding mode, but they are undergoing a sweeping regime change in bringing in Mike McCarthy and parting ways with Jason Garrett after he was given nearly a decade to take them to the Promised Land.
who are all champing at the bit to help make sure their first stint of free agency in Dallas is filled with good decisions, followed by prepping for the all-important 2020 NFL Draft in late April. With the first order of business — namely the head coaching swap — now in the books, all eyes turn to contract talks with two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott, for subsequently getting a deal done with four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper.
From there, the club will need to decide if they’ll engage in a possible bidding war for Byron Jones, and then sift through a proverbial Rolodex of in-house free agent names to determine who stays and who goes. The front office is already hard at work on all of this, but must also balance it with meeting, interviewing and assessing prospects ahead of the draft — making for the busiest part of the offseason for the Cowboys. They’re also racing against NFL deadlines to see it all done, and done well, adding to the level of difficulty in an offseason that’s already seen massive shifts in the tectonic plates beneath the team.
Welcome to the official CBS Sports hub of the Cowboys offseason, where we break down every single item of interest. Bookmark this, as it’ll be updated often.
Key upcoming dates
There are a slew of dates you’ll need to circle on your calendar as you keep track of the Cowboys this offseason, and some won’t be determined for quite some time — such as OTAs, mini-camp and training camp — especially while a new CBA floats overhead. For now, however, most of them are already known and worth noting.
More dates will be added as the Cowboys and the NFL finalize them.
- February 25 through March 2: The NFL Combine takes place in Indianapolis, Indiana.
- March 12*: Deadline for NFL teams to place the franchise or transition tag on a player.
- March 16: The NFL’s legal tampering period begins.
- March 18: The new league year officially begins at 4 p.m. ET.
- March 29 through April 1: The NFL’s Annual League Meeting in Palm Beach, Florida takes place.
- Mid-April: The NFL will release the 2020 regular season schedule.
- April 6**: Teams with new head coaches can begin official offseason program
- April 17: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets
- April 23 through April 25: The NFL Draft takes place in Las Vegas.
- April 27: NFL teams can request permission to visit with, try out, or sign any player who was under contract to the XFL at the conclusion of the XFL season.
- May 1 through May 4: Teams can hold their one three-day post-Draft rookie minicamp from Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday.
- May 8 through May 11: Teams permitted to hold one three-day rookie minicamp
- Late May through early June (TBD): Beginning of organized team activities (OTAs)
- Mid-June (TBD): Mandatory mini-camp begins
- July 15: Deadline to negotiate a multiyear extension on a tagged player
- Late July (TBD): Training camp in Oxnard, CA
*The deadline for applying the franchise and/or transition tag was moved from March 10 to March 12 to accommodate for ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
**The Cowboys will have the ability to begin their offseason program on April 6 — two weeks prior to teams that did not change head coaches — and also have the right to hold an extra voluntary minicamp prior to the NFL draft. They are not, however, permitted any other changes in their offseason schedule, as required by the league.
Free Agent Scorecard
Here’s where the rubber truly meets the road for the Cowboys.
They enter the offseason with a list of 30 (!!) in-house free agents they must attend to before and while also surveying the landscape outside of Dallas to see who deserves an offer to join the team in 2020. The longer it takes to get a deal done on Prescott, the more challenging that becomes, though. With the team currently more cash-rich than they’ve been since the inception of the current expiring CBA, the Cowboys could flip a few switches and have upwards of $100 million in cap space, but just because they can afford to pay their cornerstone guys and still have huge chunks of pie left over doesn’t mean they want to.
As such, they’ll continue to follow their usually frugal approach to “outside” free agency with an eye on retaining as many key players as they can in their given financial blueprint — i.e., pay based on value assessments and not how much money is on the table — and then lean on their mostly solid draft-building ability to take care of the rest.
Without further adieu, here are the players entering free agency in 2020, and their respective designations.
Exclusive Rights free agent:
- Antwaun Woods – iDL: Woods proved himself a starter in 2018, but battled injury in 2019 and has a looming off-the-field case pending that could lead to his first NFL suspension. The team wants him around and there’s nothing to indicate he won’t be — especially as an EFRA with no ability to move left or right in free agency. As a player with less than three accrued seasons, Woods can’t negotiate with other teams unless the Cowboys fail to tender him — at minimal cost.
Restricted free agents:
Unlike Woods, the following four players have accrued greater than three years but not yet four, and the latter would qualify them for unrestricted free agency in 2020. Instead, while they are allowed to negotiate with other clubs, each can be assigned a respective tender — first-round, second-round, original-round — or the Right of First Refusal to give the Cowboys a chance at receiving compensation in the event they decide against matching another team’s offer.
The caveat lies in the original-round tender and the Right of First Refusal, because if a player went undrafted there is no compensation by default, making them basically one in the same. The Cowboys must be strategic in how they label each, because the higher the tender, the higher the salary if the player is retained. (ex: the second-round tender on David Irving in 2018)
Per Over the Cap:
First-round tender – $4.667 million
Second-round tender – $3.278 million
Original-round tender – $2.144 million
- Blake Jarwin – TE: Jarwin proved himself a playmaker in Dallas, and there’s no reason they walk away from his athleticism and ability to rack up yards after the catch. An undrafted free agent who signed a three-year deal in 2017, the Cowboys like Jarwin a lot, and there are no plans to let him walk. If anything, he’s the reason Jason Witten finds himself [finally] on the outs. The current plan is to hold onto Jarwin and unleash him with a complementary talent acquired this offseason.
- Daniel Ross – iDL: Ross flashed at times as a rotational defensive lineman, but an arrest in November didn’t do him any favors in going into an RFA offseason. His future will be based upon how much depth the Cowboys feel they have outside of him. He has just two sacks in two seasons, so they won’t press themselves to keep him around.
- Cooper Rush – QB: Once upon a time, Rush wowed in the preseason (2017) as a rookie, but that feels like forever ago when factoring in his struggles in beating out an uneven Mike White that last two Augusts. The Cowboys will have one eye on keeping Rush and another on upgrading at backup QB this offseason — be it in free agency or the draft. There’s a good chance even if re-signed that Rush doesn’t survive final roster cutdowns, contingent upon who else they bring in.
- Adam Redmond – OL: A backup offensive lineman the Cowboys will only retain if they feel they can’t do better than keeping on a player who has zero starts and didn’t play a game in 2019, with half of last season being spent on injured reserve and the other half having been healthy but never activated to the 46-man game day roster.
Unrestricted free agents:
Grab the keys to the Brinks truck and back up it right into this section of Cowboys free agency, because it’s where the big money can be soon be found.
Each of these players have accrued four or more seasons of NFL service, and that means the Cowboys have no control over where they sign unless either the franchise tag or transition tag is used. If the latter is deployed, they won’t receive a compensatory pick if they choose to not match an offer from another team on the player it’s tethered to, however, unless they rescind it first. And then there’s the fact the franchise tag itself is divided between an exclusive and non-exclusive ranking, the former preventing a player from outside negotiations while the latter allowing it, but granting the Cowboys two first-round picks if they let the player walk.
It’s all a game within a game, and here’s how the Cowboys hope to play it.
- Dak Prescott – QB: If faced with a franchise tag, Prescott . Considering the monkey wrench that would throw in McCarthy’s plan to install West Coast tweaks into Kellen Moore’s system, the team wants nothing more than to make Prescott the highest-paid player in franchise history before March 12. They’ll wait until the last possible minute to tag him if they have to, and even then it’ll be a placeholder to get a deal done by July 15. The sooner it lands, the better, and for more than simply the fact Prescott might not show up on a tag.
- Amari Cooper – WR: The other reason the Cowboys don’t want to use the franchise tag on Prescott is they’d like to use it on Cooper, whose talks are holding until Prescott’s deal is done. That means Cooper has a shot at hitting the open market, and the team doesn’t want that to happen — not unless they allow him to take calls on the non-exclusive tag that could yield them two first-round picks. The goal is to keep Cooper in Dallas in 2020, by hook or by crook, and in an offseason wherein they might’ve had to use one on Prescott.
- Byron Jones – CB: , but not because the Cowboys can’t afford him. It’s because they don’t want to engage in a bidding war for his services, more apt to put one offer on the table they think is fair — namely around $12.5 million to $13 million — and standing firm. Sans a tag, Jones will be free to watch other teams blow past that mark to acquire him, making it unlikely (although not impossible) Jones ever suits up for the Cowboys again.
- Randall Cobb – WR: When I spoke to Cobb following the conclusion of Week 17, he was disheartened and noncommittal about remaining in Dallas. Since then, McCarthy has been hired and Cobb was front-and-center at his former (and new?) head coach’s press conference, and called . There’s a very, very good chance — thanks to McCarthy and Davis — and improves upon what could’ve been a stellar year if not for some ill-timed drops.
- Jason Witten – TE: For the first time in Witten’s illustrious Hall of Fame career, he doesn’t have a favorable seat — if any at all — at the Cowboys table. and that could include a reunion with Jason Garrett in New York. He still wants to suit up for the Cowboys, and might, but he views himself as a starter and all signs point to that ship having now sailed with McCarthy in the building. Schematically speaking, it’s time the Cowboys move on, and they’re obviously willing to.
- Anthony Brown – CB: His time in Dallas has seen more downs than ups, flashing in Year 1 only to flounder in Year 4 due to injury that led him to lose his starting role to a more impactful Jourdan Lewis. With Lewis having now rubber stamped his seat as nickel corner numero uno, Brown is disposable, unless Jones walks and the Cowboys keep him on for depth. He’d have to accept that role though, or leave if he believes he can be a starter somewhere else — for more money.
- Tavon Austin – WR: It was easier to see Austin out of Dallas in 2019 than it is in 2020, after some uneven return play by rookie Tony Pollard and now the addition of John “Bones” Fassel as special teams coordinator. Austin’s best season as a returner came under Fassel in their time together with the Rams in yesteryear, and Fassel might argue to grant Austin one more one-year deal to see if he’s still got the juice. Plus, having another speedy WR on the offense can’t hurt, considering it was an area of need last season.
- Robert Quinn – DE: The pursuit of Quinn will be a foregone conclusion for the Cowboys, with the team wanting him to return as badly as he wants to do just that. He’ll get offers elsewhere, but if the Cowboys can convince him he’ll still be a three-down edge rusher on the heels of a team-best 11.5-sack season, the safe bet is he remains in Dallas. What happens with Quinn will inevitably be tied to what happens with Jones, I’m told, in what can be viewed as a “tug of war” within the front office on who’s more valuable.
- Xavier Su’a-Filo – iOL: A more-than-solid backup who’s been known to do damage as a starter when called upon, Su’a-Filo has good leverage in seeking another deal from the same Cowboys team that gave him a chance when seemingly no one else would in 2018. Thanks to repeated injuries to the left guard position, keeping Su’a-Filo will be paramount in avoiding calamity as both Connor Williams and Connor McGovern return from injured reserve. Granted, Su’a-Filo will be as well, but he missed only one game due to it.
- Michael Bennett – DE: Acquired via trade just ahead of the NFL trade deadline, Bennett instantly became a leader in the locker room and often flashed on the field. In a gentleman’s agreement following the trade, the Cowboys voided the 2020 year on Bennett’s contract to allow him to enter free agency. That, in and of itself, doesn’t hint at a guy looking to wear the Star again.
- Maliek Collins – iDL: A starter-level talent who blasted out of the gate in his contract year before cooling noticeably on the back end of the season. Still, Collins delivered four sacks and has 14.5 sacks in his four-year career in Dallas. The club will definitely want to keep Collins, if possible, considering they can’t afford to weaken an already questionable defensive interior.
- Kerry Hyder – DL: A solid rotational guy who impacted more than just a play or two, Hyder is a backup of interest for the Cowboys who won’t cost a lot of capital to keep.
- Christian Covington – iDL: Like Hyder, Covington did was he was asked to do in his one-year with the team, and is expected to be offered a low-cost deal.
- Jeff Heath – S: Say what you will about Heath, but the fact is he’s the best special teams player on the team outside of fellow safety Kavon Frazier. With Frazier on IR and Heath battling through a slew of injuries, the unit struggled mightily in coverage. Heath is also known as a solid backup who can excel on defense when not asked to consistently be a starter, so his overall value within the organization is well-known and much appreciated. They’ll attempt to re-sign him, unless he wants a fresh start elsewhere.
- Kavon Frazier – S: Speaking of fresh starts, Frazier probably wouldn’t mind one — assuming favorable offers come in. Fassel will find it a more daunting task to rebuild his special teams unit without one or two of his best players, and Frazier is also a very good safety in his own right. The veteran can step in and be a starter when asked, as proven before, and might want to give himself a chance at being one for another club. As it stands, however, he has enough established to get a nod from Fassel, Mike Nolan and McCarthy at a position that can’t afford to lose talented bodies.
- C.J. Goodwin – S: Yet another safety hitting the market is Goodwin, and while he’s not as valuable as Heath and Frazier, he played well in stretches last season due to the absence of the latter — particularly on special teams. With Heath and Frazier both healthy, Goodwin’s value decreases quite a bit though, and it feels as if his retention is tied to that of Heath and/or Frazier. Independent of that, the Cowboys will be fine if signs elsewhere. They view his role as replaceable in the draft.
- Darian Thompson – S: Hey look, another safety no longer under contract with the Cowboys. By now, you’re getting a more complete picture of how much work the team needs to do to shore up and upgrade the position. Because of the latter, players like Goodwin and Thompson are more expendable. If forced to choose between the two though (they’re not), I’d go with Thompson, who caught my eye more on the back end of the season when given the nod over rookie Donovan Wilson.
- Sean Lee – LB: Sources tell CBS Sports that while Lee is ready to see what he can earn on the open market, the Cowboys have offered him a seat in McCarthy’s regime. Although they feel confident there are no lingering issues with Leighton Vander Esch, it’s key they keep insurance at the position, and want it to be Lee. Coming off of a mostly improved season in 2019, Lee might be wooed away by the promise of a starting role and more money, but that won’t be easy. His current lean is staying with his beloved Cowboys, but everyone does have a price, as the saying goes.
- Joe Thomas – LB: If Lee does walk, unexpectedly, Thomas will be the next level of insurance the team will try to hang onto. A veteran who knows and plays the position well in spell duty and as a spot starter, Thomas isn’t a bad backup plan in the absence of Lee. Then again, even if Lee is re-signed, they’ll still pitch Thomas an offer. Keep in mind the team also sees great promise in second-year talent Luke Gifford, but his rookie season was plagued by injury, and that’s another reason to keep Lee and/or Thomas in the ranks.
- Malcolm Smith – LB: Joining a team on the back end of a season and due to injury always makes it difficult to dig your heels in and convince the club you should stay on once the contract expires. That’s the situation Smith finds himself in, having logged only four games for the Cowboys in 2019 (one start) with five combined tackles — although he did have a forced fumble. A former Super Bowl MVP, the resume of Smith is impressive, but not much of anything he did in Dallas in his short stay would warrant keeping him if both Lee and Thomas are secured.
- Ray Ray Armstrong – LB: All jokes aside, if you’re wondering who this is, it’s because he was signed on Christmas Eve and had little time to do anything before the season ended in Week 17. The veteran journeyman will likely end up somewhere else in 2020.
- Justin March – LB: A solid rotational linebacker at a position that requires solid depth due to a rash of recent injuries, March has carved out a nice little niche for himself in Dallas. I’d expect a one-year offer to be lobbed his way for a negligible cap hit.
- Kai Forbath – K: Not all heroes wear capes. Forbath was tasked with being hired too late in the season to truly help turn the tide after Brett Maher overstayed his welcome, and after a scary first kickoff that resulted in a penalty for going out of bounds, Forbath found his groove and went a perfect 10 for 10 on both field goal attempts and PATs, making it a no-brainer the Cowboys will look to re-sign him — even if they do add competition in April in the hopes of finding the future at the position (as they should).
- L.P. Ladouceur – LS: The man. The myth. The legend. If arguably (?) the best long snapper in NFL history wants to return for a 16th season, he’ll be allowed to, and that’s the bottom line. The Cowboys aren’t ready to move on from him, and might never be.
FA signings that impact the 2021 compensatory pick formula
Unrestricted free agent signings from other teams
Free agent signings for players cut by other teams
Why is there a difference in these two categories? I’m glad you asked.
It’s important to differentiate between the players signed as unrestricted free agents and those signed after being cut by another team, because players who are signed after being released by another team do not count in the compensatory draft pick formula for the team who signs them. This is how the NFL sorts through its complex formula to award picks in next year’s draft, or to not.
2020 NFL Draft picks
Top-5 positional needs: iDL, S, TE, CB, K
- Round 1: 17th
- Round 2: 51st
- Round 3: 82nd
- Round 4: 122nd
- Round 5: 156th
- Round 5*: 180th (projected compensatory for loss of Cole Beasley in 2019 FA, per OTC)
- Round 6: 199th (awarded to Miami Dolphins in exchange for Robert Quinn)
- Round 7: 233rd
*Compensatory picks have not yet been made official by the NFL and, as such, the projection is subject to change.
Rumors, reports, and updates
There isn’t an angle we don’t have covered for you when it comes to the Cowboys this offseason, and here are the latest from credible sources including CBS Sports’ own original reporting, as the team wades through the waves over the next several months.