5 Free Agents Dallas Cowboys Must Consider in 2021 NFL Offseason

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2020

5 Free Agents Dallas Cowboys Must Consider in 2021 NFL Offseason

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys improved to 4-9 with a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14. Although not mathematically eliminated from a chance to win the NFC East, they're two wins behind the Washington Football Team, who beat them twice. Dallas should put together its plans for the offseason.

    Starting with free agency, the Cowboys must make a big decision on Dak Prescott, who had a solid five-game stretch, throwing for 1,856 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions before he suffered a dislocated ankle with a compound fracture.

    If the Cowboys franchise-tag Prescott for a second year in a row or finally come to terms with him on a long-term deal, they'll have limited cap space. 

    On the open market, Dallas has to use its cash efficiently, plugging holes in crucial areas while investing in a secondary that may lose multiple players on expiring contracts. 

    We'll list five impending free agents who should land on the Cowboys' radar. These aren't the biggest names at their respective positions because of the club's potential cap restrictions with quarterback contract negotiations set to take place, but each player addresses a roster need.       

OT Kelvin Beachum

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Cowboys don't need a starting offensive tackle. They have Tyron Smith and La'el Collins under contract through the 2023 and 2024 terms, respectively. The former has a void year in 2024.

    However, the Cowboys need solid depth at tackle. Smith missed three games in each campaign between 2016 and 2019. In 2020, he appeared in two contests before undergoing a season-ending neck procedure. Collins opted for hip surgery and didn't play a snap this year. 

    With Smith and Collins coming off significant injuries that will likely require a long recovery, the Cowboys should have a quality swing tackle available in case one starter isn't ready to play Week 1 or suffers an injury during the 2021 campaign. 

    Through nine seasons, Kelvin Beachum has 112 career starts with snaps on both sides of the offensive line. In 2020, he suited up for the Arizona Cardinals, his fourth team, and found a home at right tackle, allowing just one sack in 923 offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus

    The Cardinals may prepare rookie third-rounder Josh Jones to man the right tackle spot in 2021. That would make Beachum expendable. The Cowboys should look to add him as insurance for Smith and Collins.  

    Filling in at right tackle, undrafted rookie Terence Steele has allowed seven sacks and committed five penalties in 759 offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Dallas should spend money on a solid veteran.

DT DaQuan Jones

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    The Cowboys struck out with their veteran pickups at defensive tackle this season.

    Gerald McCoy tore his right quadriceps tendon during training camp. The Cowboys released him with an injury waiver. The club cut Dontari Poe because of his weight and subpar performances.

    Partially due to poor gap discipline, the Cowboys have allowed the most rushing yards heading into Week 15. They can add a big active body in the trenches to plug holes on early downs. 

    DaQuan Jones would provide the size (6'4", 322 lbs), run support and versatility to line up in multiple fronts. In 96 contests, which include 90 starts, he's played defensive end, nose tackle and defensive tackle for the Tennessee Titans

    Jones isn't a Pro Bowler, but he's a solid starter who can fill a need on a modest contract. For his career, the 28-year-old has 226 tackles, 131 solo and 18 for loss.

    If owner Jerry Jones re-signs Aldon Smith to pair with DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge, Jones can focus on his strong suit as a gap-stuffing interior tackle.    

CB Bashaud Breeland

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The Cowboys should heavily invest in their secondary.

    Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis will become free agents in the offseason. Anthony Brown signed a three-year, $15.5 million deal in March, but he's struggled when healthy, allowing three touchdowns and a 111.9 passer rating in coverage. Brown has just one pass breakup through 399 defensive snaps.

    Dallas can release Brown and save $2.75 million in cap space. The front office could use that cash for a bargain-bin free-agent option at the position.

    Over the last two offseasons, Bashaud Breeland has signed one-year deals for $2 and $3 million with the Kansas City Chiefs. Yet he's played a starting role on the perimeter, recording four interceptions and 15 pass breakups since 2019.

    Breeland missed the first four games of the 2020 campaign because he violated the league's substance-abuse policy. He'll turn 29 in January.

    The Cowboys should attempt to acquire the services of a productive starting-caliber player who hasn't commanded a lucrative deal in recent years. They may have to play Breeland more than the Chiefs because of his solid body of work over the last two terms, but he can hold the outside spot opposite Trevon Diggs for the upcoming season and possibly the 2022 term.   

Slot CB Mike Hilton

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    If the Cowboys decide to address the starting cornerback spot during the 2021 draft, they would still need a slot defender unless Jourdan Lewis re-signs on a new deal.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy's coaching staff took over during the past offseason and may allow Lewis, a 2017 third-rounder, to hit the open market. In that scenario, the front office should target Mike Hilton.

    Through four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hilton hasn't played more than 62 percent of the defensive snaps in a single term. Yet he's a consistent playmaker, logging six interceptions, 30 pass breakups, 9.5 sacks and 30 tackles for loss in 56 contests. 

    Along with the worst run defense, the Cowboys have allowed 28 passing touchdowns through 13 contests (tied with three other teams for the most leaguewide). Hilton can fill voids in run support and coverage. He's an instinctive defender who tracks the ball in the air and on the ground.

    Because slot cornerbacks aren't on the field as much in comparison to perimeter cover men, the Cowboys could pay Hilton market value and still not break the bank. The Indianapolis Colts' Kenny Moore II is the league's highest-paid primary slot defender on a four-year, $33.3 million contract.    

S Marcus Maye

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    If the Denver Broncos allow safety Justin Simmons to hit the open market, he'll have plenty of suitors because of his ball-hawking skill set. The fifth-year pro has 15 interceptions and 35 pass breakups in five seasons.

    The Cowboys need alternative options at safety. Marcus Maye has come on strong in his first season without Jamal Adams as his running mate at the position. The New York Jets traded the latter to the Seattle Seahawks, and the former raised his performance level, recording two interceptions and a career-high 10 pass breakups in 13 games.

    This season, Maye made his presence felt closer to the line of scrimmage as well, logging two sacks and three tackles for loss. That's not much, but he only had a half-sack and one tackle for loss through his first three campaigns.

    Maye could become a lead defensive back for a unit that needs a budding playmaker in the secondary. Even though rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs has missed the last four games with a fractured bone in his foot, he leads the Cowboys in interceptions (two) and pass breakups (10).

    Maye would replace Xavier Woods, who's logged just one pass breakup and zero interceptions through 13 games. The Cowboys can allow him to walk on an expiring deal in the offseason.