Dallas Cowboys

Free agency lies ahead for the Cowboys. Who will be extended? Who will say goodbye?

Ezekiel Elliott: I’m proud of these guys, we fought all season

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was proud of his team rallying from 3-5 to reach the divisional playoffs despite losing 30-22 to the Los Angeles Rams.
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Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was proud of his team rallying from 3-5 to reach the divisional playoffs despite losing 30-22 to the Los Angeles Rams.

With the end of the season comes the end of some contracts, which means the Dallas Cowboys have some huge decisions to make regarding free agents for 2019.

After years of being cap strapped, the Cowboys have more than $48 million in cap room for next season, per SpoTrac.

But the Cowboys have no plans of using that money to become big spenders in free agency in hopes of improving the team for 2019.

In other words, don’t look for the Cowboys to spend big on Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who has long been linked to the Cowboys.

Vice president Stephen Jones has made it clear that the Cowboys will use the cap room to try to lock up their own free agents, like defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and possibly sign some of their young stars to long-term extensions. They include quarterback Dak Prescott, receiver Amari Cooper, running back Ezekiel Elliott and maybe cornerback Byron Jones.

“I think our hands are going to be full paying our guys,” Stephen Jones said. “People may not like it but we’re not advocates of free agency. I don’t think we make our living out here paying big money for free agents. Don’t see that being the case especially since we’ve got some really, really good football players on our team that need to be paid. Obviously, we have our one, we’ve got Amari [Cooper]. He’ll be another one that’s in discussion for a long-term contract. We got to draft well with the picks we got and hopefully sign the players that we have and let these young players take the next step.”

Prescott, Cooper and Jones have one year left on their rookie deals. Elliott has two.

The Cowboys would like to get Cooper done because he is already on the hook for a $13.7 million salary next year. A new deal would likely lower the salary cap hit.

But wanting to do it and getting it done are worlds apart in free agency, according to owner Jerry Jones.

“What would you do? Number one. And when you say goals, our goals are to put the best team that we possibly can,” Jerry Jones said. “I’m not being trite, but some of these questions about whether you’re extending or not. Are you asking me do we want Zeke in the foreseeable future on the Dallas Cowboys? The answer’s yes. That would be madness to think any differently. You asked a question about Dak and the answer’s yes. I want him in the short-term and the long-term.

“Do you want [defensive end DeMarcus] Lawrence for the foreseeable future? [Cornerback] Byron Jones? Most everything you hear speculation on is fluid. And that’s the real question. Tell us how you’re going to do it. And I can’t. I won’t. Because sometimes, I don’t know how to do it. You have a plan, but you don’t know how to do it until you’re sitting there, reaching that hand out and shaking it.”

Here are the free agent decisions the Cowboys have to make:

Cowboys unrestricted free agents

WR Tavon Austin: If Cole Beasley leaves in free agency, Austin is an option to fill his role as the third receiver and primary punt returner. His penchant for injuries should have to Cowboys wary about relying on him for 16 games.

WR Cole Beasley: Beasley’s time with the Cowboys may be over. He has talked all season about going somewhere else for possible more money and a bigger role. The Cowboys want him back but his options are limited here.

OT Cameron Fleming: He proved to be a solid backup to Tyron Smith at left tackle. Considering Smith’s injuries, the Cowboys would be prudent in bringing Smith back for insurance.

DT David Irving: The clock has simply run out on Irving’s time with the Cowboys. Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli have washed their hands. Irving, who could be facing another suspension, will be hard-pressed to get big money in free agency with any team.

DT Datone Jones: Spent the entire season on injured reserve. Will likely be brought back on a minimum deal to compete for a rotational spot at tackle. Still not a priority.

LS L.P. LaDouceur: This is a matter of how much longer does he want to play. He will be 38 in 2019. Snaps are still perfect. So this is likely on him. Money won’t be an issue.

DE DeMarcus Lawrence: This is the big one. He has earned a deal. Played on a $17.1 million franchise tag in 2018. He has no plans to do so in 2019 when the franchise tag jumps to $20.5 million. A deal needs to get done to lock him up and lower cap figure.

LB Justin March-Lillard: Solid backup and special teams player. Not a huge priority but could return on a minimum deal for depth and insurance at the position.

LG Marcus Martin: Was a solid free agent pick up a year ago but spent the season on injured reserve. Was pegged to be back up at center and guard. Not a huge free agent priority.

FB Jamize Olawale: The fullback doesn’t get a lot of playing time on the Cowboys offense. He was a suitable lead blocker. But that dropped pass in the Colts game is an indelible image. Can the Cowboys find a cheaper option?

DT Caraun Reid: Will return on a minimum deal. Proved to be a solid rotational player for a defensive line that got thin towards the end of the season.

RB Rod Smith: Proved to be a nice backup to Elliott and solid special teams player. But he will likely move on looking for more playing time and a bigger role.

TE Geoff Swaim: Was the best tight end for much of the season but can’t stay healthy. Younger tight ends improved and the Cowboys will draft one early. Minimum deal at best.

LB Damien Wilson: Was a solid strongside linebacker and special teams player. He could return on a minimum deal but he is not a high priority.

Restricted Free Agents

(Team has right of first refusal and can get draft pick compensation if player signs elsewhere)

S Darian Thompson: Didn’t see any time with Cowboys after signing in Oct. and will likely not get the minimum tender to return

Exclusive-Rights Free Agents

(A minimum qualifying offer locks them up)

DT Daniel Ross: Will be brought to compete for depth at tackle. It’s a position that needs an upgrade, especially with David Irving likely gone for good.

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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.