National Football League
Maybe Cowboys really are 'all in' — just not the way we expected
National Football League

Maybe Cowboys really are 'all in' — just not the way we expected

Published Mar. 14, 2024 3:01 p.m. ET

Well, we have the answer to the question. It's just not one you're going to like.

Welcome back to another edition of Cowboys free agency, where the money's not real and the results don't matter.

Long reluctant to splash cash in free agency, the Cowboys have become a bit of a meme for their consistent inactivity during the first week of the league year. This March has proven to be no different, as they have made just three deals in the first four days of negotiation — the re-signing of long snapper Trent Sieg and cornerback Journan Lewis and the addition of veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks.

That's not meant as a knock at Kendricks, whose addition was sorely needed. The nine-year veteran spent most of his career playing for new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, so it's not surprising Zimmer would put the press on him to sign up in Dallas after initially agreeing to a deal with San Francisco.


But even if Kendricks can be of use in Zimmer's defense, the fact that he is the Cowboys' lone addition of the week is a stark reminder of how they prefer to do business.

It shouldn't be surprising, given it's been this slow for a decade. But this year brought a flash of intrigue, spurred by Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones' talk of going "all in" back in January. 

For those gullible enough to believe in such talk, this week was a splash of cold water. And in case that wasn't enough, Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones clearly outlined the intent when talking to reporters Thursday morning. "We don't define ‘all in' as what you spend in free agency," he said. "It's keeping the core, keeping some of the great players in this league like Dak Prescott, like CeeDee Lamb, like Micah Parsons, like [Trevon] Diggs."

The Cowboys are facing a financial crunch, there's no doubt. It's already been hinted at that they're storing gunpowder for 2025, with a slew of major contracts headed their way. Still, it'd be easier to take Jones at his word if it felt like any progress had been made on any of those fronts, as Diggs is the only one of the aforementioned stars to agree to a contract extension. Word coming out of the NFL Combine is that negotiations have yet to pick up with Lamb or Parsons, even though, with Lamb in particular, an early extension could help the Cowboys' salary cap situation tremendously. 

A Dak Prescott extension with Cowboys is reportedly far from guaranteed

Then there's the obvious case of Prescott, who is currently hitting the cap for $59.5 million. Those negotiations have yet to go anywhere. And even if the Cowboys are reluctant to re-sign their star quarterback, they also haven't restructured his deal to free up a much-needed $18 million in salary-cap space. That's what makes this year more perplexing than others. To this point, the Cowboys have only restructured Zack Martin's contract in order to get cap-compliant. They have waited to free up any more space, including giving Michael Gallup additional time to seek a trade before becoming a post-June 1 cut.

Even by their slow standards, the Cowboys would typically make those moves by this point in the calendar. And while they might be slow to sign outside free agents, those savings would often help them keep their own. At this time last March, they had re-signed both Leighton Vander Esch and Donovan Wilson, in addition to trading for Stephon Gilmore. This year, they've watched five free agents walk out the door.

Largely thanks to Dan Quinn, most of those players are in Washington.

Tyler Biadasz, Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler Jr. all signed with Quinn's Commanders this week. Tony Pollard is also off to Tennessee, and Neville Gallimore signed in Miami on Wednesday evening.

None of these losses are crippling, and in some cases, the Cowboys should be commended for fiscal responsibility. But they still start to add up — especially if Tyron Smith and Gilmore follow them out the door.

Kendricks is a step in the right direction, but it can't be the entire plan — or close to it. There are two holes on the starting offensive line. There is no depth at defensive end. Deuce Vaughn is the top running back on the depth chart, essentially by default.

Cowboys sign former Chargers LB Eric Kendricks to one-year deal

As free agency eases out of a frenzied first week, it gets harder to believe the Cowboys can create a better roster with what's left of the market and a handful of draft picks.

Of course, you know this. You've suffered through similar weeks before; I've written similar columns before.

The only difference this year is that funny phrase, "all in."

We know by now not to believe it in the immediate sense. But Stephen Jones' comments may offer some insight. It's obviously not the Cowboys front office that's all in. As one of just two NFL clubs whose general manager is also its owner, we know there's no shakeup coming if the Cowboys don't get over the hump in 2024. Maybe "all in" refers less to the guys signing on this spring, and more to those already here. Mike McCarthy is famously playing out the final year of his contract — we've known that for months.

With a no-trade clause and a no-tag clause built into his deal, it's fair to wonder whether Prescott is about to play his last year in Dallas, as well. The closer we get to the start of the season without a new contract, the more possible that feels.

Clearly, we haven't ushered in a new era of Cowboys free agency, but perhaps we've learned something new about their intentions. Jerry and Stephen Jones will be back in this spot next March, no matter what. Maybe it's the key pieces below them who are all in — who either need to win big or walk away.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports and hosts the NFL on FOX podcast. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team's official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing "Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion" about the quarterback's time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.


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