If the Dallas Cowboys emerge from their dire salary cap straits, an instant defensive upgrade awaits on the open market.
Clutch Points’ David Rooney named Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates an “early free-agent target” for the Cowboys, whose secondary should be a point of emphasis this offseason.
“Regardless of whether or not the Cowboys add a cornerback, they still need additional help with their secondary,” Rooney wrote on January 26. “They should look to the free safety market and add Jessie Bates. The soon-to-be-former Cincinnati Bengal had two interceptions and eight passes defensed this season, but he had three picks and 15 passes defensed last year. If the Bengals choose not to retain Bates, particularly coming off a somewhat-down year, it could benefit Dallas to swoop in and sign him away.
“They could probably get him on the cheap as well.”
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Background on Bates
A former second-round draft choice, Bates has posted 408 combined tackles (289 solo), 35 pass deflections, and 10 interceptions across 63 starts, all in Cincinnati. The 25-year-old (in February) cracked the PFWA All-Rookie Team in 2018 and earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2020.
Super Bowl-bound Bates made 15 appearances this past regular season, notching 67 solo stops, three tackles-for-loss, four passes defensed, and one INT. He’s saved his best for the postseason, however, coming up clutch with a pick in Cincinnati’s Divisional Round upset of the Titans and literally having a hand in Patrick Mahomes’ overtime meltdown during the AFC title game.
The issue for the Cowboys is that, unlike what Rooney submitted, Bates won’t be cheap. Quite the opposite, in fact. According to Spotrac, the Wake Forest product could draw more than $14 million annually on an unrestricted free-agent contract, potentially making him one of the NFL’s highest-paid safeties.
That’s a no-go for Dallas, which will need to take some drastic measures just to get under the cap. It’s much likelier the team re-signs any of its three unsigned safeties — Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse, or Malik Hooker — for a fraction of Bates’ projected cost.
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Speaking of the Secondary …
Because the Cowboys are so cash-strapped at the moment, 105.3 The Fan’s Bobby Belt recently explained how the organization can create up to $5 million of cap relief by unloading cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown.
Belt made his case around 2021 second- and third-round CBs Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright acting as accelerants behind the veterans’ phasing-out.
“Brown is entering the final year of his three-year contract, so a restructure isn’t possible, and there’s no added financial benefit to waiting until June 1 to release him,” Belt wrote on January 27. “The Cowboys could net $5 million in savings if they traded or released Brown this offseason.
“If the Cowboys prefer to keep Brown at the higher cap figure, they could still get some savings from moving on from Lewis. Releasing or trading Lewis to make room for the young corners would save $2.3 million if you ripped off the band-aid immediately, or you could save and extra $1.1 million if you waited until June.”