Keep or let walk? Beyond Dak Prescott, Cowboys face free-agent decisions

FRISCO, Texas -- Believe it or not, the Dallas Cowboys have other free agents-to-be not named Dak Prescott.

None are as important as the quarterback, but there are 16 other Cowboys players who are set to become unrestricted free agents. Four more are set to be restricted free agents.

While the 2021 salary cap has not been set -- which might be playing some small part in why the talks between the organization and Prescott's agent, Todd France, have not led to much yet -- let's go through the Cowboys' list of pending free agents in a game of Keep or Let Walk.

Prescott: Clearly it's keep; however, if the Cowboys don't have a long-term deal with Prescott in place well before June, then they likely will have to find a new quarterback in 2022. Without a deal by March 9, the Cowboys will place the franchise tag on Prescott for a second straight year at a cost of $37.7 million. That will chew up more space against the cap than the Cowboys will have entering the new league year. Also, a long-term deal will chew up most of the space, too.

Andy Dalton, QB: This situation is tied to what happens with Prescott to a degree. Dalton, 33, will look for a starting position somewhere else, but if he doesn't have a guaranteed spot, maybe he would return to Dallas, which is home. Why disrupt a comfortable situation? Dalton played fairly well as Prescott's replacement, but if Prescott is back on a long-term deal, even backup QB money might be too much. So it's a let walk, but with an asterisk.

Noah Brown, WR: He has some value as a No. 4 or No. 5 receiver since he can contribute everywhere on the return and coverage units. Brown, 25, has ability as a wide receiver, but with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb ahead of him, he might want a chance to play elsewhere. Let walk.

Blake Bell, TE: The Cowboys liked what he brought to the offense beyond 11 catches for 110 yards. He's a solid blocker who can bring some versatility. Blake Jarwin will be back from a knee injury that cost him all but one game last season. Dalton Schultz had a breakout season in 2020. Maybe it makes some sense to run it back with the same three guys, plus rookie Sean McKeon. Keep him.

Cameron Erving, OT: His one season with the Cowboys did not go so well. He was not able to practice early in training camp, got hurt in the season opener on the field goal team and ended the year on injured reserve with a knee injury. Between the injuries, Erving started five games for Tyron Smith. With Terence Steele and Brandon Knight, the Cowboys have a potential swing tackle role filled. Let walk.

Joe Looney, OL: This might be their toughest call because of what Looney means in the locker room. He started 12 games at center, but Tyler Biadasz, a fourth-round draft pick in 2020, seems pegged for that job in 2021. If they can get Looney back on a similar one-year deal like last season, then they should do it. Keep him.

Eli Ankou, DT: Picked up in a trade from the Houston Texans, he played in seven games. We know the struggles of the Cowboys' run defense from a year ago. They need to find upgrades up front. Let walk.

Tyrone Crawford, DL: The Cowboys might not have to make a call here. Crawford, 31, might make it for them and retire. He has dealt with a number of injuries over his nine-year career. He has been forced multiple times to play out of position because of his versatility. He will likely walk away on his own.

Aldon Smith, LB: The Cowboys passed on a chance to trade Smith last season to the Seattle Seahawks, which made it seem like he would for sure be back in 2021. But he did not close the season as fast as he started and dealt with a knee injury for a good portion of the year. Considering his five-year layoff, he probably played too much in 2020, which wasn't his fault. It's a tough call that depends on price. Keep him.

Sean Lee, LB: Like Crawford, he might make the decision for the Cowboys relatively easy by retiring. Lee, 34, has thought about it the past couple of years, but late last season he sounded like somebody who wanted to give it another run. Leighton Vander Esch is coming off two straight seasons of injuries. Jaylon Smith has not lived up to expectations. Would one more year at a smaller salary make sense, especially considering Lee's leadership value? Keep him.

Justin March, LB: He's a solid special-teamer. Another one-year deal makes some sense, but if a younger player comes in at a cheaper price, then March could have a hard time making the final roster. Let walk.

Joe Thomas, LB: This is another difficult decision. Thomas, 29, plays multiple linebacker spots, including everywhere on special teams. If he has to start four or five games, that wouldn't be a bad thing. Keep him.

Chidobe Awuzie, CB: He will do far better on the open market than many will believe even with four career interceptions. Awuzie's contract year was a disappointment in part because of a hamstring injury. The Cowboys' 2017 second-round pick, Awuzie has skill, but after four years, will it ever develop in Dallas? Cornerback figures to be a draft priority. Let walk.

C.J. Goodwin, CB: If special-teams coordinator John Fassel has a vote, then Goodwin, 31, will be back. He is the Cowboys' best cover guy on special teams, and he might be the fastest player on the roster. How much does that cost? Probably looking at a one-year deal that makes it manageable under the cap. Keep him.

Jourdan Lewis, CB: He plays a valuable position in the slot. The ball tends to find Lewis, in good and bad ways. Like Awuzie, he has four career picks, but he is a decent blitzer off the edge. The Cowboys kept Anthony Brown last year on a three-year deal for $15 million. That might be a similar range for Lewis. Keep him.

Xavier Woods, S: He showed so much promise in 2018 and '19. Woods, 25, looked like he could develop into a solid safety, if not a Pro Bowl safety. But 2020 was not his finest season, which was the case for most of the Cowboys' defense. He's a solid pro and works diligently, but it seems like finding a different option would be better for both parties. Let walk.

L.P. Ladouceur, LONG-SNAPPER: Why mess with the operation? Ladouceur, 39, has not had a bad snap in his 16 seasons. He wants to play. He will come in at the right price. If (or when) he's back, he will set the Cowboys' record for games played, breaking former tight end Jason Witten's record. Keep him.