The Cowboys’ top extension candidates have come up on multiple occasions this year. While the team has options with each beyond this year, the goal looks to be new deals before heading into the 2024 offseason.
CeeDee Lamb, Trevon Diggs and Terence Steele remain on Dallas’ extension radar, and ESPN.com’s Todd Archer notes the team will look to use training camp to hammer out deals with each. Lamb’s contract runs through 2024, via the recently exercised fifth-year option, while Diggs is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Steele is tied to a second-round RFA tender.
This will not be an easy mission. Diggs’ reputation as a boom-or-bust gambler in coverage notwithstanding, the former second-round pick has a first-team All-Pro nod on his resume — for an 11-interception season — and does not have an extensive injury history. Diggs has missed one game over the past two years. Going into his age-25 season, Diggs will certainly want his second contract to land in the top cornerback tax bracket.
With three corners earning at least $20MM per year and five attached to contracts worth at least $19MM on average, the Cowboys have a high bar to clear. Dallas passed on going into the $16MM-AAV range for Byron Jones three years ago, drafting Diggs shortly after letting its previous top corner walk (for a record-setting Dolphins deal) in free agency. If Diggs is unsigned going into the ’24 offseason, he will likely be positioned as the Cowboys’ top franchise tag candidate.
The Cowboys have a history of extending core performers despite two years remaining on their rookie deals. They did this with Tyron Smith in 2014, with Travis Frederick in 2016 and Ezekiel Elliott in 2019. That said, no team — in the fifth-year option era, that is — has extended a wide receiver with two years left on his rookie contract. Justin Jefferson is also a candidate to become the first wideout since the 2011 CBA to be extended with two years remaining on his rookie deal, though the Vikings are not certain to proceed down this path. That could force Jefferson to contemplate a hold-in effort, and Lamb might be fine waiting until Jefferson raises the booming receiver market further before committing to a second contract. Cowboys executive VP Stephen Jones mentioned players’ willingness to wait earlier this offseason.
Lamb, 24, may not be a threat to eclipse Tyreek Hill‘s $30MM-per-year pact now, but if Jefferson raises the positional ceiling and the top Cowboys wideout builds on his 1,359-yard season, the price in 2024 stands to come in higher than it likely does now. Ely Allen assessed Lamb’s extension value last month. The Cowboys cut bait on Amari Cooper‘s five-year, $100MM extension after two seasons; as the salary cap keeps rising, Lamb’s value will be much higher.
Steele is still rehabbing the ACL tear that ended his season early, and his being an extension candidate would point to the Cowboys planning an O-line configuration that keeps him as the starting right tackle. Jerry Jones mentioned the prospect of Steele being a swingman behind Tyron Smith and Tyler Smith, but the notion of the younger Smith sliding to left guard — which he did late in the season — and having the All-Decade blocker back at left tackle (and Steele at right tackle) has also surfaced. How the Cowboys proceed would have a big impact on Steele’s value.
A former UDFA, Steele, 26, can certainly enhance his market by putting together a strong contract year post-injury. Nine years after signing what has become the NFL’s longest-running active contract, Tyron Smith is due for free agency in 2024 as well. Steele’s status would seemingly factor into the Hall of Fame candidate’s Dallas future. Center Tyler Biadasz also could land on the Cowboys’ extension radar, Archer adds, though the fourth-year blocker is likely behind the above-referenced players in the queue.
The Cowboys’ ability to extend Diggs and Steele this year could affect Tony Pollard‘s future with the team. The Cowboys not entering into serious negotiations with the Pro Bowl back led to him joining Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs in being tied to the $10.1MM franchise tag this season. Because of this, Archer adds it is “highly likely” this season will be it for Pollard in Dallas. The Cowboys can tag Pollard again in 2024 — at 120% of his current tag number — but higher-end tag options could be in place by then.
That raises the stakes for prospective Diggs negotiations this summer, though the increasingly grim running back market may also allow the Cowboys to re-sign Pollard if no extension is reached before the 2024 legal tampering period.