6 Cowboys free agents who played the most snaps in 2023

With 16 players set to enter the free agency market in one month’s time, several Cowboys could find themselves wearing new colors soon. As is the case every year, some are fan favorites, some are role players, some may be moving on because of age, some may looking for a bigger paycheck.

But all have made meaningful contributions to the season that just ended. And some may have played a bigger role during the 2023 season than was readily obvious during the heat of battle.

The fanbase is often eager to automatically go out with the old and in with the new, discarding the players who are up for new deals in favor of fresh bodies who will almost assuredly be the key to things being different next year… right???

Be careful. This year’s impending free-agent crop represents a lot of football talent whose production may not necessarily be as easy to replace as simply plugging a new man into the lineup.

Six Cowboys free agents played over two-thirds of the snaps for their respective units in 2023. And while Cowboys Nation may be conflicted as to how they feel about some of them, a departure by any of them would leave a definite hole for the team to fill.

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CB Stephon Gilmore | 93.6% of defensive snaps

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Gilmore will turn 34 shortly after the start of the 2024 regular season, making him one of the oldest cornerbacks- starting or otherwise- in the NFL. But he proved indispensable for Dallas in 2023 after Trevon Diggs was lost, playing more snaps than any Cowboys defender. In fact, only 15 corners leaguewide saw more snaps than Gilmore’s 1,002.

The Cowboys now know they have a bona fide starter in DaRon Bland, and while that may make retaining 2019’s Defensive Player of the Year an apparent luxury, Diggs will be just 10 months removed from ACL surgery when the regular season kicks off. If Diggs isn’t a full go by Week 1 and Gilmore and Jourdan Lewis (also a free agent) are gone, the next most-utilized CB currently on the Cowboys roster to line up opposite Bland would be… Nahshon Wright.

Center Tyler Biadasz | 86.8% of offensive snaps, 18.0% of special teams snaps

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Biadasz has been a fixture in the middle of the offensive line, starting all but two games over the past three seasons and landing in the offense’s top three in snap counts in each of those years. He hit 1,028 this season. Also worth noting is his presence on special teams, where he was in on nearly one in every five snaps on John Fassel’s unit in 2023.

Having to step into Travis Frederick’s shoes has left Biadasz perhaps somewhat underappreciated, with many Cowboys fans seemingly ready to let the 2022 Pro Bowler walk. Yes, there are other linemen in Dallas who can snap the ball. And yes, there are several attractive prospects at center in this year’s draft class. But simply dismissing someone who’s done it over 3,700 times with the franchise quarterback should require caution.

Safety Jayron Kearse | 76.6% of defensive snaps

OT Tyron Smith | 71.5% of offensive snaps

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The 13-year veteran has a decision to make. While he could hang up his cleats and ride off into the sunset after eight Pro Bowl nods, Smith is clearly still dominant enough to keep playing at a high level. He finished 2023 as PFF’s fourth-highest-graded tackle, at 33 years old.

Whether he comes back to Dallas or cashes in for a sunset campaign somewhere else is another matter. Sure, he’ll miss a game or two along the way; Smith hasn’t played in every contest of a season since 2015. But his 847 offensive snaps this year were his most since 2019.

RB Tony Pollard | 70.6% of offensive snaps

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Conventional wisdom says Pollard has played his last game in a Cowboys uniform. The $10.09 million franchise tag he played under in 2023 bought the team a 1,005-rushing-yard season, which was a respectable 12th-best leaguewide. But at just four yards per carry- only 28th-best- he’s likely too expensive to re-sign for more of the same.

But his 836 offensive snaps are going to have to theoretically go somewhere. Primary backup Rico Dowdle is also set to hit free agency, Deuce Vaughn didn’t exactly instill a ton of confidence as a rookie, and Malik Davis only saw the field on special teams. The Cowboys are widely expected to bring in a bellcow back from another roster or draft a Sunday-ready rusher. Or both.

CB Jourdan Lewis | 68.4% of defensive snaps

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Lewis made a heroic comeback just to get on the field this season after a very serious Lisfranc injury in 2022. Once healthy, he turned in 732 snaps, seventh-most on the Cowboys defense. The veteran nickel man still brought the lumber and, according to PFF, graded out as the third-best cornerback in all of football at defending the run.

After a loss to Green Bay ended the team’s postseason run, the Michigan alum and locker room leader was well aware that his impending free-agent status may ultimately spell big changes. “It’s life,” he said. “It hurts that we lost like that. I might not be a part of this next year, so it kind of hurts.”

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire