Next Dallas Cowboys player to cash in? The answer isn't so clear-cut

FRISCO, Texas -- For about 23 months, updates on the negotiations between the Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott were met with bated breath.

What was said or wasn't said was dissected and analyzed and became a hot topic on television shows everywhere.

Now that Prescott has signed his four-year, $160 million deal that includes $126 million in guarantees and a record $66 million signing bonus, the new storyline is Prescott's worth and ability to get the Cowboys to the Super Bowl.

But a funny thing has happened since Prescott signed. Nobody knows which Cowboys player will be next to get signed to a lucrative contract.

Dallas believes the best way to build a roster is through the draft and re-signing those picks to extensions.

The Cowboys' 2017 draft class features cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis and safety Xavier Woods, who are set to be free agents this week. There is no guarantee any will return to the Cowboys, although Lewis might have the best chance, and it will not be for the mega-dollars the Cowboys have doled out to Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, La'el Collins, Amari Cooper and Prescott.

The class of 2018 has guard Connor Williams, wide receiver Michael Gallup, defensive end Dorance Armstrong and tight end Dalton Schultz, who are set to be unrestricted free agents after the 2021 season. The Cowboys will likely pick up the $9.145 million fifth-year option on linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (2018 first-round pick) this spring, which would make him a free agent in 2023.

Williams has started all but three games he has played in his career, including all 16 last season at left guard. He was the last man standing last season in an O-line group that saw Collins miss 16 games, Tyron Smith miss 14 games and Martin miss six games because of injuries.

But does Williams really warrant an extension? Could the Cowboys look to deal him to a team looking for a starting offensive lineman and insert Connor McGovern, their third-round pick in 2019, into their lineup full-time?

The Cowboys touted Armstrong's ability last season, but it rarely manifested itself into sacks or game-altering plays.

Schultz, who had a breakout season taking over for an injured Blake Jarwin, caught 63 passes for 615 yards and four touchdowns. Jarwin, who was signed to a $24 million extension last offseason, will return to the team after rehabbing from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Gallup, who has caught 125 passes for 1,950 yards and 11 touchdowns the past two seasons, is the best option to get an extension, but there are questions as to how the Cowboys can get it done. Dallas invested $20 million a year into Cooper last season to keep him off the free-agent market. They selected wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first round of last year's draft in taking the best-player-available approach at No. 17 overall.

Last week, the Cowboys restructured the contracts of Smith, Collins and Martin to create cap space. They could have opened up about $14 million with Cooper's contract, but opted not to touch it. While they could look to rework it if they see a deal worth making on a free agent in the next few weeks, the benefit of Cooper's contract at the time of signing was its structure.

Cooper caught a career-high 92 passes last season for 1,114 yards and five touchdowns. He turns 27 in June, so he is either approaching his prime or he's already in it.

The Cowboys can get out of Cooper's contract in 2022 for a $6 million dead-money cap hit. If they restructure the deal, the dead money goes up. Cooper has a $20 million base salary in 2022 that becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2022 league year.

Before Prescott's contract, the Cowboys' salary cap leaned heavily to the offense. Now it's tilted even more that way. This year, they have roughly $135 million allocated to the offense and $63 million to the defense.

Can they afford to pay Gallup a deal that could push his salary from $12 million to $15 million a year?

Turns out, the Cowboys might have to make an either-or decision on Gallup or Cooper to do it.