Wouldn't it be nice if the Cowboys could bring in one or more of the top free agents this year like safety Jairus Byrd, offensive tackle Ryan Clady or guard Andy Levitre? That's in addition to re-signing Anthony Spencer of course.
Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely that the Cowboys will sign one of those three premier free agents, or any of the other top free agents this year. And that has a lot less to do with the Cowboys' cap situation, and much more with the Cowboys' recent history regarding free agent acquisitions.
Last year, the Cowboys brought in a record haul of seven free agents, including a marquee signing in Brandon Carr. The year before that, they only brought in two free agents, Abram Elam and Kenyon Coleman. They didn't bring in any free agents in 2010, and only had three in 2009.
That's twelve free agent acquisitions over the last four seasons, and only Carr qualifies as a top tier free agent among that group. All the other acquisitions were arguably average role players at best, some even ranking near the bottom of the free agent class at their positions. The table below shows each player's ProFootballFocus grade and rank in the final season before becoming a free agent. Keith Brooking for example was given a -12.3 final season grade by PFF in 2008, the year before he joined the Cowboys. That ranked Brooking 46th out of 55 qualifying 4-3 OLBs that year.
|2009 Free Agents||2011 Free Agents||2012 Free Agents|
|Player||PFF Grade/Rank||Player||PFF Grade/Rank||Player||PFF Grade/Rank|
|Olshansky||-9.2 (26/28)||Coleman||+4.9 (19/42)||Bernadeau||+4.1 (- -*)|
|Sensabaugh||-8.5 (78/83)||Elam||-0.8 (53/85)||Carr||+3.8 (31/109)|
|Brooking||-12.3 (46/55)||Vickers||+1.5 (14/28)|
Mackenzy Bernadeau* only played 128 snaps in 2011 before joining the Cowboys in 2012, so his grade gets an asterisk. Outside of Bernadeau, only Carr and Coleman had significantly positive grades in this ranking. And in terms of rankings, only Carr was ranked in the top third of his position group in the year before he joined the Cowboys. All others were ranked somewhere around average or lower.
If their recent free agent activities are anything to go by, the Cowboys will likely end up pursuing some pretty unheralded players in free agency. And while big-name free agents are what makes discussing free agency options fun, it may be time to get familiar with some of the lesser known free agents out there.
And keep in mind, the teams making the biggest splashes in free agency are seldom the teams that end up wining in the NFL. The Eagles put together a Dream Team just two years ago and saw their entire franchise disintegrate to a point where they have become the laughing stock of the league and their amateurish search for a new head coach produces nothing but an ever-growing list of candidates who will not take the job.
In June last last year, ESPN's John Clayton put together a list of the biggest winners in 2012 free agency. He nominated winners for the first phase of free agency (initial free-for-all big-name signings) from March 13 through April 1, and for the second phase (free agent market slows down) after April 1. Here are the teams he nominated and the free agents they signed:
|First Phase Winners||Second Phase Winners|
|Team||Free Agents||Team||Free Agents|
|Tampa Bay||Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright||St. Louis||Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Mario Haggan, Trevor Laws, William Hayes, Barry Richardson|
|Buffalo||Mario Williams||Oakland||Philip Wheeler, Dave Tollefson, Owen Schmidt|
||Chicago||Geno Hayes, Jonathan Wilhite, Kelvin Hayden, Chilo Rachal.|
The combined 2012 record of these five "winners": 34-45-1, with only the Bears finishing the season with a winning record. So much for winning the free agency beauty contest.
The Cowboys will likely be active in free agency once again this year. But outside of Anthony Spencer (and whether that will actually happen is up in the air), they probably won't go for any big moves in free agency. Look for the team to address roster holes with solid but unspectacular veteran depth.