Bill Parcells was fond of saying that "the NFL is a talent acquisition business." Jason Garrett might argue that it’s less of a business and more of a talent acquisition "process", just like everything else at Valley Ranch these days is more about a "process" than ever before. Either way, the Cowboys are constantly looking for ways in which to upgrade their roster, by whatever means available.
Traditionally, the football public has focused on the draft and free agency as the primary means of talent acquisition, but over the last two years, the Cowboys' Pro Personnel department has shown a knack for picking up impact free agents at the start of the season that would help the team throughout the year.
The most spectacular signing probably was wide receiver Laurent Robinson, who was signed three days before the season opener in 2011, released five days later and then re-signed two days after the second game of the season. Robinson would go on to play in every remaining game for the Cowboys, score 11 TDs and record 54 receptions for 858 yards.
Here's head coach Jason Garrett recounting how Robinson came to be a Cowboy.
We certainly knew that the Chargers were pretty deep at receiver last year. Really, that’s what our Pro Personnel Department does; they know the rosters all over the league. So independent of practicing against a particular team, we think we have a good sense for the depth of the rosters all around the league at all positions.
You’re always evaluating the 31 other rosters, and you definitely get an up-close look at them when you’re practicing together.
In retrospect, Laurent Robinson was perhaps the highest profile late addition in 2011, but Tony Fiammetta and Montrae Holland also turned out to be quality additions, though you might have been hard pressed to see that at the time: like Robinson, both were released by the Cowboys before they were eventually re-signed by the Cowboys.
Last year, the Cowboys picked up center Ryan Cook at the start of the season, and while he may not have been a sexy pick, he did play in 13 games for the Cowboys and started in 11. Safety Eric Frampton was another early pickup (after Barry Church suffered a torn Achilles) who ended up playing 13 games, notching 194 defensive snaps and 237 special teams snaps, the fifth most on the team.
This year, the Cowboys are likely looking for help at guard and along the defensive line. If and when the Cowboys, like in each of the last two years, sign a player or two in the next few days and weeks, don’t be surprised if none of the additions are the type of pedigreed names that the pundits like to throw out there just to create page views and ratings among the gullible football public.
Here’s Garrett talking about Robinson once more, and perhaps providing a template for the type of player the Cowboys could be looking for this year:
He was a fairly highly regarded guy coming out; a relatively high draft pick and was a talented guy who just hadn’t put it all together for lots of different reasons. He was the odd man out in San Diego, and it was a great opportunity for us to pick him up.
A well coached guy, being around Norv [Turner]. He understands the pass offense. The carry-over to what we do on offense was pretty easy for him. And he fit in great; he was healthy throughout the year; he did a great job for us and earned himself a big contract in Jacksonville.
There's no doubt that the Cowboys will scour the waiver wires once again this season, and if the recent past is anything to go by, they'll almost certainly make a late signing or two. Those late additions will probably not be names that Joe Public would instantly recognize. But neither was Laurent Robinson at the time.
The most obvious placed to look would be teams employing similar schemes, or players the position coaches may have coached before: Are the Bears and Seahawks going to keep all seven of their defensive tackles? Which of their eight interior offensive linemen will the Texans release? The Titans can't keep 12 offensive linemen, should the Cowboys just go ahead and put in a waiver claim regardless of which player the Titans release?
Where would you look for this year's late additions?
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