There's not much news out of Valley Ranch these days, but that doesn't mean that no work is being done by the Cowboys, far from it. The Cowboys' coaching staff, both the new coaches and the coaches who've stayed on from last year, are busy evaluating the quality of their roster.
The coaches are right in the middle of studying game tape and determining which positions on the team need to be upgraded. By now, they probably have a pretty good idea of the needs and gaps on the Cowboys roster and have likely started looking in earnest at their options in free agency.
This gives us a welcome opportunity to take a macro look at the Cowboys' free agency activity over the last decade and to examine how Jason Garrett may have changed how the Cowboys approach free agency.
Jason Garrett has only had a year as a head coach, so there aren't all that many data points to draw conclusions from. But perhaps there is something to be learned from comparing the Garrett regime with the previous two head coaches.
It's important to note that one key difference between Garrett and the two previous coaches, Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips, is that Garrett was recruited internally, while both Parcells and Phillips were brought in from outside. This clearly has an impact on how each one of coaches approached free agency, but there are also other differences, as we'll see below.
Bill Parcells brought in quite a number of free agents during his four-year tenure in Dallas. Some of those acquisitions were decent, some of them not. His best acquisitions were arguably Terry Glenn and Marc Colombo. Glenn was acquired from the Packers for a 6th round pick and Colombo was picked off the Bears' injured list.
But what's remarkable about Parcells' tenure as a coach is that of the 17 players he brought in, more than half had played for him before, either with the Jets or the Patriots.
The table below provides an overview of the players Parcells brought in, the column on the left are "Bill's Guys", all of them players who had played for Parcells before. Drew Bledsoe and Terry Glenn were drafted by Parcells in New England, the other "Bill's Guys" in the table had played for Parcells while he coached the New York Jets.
|"Bill's Guys"||Other players brought in under Parcells|
For whatever reason (and there are many, but discussing them is moot at this point) Parcells preferred to acquire players who were familiar with his system and familiar with him as a coach. Given his insistence on getting 'his people' I think it's safe to assume that Parcells had a significant influence over which other free agents the Cowboys ultimately signed.
But Parcells' tight grip on the free agent acquisitions - and ultimately his coaching tenure - came to an end when Jerry Jones essentially forced Terrell Owens on Parcells, a relationship underscored by Parcells referring to Owens as "the player."
Where Parcells had a strong need to be in control of every aspect of the football organization, Wade Phillips was almost the exact opposite. It took Wade until his third year to bring in two veteran players (Igor Olshansky and Keith Brooking) who had played for him previously. Gerald Sensabaugh had played for Coach Joe DeCamillis in Jacksonville previously so we'll consider him an honorary "Wade Guy".
Judging by the free agent and trade acquisitions list during Wade's tenure in Dallas, it's pretty safe to assume that Phillips may have been consulted on these acquisitions, but probably didn't have any say in them. So I'll call the remaing acquisitions "Jerry's Guys":
|Wade's Guys||Jerry's Guys '07-'08
||Jerry's Guys '09-'10
|Igor Olshansky (09)
||DE||Terrell Owens (06)
|Keith Brooking (09)
|Gerald Sensabaugh (09)
|Roy Williams (08)
In hindsight, a lot of these acquisitions (and the contracts associated with them) look very bad, but you'll have to look at the context of these decisions: between '06 and '08, the Cowboys were convinced they had a clear window of opportunity to reach the Super Bowl, and believed they were missing just a handful of players to get there.
But as the T.O, Vanderjagt, Williams and Pacman acquisitions showed, ultimately there is no shortcut in the NFL, and a team is almost never "just one player" away. From anything.
And where was Wade Phillips in all this? He appears to have been content to sit back and let Jerry Jones do his thing.
When Garrett was announced as the new head coach, Jerry Jones made it (relatively) clear that Garrett would be handed full control over all personnel decisions:
There won't be a player on this team that Jason does not want on the team. I wanna be real clear, we're gonna operate on the basis that he has the final say of any person that's on the staff, or joining the staff and there won't be a player on this team that Jason hasn't approved of. I think we've had criticism in the past, or maybe some ambiguity, are we clear with that? What I just said?
So who are Garrett's guys?
There aren't that many free agent acquisitions yet in Garrett's tenure, but let's look at four of them anyway:
- July 29: Signed Kenyon Coleman, DE. Coleman had played for the Cowboys from 2003-2006, and more recently for Rob Ryan in Cleveland.
- Aug. 5: Signed Abram Elam, S. Elam originally signed with the Cowboys in 2006 and left a year later. Before coming back to Dallas, he played for Rob Ryan.
- Sept. 4: Claimed FB Tony Fiammetta off of waivers. No previous connection to Cowboys or Garrett.
- Sept. 7: Signed Laurent Robinson on the recommendation of Norv Turner, Garrett's offensive coordinator in 1993 when Garrett was a backup QB in Dallas.
- Dec. 13: Signed Sammy Morris, RB. Played for the Dolphins while Garrett was the QB coach in 2006
Most of these signings have a previous connection to Garrett, the Cowboys or one of the assistant coaches. This is a theme that Garrett has repeated with the hiring of his assistant coaches as well.
He brought in strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik, with whom he spent time in Dallas in the 90s. WR coach Jimmy Robinson knew Garrett from their time in New York. And then there are Garrett's brothers John and Judd, who both joined the Cowboys organization after Jason arrived. Chris Boniol may not be a Garrett hire, but both also shared time on the Cowboys roster in the mid 90s.
And Garrett has also given Rob Ryan a lot of leeway, allowing him to bring in LB coach Matt Eberflus, secondary coach Jerome Henderson and defensive assistant Ben Bloom.
Parcells really liked "his guys" and brought a lot of them to Dallas. Wade Phillips seems to have been content to let Jerry Jones and the front office run the show, with mixed results. Jason Garrett appears to be much more of a networker and relies on his assistant coaches and his own network to acquire talent, both coaching talent and player talent.
So as you look for potential Cowboys free agency targets, look for players with connections to Garrett, his coaches or other people within Garrett's network. It's difficult to define a comprehensive list of targets based on these tenuous connections, but some easy targets could be MLB D'Qwell Jackson and Safety Mike Adams, both from Cleveland, or MLB Dan Connor (CAR). And then there's always one of the top prizes in this year's free agency, OG Carl Nicks (NO), who was coached by Bill Callahan in Nebraska, but Nicks may be just a tad expensive, even for Jerry Jones.