The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are loading up. The Denver Broncos get Tom Brady's favorite target away from the New England Patriots, who then just go to the next guy in line like they always do. Worse, the Philadelphia Eagles are using a whopping $45 million in cap space to sign a myriad of free agents.
This is frustrating for many Dallas Cowboys fans. We have gotten used to Jerry Jones wheeling and dealing. This is often an exciting part of our year, and we are, to an extent, suffering some withdrawal. 2012, if you recall, was a record year for the Cowboys in free agency, with eight players eventually signed.
But while it is so easy to get all excited about free agent acquisitions, there are words of caution. First, it is very, very easy to overpay, particularly early. Second, winning in free agency is not known to bring much success in the following season. And third, it is a bit of an axiom that the right way to go is that you build a team through the draft, not free agents. Plus, there is this.
Can't imagine it's coincidence that FA market is soft in a year with one of the deepest drafts across the board in recent memory— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) March 14, 2013
All this may sound a bit like sour grapes, since Dallas currently has absolutely no money to spend on free agents. Most, although certainly not all, fans realize this, and all they can do is just sulk about it. You can also look back at the results of last year's major plunge into the free agent market. There may be a lesson to learn when you look at eight names the team signed.
Brandon Carr. Brought in to help shore up a very woeful secondary. The Cowboys did not see any more cases of cornerbacks getting hurdled by wide receivers on the way to a touchdown, but they also saw a lack of interceptions and failed to stop some teams at crucial times. Given his $50 million contract, Carr seems a textbook example of overpaying in free agency, which the team freely admitted it was doing to make sure it got its man.
Kyle Orton. He did exactly what you want a backup quarterback to do, and it was a masterful job of standing on the sidelines, too. His deal was actually fairly reasonable and he is one of the better backup quarterbacks, at least as far as experience level. In this case, the Cowboys got exactly what they wanted.
Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. The Cowboys elected to go cheap in trying to shore up the interior of the offensive line. Livings was somewhere between poor and barely adequate. Bernadeau was at times bad and at others might have been all right. The jury is still out, but there is certainly a lot of doubt about the eventual verdict. No one was terribly pleased with how the offensive line played in 2012, and these two are right behind RT Doug Free in getting the blame. Now the interior of the line is seen as a priority. Again. Mission was not accomplished.
Dan Connor. Brought in as insurance in case Bruce Carter was not ready. Carter was ready, but injuries to him and Sean Lee led to the team needing more out of Connor. He didn't have it. He was cut to get the team under the salary cap. Failure.
Lawrence Vickers. Came in with a reputation as a locker room leader and a good lead blocker. I don't know how he was in the locker room, but he was pretty much a non-factor on the field. The running game was moribund, although that was more a result of the line situation and injuries to DeMarco Murray. However, Vickers is on the list of possible cuts to help further with the salary cap.
Kevin Ogletree. Yes, he counted as a free agent, even if he had last played for Dallas. Remember this fact, and that Anthony Spencer is in effect one very big free agent signing. However, after getting another chance to prove he was a viable third receiver for the Cowboys, Ogletree did not take advantage of his opportunity. The team did not sign him this year, and he has been picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where John Garrett is now the receivers coach. Comments on Twitter indicated that Jason Garrett's brother was the main supporter of Ogletree on the Cowboys' staff, so perhaps here we have someone to blame.
Brodney Pool. On a team badly needing help at safety, he did not make the 53 man roster and did not find another gig. Not much else to say there.
Eight players. Three are gone, one is a possible, perhaps likely cut in the near future, two have many hoping they will be replaced, one is providing good value for his specific but hopefully always limited role, and one is a starter that most expect to succeed but who will have a hard time living up to his salary, no matter how well he does, especially in light of the depressed market that has cornerbacks getting a lot less money this year.
This is what free agency did for the Cowboys last year. Is that typical? I don't know, but my feeling is that it may be fairly close to the norm. Free agents often do not perform up to the level that led to their acquisition. They always come with a certain opportunity cost in keeping the team from going younger. And many are undoubtedly overpaid. Sometimes a team will hit on a free agent, or even get a boost overall from a group brought in. But in the long run, the best way seems to be to build through the draft, with only a few judicious free agent hires to fill needs. Dallas is being forced into that mold this year. It is not good to be with such limited options, but it may work out in the long run.
At least we can hope so.