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2014 Cowboys Free Agency: Don't Expect A Lot Of Big Names

Contrary to public opinion, the Cowboys have not made a lot of big splashes in free agency over the last five years - outside of Brandon Carr.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

On March 11, at exactly 4:00 p.m. Eastern time, the 2014 League Year begins and free agency kicks off. But if the last five years are anything to go by, you'll be wasting your time if you are waiting for news of Cowboys free agent signings in that week. While it would be nice if the Cowboys were to sign the likes of Carolina DE Greg Hardy, Cincinnati DE Michael Johnson or even Chicago DT Henri Melton, the reality is that they will likely end up pursuing some pretty unheralded players in free agency.

And that has a lot less to do with the Cowboys' cap situation, as many will try to convince you, and much more with the Cowboys' recent history regarding free agent acquisitions.

After a record haul of seven free agents in 2012, the Cowboys brought in just two free agents prior to June 1 last year in Justin Durant and Will Allen. In 2011, they also brought in two just 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 14 free agent acquisitions over the last five 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 2013 Free Agents
Player PFF Grade/Rank Player PFF Grade/Rank Player PFF Grade/Rank Player PFF Grade/Rank
Olshansky -9.2 (26/28) Coleman +7.2 (12/32) Bernadeau +4.1 (*) Durant
-0.1 (18/43)
Sensabaugh -8.5 (78/83) Elam -1.8 (49/87) Carr +3.8 (31/109) Allen -0.2 (46/88)
Brooking -12.3 (46/55) Vickers +1.5 (14/28)
Pool +1.2 (34/87)
Connor -0.4 (24/51)
Orton -2.0 (22/38)
Livings -4.7 (52/78)

Mackenzy Bernadeau* only played 128 snaps in 2011 before joining the Cowboys in 2012, so he doesn't qualify for the year-end ranking at his position. Outside of Bernadeau, only Carr and Coleman had significantly positive grades in the overview above. And in terms of rankings, only Carr, Coleman and Durant were ranked in, or close to, the top third of their position group in the year before they 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 add a few lesser-known names to their roster via free agency this year. For most of the last five years, the Cowboys have avoided bidding wars for high-end free agents. They've looked for bargains, some of whom panned out, some of whom did not. Most importantly, they've looked to address their most obvious needs in free agency. Here's Garrett in 2012 explaining how the Cowboys' free agency activities were an attempt to fill holes in order to gain more flexibility in the draft.

"That was one of our objectives. You want to address the needs where you can in free agency," Garrett said. "We tried to address some needs with players that we really liked in free agency and hopefully that will allow us to be a little bit less need-based in the draft and take the best players, guys who can help our football team."

Last year, ESPN,, and Walter Football all declared the Atlanta Falcons one of the "winners" of 2013 free agency. Those same Falcons finished the season 4-12. Keep in mind, the teams making the biggest splashes in free agency, or the teams that put together a self-styled "Dream Team", are seldom the teams that end up winning in the NFL.

The Cowboys will likely be active in free agency once again this year. They may be able to re-sign Anthony Spencer to a moderate deal; they probably won't be able to hold on to Jason Hatcher; it's unlikely they'll go for any big moves 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. Look for the team to address roster holes with solid but unspectacular veteran depth.

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