Asking the question of how Dallas did in the first week of free agency generally leads to negative answers. It's hard to ignore the fact that they lost DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, undoubtedly their two most talented defensive linemen. From a pure talent standpoint, the Cowboys come up losers... so far. But, if you take into account all the elements that go into creating a football team, then the losses can be seen in a different light.
Cowboys free agent losses: DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Phil Costa
DeMarcus Ware was an icon in Dallas, a top-tier talent who will be headed to Canton one day. But you just can't ignore the fact that he'll be 32 when the 2014 season starts and that injuries were hampering him on a consistent basis. Playing as a down lineman in a 4-3 certainly wasn't helping, and was likely adding to the toll his body was taking. So paying him $12.5 million (with a $16 million cap hit for 2014) was a bad bet. The Cowboys aren't likely Super Bowl contenders (although anything can happen), and Ware's number in 2015 was going to sky rocket. I think Ware is still going to be a good player, but I doubt he will ever be a superstar again. Denver, who is hunting a Super Bowl in the Peyton Manning window, took a gamble. The Cowboys were smart not to.
Jason Hatcher had a breakout year, but that has been his one big year. He's also on the wrong side of 30 and the Cowboys would have been crazy to match the contract the Redskins gave him. Plain and simple, smart move by Dallas. Sure, we wanted him back but not at that price.
So talent-wise they lost, but business-wise they won. Besides, for all the talent and money they threw at the defensive line over the past few years. What have been the results? 34 sacks last year, 34 the year before. Very underwhelming numbers. So it's not like all that "talent" was getting it done anyway. Time to start over.
Cowboys free agent additions: Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain, Brandon Weeden
Okay, admittedly that's a pretty underwhelming haul. But the Cowboys are doing the smart thing, they are waiting for the bargains. Jeremy Mincey may turn into something. Remember what Rod Marinelli did for George Selvie? Perhaps he can work some of the same magic with Mincey. He might turn into a good rotation player. McClain is likely not much more than a body. The Texans didn't even tender him as a restricted free agent, and he has yet to have any type of "breakout" season.
The Brandon Weeden signing has been panned, but I don't see it that way. Gambling a $75,000 salary cap hit for a potential backup quarterback with experience. That's a no-brainer.
Cowboys free agent targets: Henry Melton, Jared Allen, Robert Ayers, Anthony Spencer
Now this is the crux of the Cowboys success or failure in free agency. If the Cowboys can land either Melton or Allen, then they are on their way to replacing some of the talent they lost in Ware and Hatcher. Melton is young and likely an upgrade over Hatcher. Allen has had a comparable career to Ware, and had 11.5 sacks last season compared to Ware's six. He's also managed to stay relatively injury free. He goes against the idea of not signing defensive players over 30 (see Ware, Hatcher), but given his recent production and good health, he is probably worth a shot at the right price.
Robert Ayers is a guy who could help, having grabbed 5.5 sacks last season and seemingly upping his game since moving to a 4-3 end from a 3-4 OLB. We all know the story on Spencer, if healthy, he's a solid, sometimes very good, defensive end.
The Cowboys made some hard decisions with Ware and Hatcher, but considering the money teams were willing to throw at two over-30, sometimes injured players, I can't blame Dallas for letting them walk. Sure, at the moment they are less talented on defense, but it wasn't like the defense was any good before. Throwing more money at the same players doesn't seem wise. I desperately wanted Ware back, but when he refused any kind of pay cut (and he was proven smart on that), Dallas made the right move. Now, they need to land Melton or Allen to make it pay off.