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Free Agency: Cowboys Losing In NFC East?

As the Cowboys save their cap space and make only selected, economically shrewd moves in free agency, the rest of their division have been making some moves, often big and splashy ones. Is Dallas now hopelessly behind the power curve?

Was losing DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher a defeat for Cowboys?
Was losing DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher a defeat for Cowboys?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There are terms that describe a state of boredom, with little of interest going on. Watching paint dry. Watching grass grow. Watching the Dallas Cowboys during the 2014 free agency period. Just not a lot going on.

This has been a year where Dallas has made very controlled moves. Three fairly minor acquisitions and one major, but very low-cost, signing. Letting high-cost, aging players go. And other than that, silence. Since Henry Melton was brought on board, there have hardly been any significant and believable rumors involving the Cowboys. By believable, I mean ones that don't have some aspect that makes them clearly unlikely for Dallas. There seems to be speculation about the Cowboys being interested no matter whose name comes up, but very few have any realistic chance of happening. The release of DeSean Jackson by the Philadelphia Eagles is a perfect example. There were myriad people asking if Dallas might be interested in him, despite him being a high cost player who may have been cut primarily due to locker room issues. In other words, he is almost exactly what Dallas is avoiding. The only recent name that seemed to make much sense at all was defensive end Robert Ayers, and he has now signed with the New York Giants, so the likelihood of any significant moves for the Cowboys seem even more remote.

Some members of the Dallas fanbase are ready to wave a white flag. They feel while the Cowboys have largely stood still, the other members of the NFC East have all made major moves, capped by the Washington Redskins not letting Jackson get out of the division.

But free agency is a very uncertain road to NFL success. While it can help a team that needs one or two key parts, like the Denver Broncos signing Peyton Manning and DeMarcus Ware, it is not often going to lift a team that has multiple holes. And it tends to get expensive, especially when you start signing big names that you hope will have a major impact.

Here is the money that the four teams in the NFC East have committed in free agency, along with what departing free agents are being paid by their new teams. This is not a cap calculation, just the face value of contracts, which is often, of course, much more than the final numbers that get charged against the cap or actually paid out. It is, however, a good indication of what the teams have committed so far. This is the total for the contract, as well, regardless of how many years, and in the case of Henry Melton and anyone else with similar deals, does not reflect the options years. (All figures based on Spotrac numbers.)

Team Money Spent On Signings Money Paid By Other Teams
Dallas Cowboys $10,780,000 $61,040,938
New York Giants $102,915,000* $59,945,000
Philadelphia Eagles $37,350,000 $39,200,000
Washington Redskins $109,115,000** $6,920,000**

* Includes two contracts for which numbers are not available and not included; it is commonly reported that the Giants have spent over $110 million on free agents so far this year.

** Includes one contract (for both columns) for which no figures are available and not included.

Like I said, these numbers don't reflect cap hits and such, but I do find them interesting. Washington has now added over $100 million in contract "obligations". The Giants have picked up over $50 million. The Eagles were pretty much a wash, and Dallas basically cut down its obligations by over $50 million.

You notice I am not spending a lot of time breaking down the players here. I will be honest, I don't think free agents do that much good. For every Manning that is signed, someone else (cough) Dan Snyder (cough) picks up an Albert Haynesworth. If you sign a bunch of free agents, the way New York and Washington have, you are more likely to have things balance out, where some help and others don't perform to expectations or fall prey to age and injury. Remember, free agents are going to be older. Getting younger is a huge part of Dallas' strategy, and why the 31-year-old Danieal Manning was never really on their radar after the Houston Texans released him, despite the fact that the Cowboys have plenty of questions to answer at safety. Dallas got younger in free agency, Philadelphia stayed roughly the same, and New York and Washington both brought in a bunch of older players. There is going to be some dead money for both those teams at some point.

This is a commitment on the part of Dallas to building the team through the draft. They have taken steps to improve their position in that respect. Philadelphia has maintained about the same stance (and may have made a strategic move in letting DeSean Jackson go). New York and Washington have likely hampered themselves in future years.

So who is winning free agency? No one can say they won or lost anything at this time of the NFL year. But one thing that can be said is that Dallas has been very, very smart with how they have handled it this year.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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