The coaching staff is largely taken care of for the Dallas Cowboys, with the team finalizing the contracts for the various assistants (and figuring out what will happen with Monte Kiffin). The next step in the offseason process is going to be figuring out what to do with the various free agents from last year's roster.
Per Nick Eatman at the mothership, there are currently 23 free agents from last year's roster, 16 unrestricted, 4 restricted, and 3 exclusive rights. (For a definition of a restricted and exclusive rights free agent, see this link). Here is one man's prediction of what the Cowboys will do with each of them:
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
The elephant in the room
Dallas is going to keep him. Jerry Jones has stated that the team will use the franchise tag on him as a last resort, but all the parties involved would much prefer to get a long-term deal worked out, one that will make Bryant a Cowboy for life. It may take a while, because we are talking big dollars here, but most likely something will get done.
The elephant that is probably leaving the room
As my father used to say, this has been cussed and discussed, and that will continue. But in the current environment of the NFL, a high-mileage (even if only for one year) running back is not a good bet to spend a lot of money on. The Cowboys have a definite ceiling on him. We, of course, don't know exactly what that is, but it is most likely somewhere between four and six million dollars a year, and the team would more than likely rather go for a three-year contract rather than anything longer. Given the many accolades he has received, including Offensive Player of the Year, some other team is almost certain to outbid the Cowboys for his services. They will regretfully let him go get his payday somewhere else. A few years ago, Jerry Jones would have paid him whatever it took. But Jones has changed, and he and his front office team will make the smart football decision.
Doug Free, Jermey Parnell, Tony Hills
Hills is likely to get an offer to keep him around at least for training camp. The big decision is between Free and Parnell, because it is unlikely that the team will keep both. Free is a better tackle and the team will probably try to keep him on a reasonable contract, but Parnell is a viable fallback option of Free is not willing to play for the price the Cowboys are willing to pay. If Free does come to an agreement, Parnell will likely not be kept. The price tag for his services is likely going to be too high for a swing tackle, unless the Cowboys wind up with a lot more cap room than expected. That is why I think Hills will be retained as a potential swing guy unless they find something in the draft (as our own Dawn Macelli speculated). However, he might lose his spot to Darrion Weems (see below). Remember that the team will be looking to fill any holes it has on the open free agent market, and will need to keep cap space free for that.
Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Rolando McClain, James Anderson
Anderson is likely not going to be kept since he was an insurance pickup. That leaves the other three, and whether the team can keep all of them. Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber are under contract and obviously Lee and Hitchens aren't going anywhere. The team seems to like what Wilber has done as a SAM backup. Durant was playing very well before his injury, and my best guess is that he will be retained. McClain was an absolute stud, but also was pretty constantly dinged up. Carter came on strong late in the season. It may come down to dollars here. McClain or Carter would have to agree to a team friendly deal, and unfortunately one of them is likely to fall to the numbers game. As much as McClain contributed when healthy, he may wind up being the odd man out. The joker in the deck is whether the coaches believe Carter can continue to play the way he did in the latter half of the season.
If there is some way to afford all three of Carter, Durant and McClain, it would be good to take them all into camp and see how it shakes out. It just doesn't look that likely, but stranger things have happened.
Nick Hayden, Henry Melton
Hayden has been a bit of a whipping boy, especially if you put any faith in Pro Football Focus' grades, but the coaches seem to find him valuable. He will probably at least be signed to a deal to defend his roster spot in camp. Melton, on the other hand, is not going to see the big money option the team has on him used. He would have to negotiate an entirely new deal, and with him ending the year on injured reserve, the Cowboys will likely wish him well in finding another team.
George Selvie, Anthony Spencer
It is not inconceivable that neither of them could get new contracts. Selvie did seem to fade as the year progressed, although the staff may have a different view. Still, he seems a likely cap casualty. Spencer came back strong from injury, but he would probably have to be willing to take something very near the veteran minimum. He could well get a better offer elsewhere from a team that is not as age averse as the Cowboys have become.
Tyler Clutts, Dwayne Harris, CJ Spillman
Given the newfound emphasis on the run game, Clutts will probably be back. He's not expensive, the team will still need a fullback at times, and he looked good catching that touchdown against Green Bay. Harris is a hard call. He is a great returner, but he is going to be in the mix with Cole Beasley (see below). As much as I love the Dreadhead, I am not sure the Cowboys will be able to keep him. Either way would not surprise me. Spillman may survive on a veteran minimum deal, but he is not going to be a high priority.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Cole Beasley, Lance Dunbar, Chris Jones, Sterling Moore
The Cowboys are likely to keep all four. The RFA rules give the team almost complete control over these players, and all play important roles. Beasley is the most valuable, with Moore not far behind. Dunbar will be needed because Murray is likely gone, and Jones holds for Dan Bailey as well as punts. All are valuable.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
Cameron Lawrence, Ronald Leary, Darrion Weems
There is no almost to the control the team has over these three. If the team wants them, they pretty much will have them. Leary will almost certainly be re-signed since there is no replacement for him, at least prior to the draft. Lawrence is mostly a special teams player and Weems has been kept around based on his perceived potential to be an option as a swing tackle. Since they are low cost (the team basically makes a take it or leave it minimum contract offer), they are all good bets to be around when camp opens, but the team would have no problem letting either go if there is a cap squeeze.
Those are my projections, but again you have to keep cap considerations in mind. Jerry Jones has asserted that the team has the cap space, or can get it, to do what it wants to, and since Dallas has eschewed high cost free agents lately, they should be able to keep most of the players they want outside of Murray. But that is just my opinion. This is the time of year when we can all speculate, so jump in the comments and let me know if I got it right, or if I'm just full of it.