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Cowboys 2015 Free Agents: Which Cornerbacks Could Be Of Interest For Dallas?

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If the Cowboys' approach to free agency of the last few years holds true, the list of potential free agency targets may be much smaller (with much less recognizable names) than you may have thought.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

If you're hoping for some breaking free agency news from the Dallas Cowboys on the day free agency officially opens, you'll likely be disappointed. In fact, you might get bored waiting for something to happen, as Clarence Hill points out.

Since an idle mind is the devil's workshop, let's stave off boredom by putting our minds to work figuring out which players the Cowboys might target when they decide to eventually join free agency.

But before we start throwing names around, let's re-familiarize ourselves the concept of positional rankings (or percentile rankings) for NFL players. The idea behind positional rankings is to look at where a given player is ranked relative to the other players in the league at his position. Using the overall ranking scale provided by Pro Football Focus, we can assign all players into quintiles based on where they are ranked, which is exactly what we did for the 2014 Dallas Cowboys roster in an article back in January.

Here's what those quintiles look like, and how many 2014 Cowboys ranked ended up in each quintile

Positional Ranking
Description # of Cowboys players
100-81 Blue-Chip Cowboys Players
12
80-61 NFL starter quality at position
7
60-41 Average to slightly below average player
5
40-21 Underperformer 2
20-0 Red Flag 6

A player marked in blue is ranked in the top 20% of players at his position group; a player marked in green is ranked in the top 40% of players at his position, and so on. Note that the table only contains the results for the 32 Cowboys players who've played on at least 25% of the teams snaps in 2014.

With that out of the way, let's now review the free agents the Cowboys brought in during free agency since 2011, which would be all players signed as free agents signed between the start of free agency in March and June 1 of each year.

Cowboys Free Agents Acquisitions, 2011-2014
Player Year PFF grade Rank/Total Positional Ranking
Brandon Carr 2012 4.2 30/109 72
Brodney Pool 2012 1.3 37/87 57
Justin Durant 2013 1.1 19/43 56
Lawrence Vickers 2012 0.3 13/28 54
Dan Connor 2012 1.3 26/51 49
Will Allen 2013 0.2 45/88 49
Kenyon Coleman 2011 -6.1 26/42 38
Nate Livings 2012 -2.6 49/78 37
Abram Elam 2011 0.1 54/85 36
Not enough snaps
Jeremy Mincey 2014 +2.0 - -/93 74
Mackenzy Bernadeau 2012 4.4 - -/78 54
Terrell McClain 2014 -3.9 - -/69 38
Henry Melton 2014 - - - -/- -
- -

This table shows the year in which each player was acquired, as well as his PFF data from the previous season. Brandon Carr for example joined the Cowboys in 2012, and was ranked as the 30th best cornerback in 2011 by PFF.

I've not included Kyle Orton or Brandon Weeden in this analysis because backup QBs differ significantly from all other positions. The four players at the bottom of the table didn't play enough snaps in the year before becoming free agents to qualify for the PFF ranking; their positional ranking is based on where their grades suggest they would have ranked, had they played enough snaps.

When you use positional rankings to look at the recent free agent acquisitions, some interesting patterns emerge:

1. The Cowboys generally avoid the top-tier free agents. For the most part in recent years, the Cowboys have been content to sit tight in free agency until the market settled. Outside of Brandon Carr, you have to go all the way back to Terrell Owens to find a premium free agent acquisition in the Cowboys' transaction history. This is not news, even if articles titled "Secrets of Cowboys Free Agency Strategy" or Tweets starting with "Scoop:" might have you believe otherwise.

2. Most acquisitions have been solid, if unspectacular starters. The players marked in yellow or orange are all average to slightly above or slightly below average players. We've kindly taken to calling the players "bridge players" who'll help the team bridge a gap until better talent comes along. We've also called them JAGs (just a guy), which is also accurate. Some of the players have blossomed in Dallas, many turned out to be exactly what their PFF positional ranking suggested they would be.

3. The Cowboys like underutilized players with upside. Jeremy Mincey is clearly their success story here, but the Cowboys also like what they got in Mackenzy Bernadeau. These are guys that are almost never on anybody's radar.

With all of that in mind, let's now turn to the cornerbacks in this year's free agency class. We know from Dave Halprin's post earlier today that the Cowboys are showing interest in free agent cornerbacks. Antonio Cromartie, Patrick Robinson, and Davon House were mentioned as players the Cowboys had or have interest in. Let's use the positional ranking template to see how these and other corners fit the Cowboys' free agent template:

Free Agent Cornerbacks, 2014
Player Team Age PFF grade Rank/Total Positional Ranking Signed by
Tramon Williams GB 31 1.6 34/108 69 - -
Perrish Cox SF 28 1.2 35/108 68 - -
Alan Ball JAX 29 0.1 40/108 63 - -
Patrick Robinson NO 27 0.1 40/108 63 - -
Davon House GB 25 -0.1 43/108 60 Jaguars
Byron Maxwell SEA 27 -0.2 45/108 58 Eagles
Antonio Cromartie ARZ 30 -0.2 45/108 58 Jets
Brice McCain PIT 28 -2.8 65/108 40 Dolphins
Darius Butler IND 28 -3.2 67/108 38 Colts
Carlos Rogers OAK 33 -3.6 69/108 36 - -
Zackary Bowman NYG 30 -4.3 73/108 32 - -
Not enough snaps
Brandon Harris TEN 25 1.7 - -/108 69 - -
Josh Gordy IND 28 0.2 - -/109 64 - -

Admittedly, this is a pretty rough way in which to rank free agents. Many more factors go into evaluating a free agent's fit than just some ranking on somebody's scale. But we've seen that the Cowboys acquisitions fit this approach to a degree, and using the approach shows that the three players the Cowboys are reported to be interested in are are all bunched pretty tightly on this list.

If the Cowboys are going to invest in a free agent cornerback, that player's name could be on the list above. If you had your choice of any of these players, which one would you pick?