After the two-day hostage ordeal fans of the Dallas Cowboys just went through, we can finally take a deep breath and clear our heads. DeMarco Murray has made his choice, signing with the Philadelphia Eagles for about 50% more than the Cowboys were willing to pay him. He gave Dallas a magnificent performance in 2014, and we should all wish him luck. He is going to need it, as Chip Kelly is making moves that appear incoherent at best. The latest may leave Murray pining away for the Great Wall of Dallas in a few months.
But I'm not here to make fun of what is happening with Murray's new team, no matter how enjoyable or easy it is. Now that the Murray saga is done, the Cowboys can move on . Since the end of last season, the Cowboys have stuck firmly to their strategy, and nothing has happened to cause them to deviate. The team can start looking for players to fill needs at reasonable cost. These are going to be bridge players, because the long-term solutions are sought through the draft.
Dallas has about $8.5 million in cap space to work with, but any new contract will be offset by the 51st contract, which will be pushed out as a higher deal is signed. Since there are a group of contracts worth $510K clustered there, then you can subtract that from the cap hit of any player signed from now.
One thing that is becoming evident is that the list of available free agents the Cowboys had from their roster going into free agency showed who they were expecting to part with all along, and that includes Murray. The players they wanted to keep, including Dez Bryant, Doug Free, and Cole Beasley, were all locked up beforehand. All the rest are proving valuable to the team as a way to garner some primo compensatory picks, and as OCC has illustrated, they are certainly providing some excellent returns.
Murray's departure probably does not change the approach the Cowboys take to the running back position in free agency. While the team will definitely be looking for a starter in the draft, they always had a need to look for a veteran running back. However, it will not be to replace Murray. If they go with a veteran back, they are probably hoping it will be Ryan Williams who steps up. The preferred solution, I think, would be for Williams and a rookie to become the leaders in a committee approach. They don't want to use up a back the way they may have done with Murray. But the team is reportedly not confident at all that they can depend on Joseph Randle. He is the player that would be replaced if they can sign a good, low-cost back. Having said that, the list JSM8ith came up with is an excellent starting point for the shopping list.
The team also will be looking at wide receivers and offensive linemen due to the departure of Dwayne Harris and Jermey Parnell. Since these are only going to be short-term answers, the team can look at older players who may only have about 19 games left in the tank as well as younger ones that may surprise and earn a longer deal down the road.
But the focus now is probably going to be on defense. Pass rush is what first comes to the mind of most people, but a look at the current players under contract may indicate that the team thinks it has more resources there than you might realize. Ken Bishop, Kenneth Boatright, Davon Coleman, Ben Gardner, Jack Crawford, Lavar Edwards, Chris Whaley, and Amobi Okoye are all waiting for a chance to earn a roster spot. Just to look at one example, Jack "The Other" Crawford had a pretty good showing in the game in London before he was injured. There is a good argument to be made that Dallas feels good about this group. But that will not keep them from pouncing on the right player or two if their price falls to something the Cowboys like. Remember that at this point you are staffing the 90-man offseason roster, not looking for players that are certain to be with the team in September.
The place where the team may be able to get the most value is probably the secondary. The Cowboys are thin there. Orlando Scandrick is very good but is primarily the slot corner. Brandon Carr's status is still uncertain. The team is not happy about what he will cost this year, and is believed to want him to renegotiate a lower cost deal. They also retain the option of making him a post-June 1 cut and gaining $8 million in cap space, although they will incur that as additional dead money in the out years. They much prefer the renegotiation route, but it remains to be seem if he is open to that. Morris Claiborne is not expected to be fully recovered from injury until sometime after training camp starts, and given his rocky history, they need a fallback. At safety they only have Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Keith Smith signed. The need there is clear.
How big a need linebacker is will be determined by what happens with Rolando McClain. The team is talking with him, and it is not unlikely that something will happen to resolve the issue one way or another fairly quickly. If they don't reach an agreement, then add this to the list of high priorities. Keith Rivers is a long shot to be a real answer.
Now the team can start combing the list of available players and deciding who might best fit their needs. The names that get signed will not be ones that will likely generate a lot of enthusiasm, but neither did Jeremy Mincey. Dallas hopes to find a few more key contributors like him this offseason. The hunt is underway.