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Dallas Cowboys 2015 Free Agency: Any Quality Pass Rushers Left?

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The number of quality pass rushers remaining in free agency is rapidly dwindling. But are there still players available who could be an upgrade for the Cowboys?

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

When free agency kicked off on Tuesday afternoon (has it really been just four days?!?), we looked at which cornerbacks could be of interest for Dallas. In that post, we looked at the Cowboys free agency activity of the last four years and found that most free agent acquisitions over that period fit a certain profile; most acquisitions have been solid, if unspectacular starters who were ranked somewhere around league average in the year prior to joining the Cowboys.

The rankings we looked at are based on the Pro Football Focus player rankings, with the players being divided into five quintiles as follows:

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

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.

Stephen Jones, speaking on 105.3 The Fan in January, said that a pass rusher is "absolutely" a priority in the off-season. More than that: The Cowboys plan on taking the same approach to rebuilding their defensive line as they did with their offensive line. I think it's safe to assume that the Cowboys are looking for a pass rusher in free agency.

We know that the Cowboys had an interest in DE Derrick Morgan, but his price tag (4 years, $27 million from Tennessee) may have been too high. We also know that the Cowboys have two of their own free agents in Anthony Spencer and George Selvie that they could re-sign. But who else is still available?

Let's use the positional ranking template to see how these and other edge rushers fit the Cowboys' free agent template:

Free Agent Edge Rushers, 2015
Player 2014 Team Age POS PFF grade Rank/Total Positional Ranking 2014 Snaps
James Harrison PIT 37 3-4 OLB 13.2 10/46 78 439
Anthony Spencer DAL 31 4-3 DE 2.1 21/59 64 384
Osi Umenyiora ATL 33 4-3 DE 1.9 22/59 63 347
George Johnson DET 27 4-3 DE 1.4 24/59 59 502
C.J. Wilson OAK 28 4-3 DE -1.3 27/59 54 399
Dwight Freeney SD 35 3-4 OLB 4.8 23/46 50 590
Red Bryant JAX 31 4-3 DE -1.6 31/59 47 536
Derrick Shelby MIA 26 4-3 DE -2.3 32/59 46 420
Sam Acho ARZ 26 3-4 OLB 2 28/46 39 483
George Selvie DAL 28 4-3 DE -4 37/59 37 515
Kroy Biermann ATL 29 4-3 DE -5.7 42/59 29 867
Michael D. Johnson TB 28 4-3 DE -12.8 53/59 10 648
Corey Wootton MIN 28 4-3 DE -14.9 55/59 7 276
Shaun Phillips IND 34 3-4 OLB -10.6 43/46 7 460
Mathias Kiwanuka NYG 32 4-3 DE -18.3 57/59 3 558
Robert Geathers CIN 32 4-3 DE -27.4 59/59 0 604

Using this approach to rank free agent edge rushers suggests that one of the Cowboys' better options would be to re-sign Anthony Spencer, and perhaps even George Selvie. Whether that would improve the pass rush versus last year is an open question, just as it's not clear how any of the other players left on this list would be an immediate upgrade for the pass rush.

One name not on this list is Greg Hardy, who is easily the best edge rusher available on the market. The 26-year-old had 26 total sacks in 2012-13, but his off-field issues may outweigh his on-field production.

A significant upgrade for the Cowboys pass rush will have to come from the first two rounds of the NFL draft, as most of the free agency options probably won't do much more than maintain the status quo. Still, the Cowboys will probably have to bring in a free agent or two, and chances are that those players could come from the list above. If you had your choice of any of these players, which would you pick?