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Are The Cowboys Winning Or Losing In Free Agency? It Is A Pointless Question

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Dallas has continued its process of waiting out the first wave of free agency and then signing low cost players that it feels can contribute. It looks like they are going to lose free agency again, at least in the minds of those who don't look at the past..

Does this man look worried?
Does this man look worried?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Get your memes here! Fresh, hot Dallas Cowboys memes! While there were some encouraging signs that many people who write about the NFL have started to come around to the idea that the people who run the team actually know what they are doing, and are doing it well, the fact that Dallas has stuck to the plan and not plunged headlong into free agency with massive contracts thrown around to chase immediate fixes for the team still does not sit well with some.

Maybe this is just a symptom of the offseason, when we don't have actual performance of the teams on the field to write about. It is most definitely a sign that sports writers do not put any credence in the saying "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it."

After more of a tirade on Twitter about this than was probably wise, I went back and took a look at the past reporting on free agency, particularly regarding the concept of "winning" and "losing". It is a bizarre concept if you consider it logically, since free agents are signed primarily based on what they have done in the past. Projecting that into future contributions to the team is obviously a very inexact process. There have been millions and millions of dollars of dead cap money generated by players who failed to live up to expectations. But every year, all that is conveniently forgotten and free agency is "graded" based largely on the size of contracts awarded and the speed with which big names are snatched off the market. This is almost invariably going to put Dallas in a negative light, since they clearly do not go about their business that way any more.

As I contended in my allotted 140 characters, this all sounds dreadfully familiar. I went back and looked at a couple of free agency recaps from 2014. The first is notable because the writer saw fit to put Dallas in a special category (along with the Oakland Raiders) after doing what he saw was a terrible job of trying to counter the loss of both DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher.

Dallas Cowboys - I have been accused of being a Cowboys hater and for pushing narratives about Jerry Jones' cap management into everything I write about them.About that first part: I don't hate any team. Seriously. But Jones' financial missteps for several years and his can-kicking approach have put the Cowboys where they are. It's a story. Henry Melton could be a great signing, but he has some immaturity issues he must overcome. I also have a feeling the Cowboys will have one of their better drafts in years, too. But the needs are worrisome, and there's no way to make this defense work without a proper four-man rush. Right now, they barely have four guys to line up. I am not ready to kick dirt on their graves because there is time. But Dallas should be in quasi-panic mode here.  NFL free agency winners and losers … and two teams in their own category | Shutdown Corner - Yahoo Sports

He was right about the quasi-panic thing, at least for the fan base. But the team had a different view, and managed to parlay the 2014 offseason into an NFC East crown and a playoff run.

That wasn't the only scorecard that had Dallas on the short end of the free agency stick.

"When your second biggest offseason addition is Brandon Weeden, you're in hot water." -- Someone in the newsroom.

I couldn't agree more. Dallas did a nice job adding Jeremy Mincey and signing fellow defensive lineman Henry Meltonto a cap-friendly deal, but there's no way to replace the loss of the franchise's best player, DeMarcus Ware.

Seeing Jason Hatcher sign with an NFC East rival was another bitter pill to swallow and a reminder of how the cap situation in Big D has prevented the Cowboys from getting better in a division that saw every other team make strides. Jerry Jones is under plenty of pressure to nail the draft, but history suggests that isn't his specialty, either.  Roster Reset: Winners and losers in free agency - NFL.com

Just to show that the picking of free agency winners is also often way, way off, both articles agreed on the biggest winner in 2014: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team that took that oh-so-impressive haul of talent and turned it into the worst record in the league and the number one pick in the 2015 draft. I guess they did accomplish that, although I don't think that was what the evaluations envisioned. Now, they have jettisoned some of their big-time 2014 signees and are back in the market shopping again.

The Cowboys won last year with their approach, and they intend to win again in 2015. There is no guarantee that they will succeed, but building on past success through a well-thought out and consistent approach is a higher percentage method than wheeling and dealing in the fashion that Chip Kelly is using to remold the Philadelphia Eagles in his own image. (Quasi-biblical reference quite intentional.)

Just to look at things from another point of view, I went back a bit to find the last time Dallas was seen as one of the winners in free agency. That was in 2012.

Dallas Cowboys: Surprisingly, the Cowboys have done a lot with not much cap room. Jerry and Stephen Jones upgraded at corner with the Brandon Carr signing, although Carr needs to engage at the line more. And as colleague Steve Wyche pointed out, the move for Kyle Orton was slick on several fronts. Broncos, Pats headline free-agency winners; Fins striking out - NFL.com

Yeah, we know how those big moves worked out.

The whole idea of judging the Cowboys in free agency is pointless, because it is just one piece of the puzzle. The draft will have more long-term impact on the team and the acquisitions they have so far will still have to prove if they have something to contribute. The big moves for Dallas involved their own free agents, and they have locked up Dez Bryant and Doug Free while making the financially-driven and still debated decision to not pay to keep DeMarco Murray.

Evidence that free agency often fails to pay off is plentiful. Some teams do make it work, as the Denver Broncos largely have, but it still seems to fall short more often than it succeeds. Likewise, there is no guarantee that Dallas can duplicate the surprising success of 2014. But they have the same coaching and scouting staffs in place, and outside of Murray have kept the players they wanted. Given how that worked out last season, it is a better bet to stay the course than to make an abrupt change in strategy.

It is also not flashy. And criticism of the Cowboys based on inaccurate memes generates attention. That, more than any serious analysis, is why we are likely to hear how they have lost free agency once again.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB