No one will really know how any NFL team did in free agency until the season is well underway and we can see how the players perform for their new teams. However, this is a right now kind of world, and there are going to be all kinds of rankings and grades for free agency, even though it is still underway and players will still be signed. In recent years, the Dallas Cowboys have gotten some low grades for its "sit back until things settle down" approach, which has garnered them mostly unspectacular, workmanlike players.
Although the team still held off on making any big moves in the opening days of free agency, it did make a huge one with the controversial Greg Hardy signing. That will be a key consideration in any free agency grades it receives.
A group of contributors at ESPN recently evaluated the entire league. (The full article is unfortunately behind their paywall.) This ranking actually seemed to make sense, at least for Dallas. The panel was composed of Mike Sando, Bill Polian, Louis Riddick, Matt Williamson, and Field Yates. Here is what they had to say:
Key re-signings/additions: DE Greg Hardy, FB Jed Collins, ILB Jasper Brinkley, RB Darren McFadden, OLB Andrew Gachkar, ILB Keith Rivers, CB Corey White
Key subtractions: DE Anthony Spencer, OLB Bruce Carter, S C.J. Spillman, P Chris Jones, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Dwayne Harris, DE George Selvie, DT Henry Melton, OLB James Anderson, G Jermey Parnell, OLB Justin Durant, RB Lance Dunbar, ILB Rolando Mcclain, CB Sterling Moore, OT Tony Hills, FB Tyler Clutts
The pressure is on the Cowboys to replace Murray. If they do that successfully, free agency is going to look like a success. It already has big potential with Hardy adding a badly-needed pass-rush threat to the defense on a one-year deal. Hardy and a healthy Sean Lee could transform the defense. Potential is the key word, however. There are many unknowns.
"Adding Hardy looks like a good deal on paper," Polian said. "What you do not know is what the suspension will be and will there be litigation that follows that? They protected themselves contract-wise, but they do not know how long he will be on the field."
The Cowboys were in a group of nine teams that received a B, and seven teams had higher grades. In the NFC East, Washington was graded higher with an A-, the Philadelphia Eagles were in the group with Dallas that got a B, and the New York Giants were in the lower ranks with a C.
One thing that stuck out was the evaluation, which seems quite pertinent, that the real test of how well the Cowboys did would be how well they replace the production of Murray. It wisely accepts the idea that the final outcome will depend on that factor. There are many unknowns, but that is largely true of any team that was involved in a large number of free agent transactions, both in gaining and losing players.
However, even though the grade itself is probably a fairly good assessment, the write-up has some noticeable errors in it. It does not mention the tag for Dez Bryant or the re-signing of Doug Free, both of which were important moves regarding Dallas' own free agents. It also erroneously lists Lance Dunbar and Chris Jones as losses, when both have been signed for another year. This does cast some doubt on the overall accuracy of the evaluation of the team, since all those omissions would seem to have strengthened the case for how well the Cowboys did.
Overall, though, the B grade does not seem bad, and does not have the dismissal of the Dallas strategy that seemed to permeate such exercises in recent years. What do you think? How would you rate the Cowboys' free agency so far?