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Dallas Cowboys News And Notes: What Will Dallas Do In Free Agency?

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All the news that's fit to link - and a bunch of stuff that's not. Today's meme parade: Cowboys top free agent needs; other free agent news and speculation; Dallas signs Keith Rivers; busting on the myth of 370; another visit to Coach K; an Oregon corner; Garrett's increased aggressiveness.

Overuse, schmoveruse. Just ask Brian Burke...
Overuse, schmoveruse. Just ask Brian Burke...
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Well, faithful readers, free agency is less than a week away. Thus it stands to reason that today's post is packed with free agency news. Let's begin global before narrowing our focus...

Dallas Cowboys' biggest free-agency needs, top targets, predictions - NFL Free Agency Insiders, ESPN

In a piece that shows the difference between national and local writers' view of our fave team, ESPN's Vincent Verhei claims that Dallas' three top needs are cornerback, safety and running back and Matt Williamson proposes that former Saint Mark Ingram should be a top target. Thankfully, local guy Todd Archer cuts through the fog of confusion in short order:

2. They aren't going to make a big splash: While the Cowboys are always linked to the high-profile, high-priced players in free agency, their focus will be on retaining their own players. They won't get involved in the big money chase. Executive vice president Stephen Jones said teams end up paying "great player" money for "good players," and they rarely receive value in return. In the past two years the Cowboys have been able to work team-friendly deals with their own players, such as Sean Lee and Tyron Smith, as well as free agents Melton and Jeremy Mincey.

3. They'll do their best to keep their own: The Cowboys would like to keep Free, Justin Durant and Anthony Spencer, but at the right price. The idea is to fill holes in free agency -- defensive line, linebacker, right tackle, cornerback -- with cost-effective players and then be able to head into the draft with the idea of taking the best player available, especially in the early rounds. It worked out last year when they took guard Zack Martin with their first-round pick.

NFL Nation dissects Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys tag game - Todd Archer and Jeff Legwold, ESPN

In another collaborative piece, Archer and Legwold, ESPN's Broncos beat man, discuss the franchise tags placed on Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas. Here's Toddzilla's somewhat surprising take on whether or not a long-term deal will get done:

I have my doubts. While the Cowboys do have a solid history with Tom Condon, who will be the point person in the negotiations, I do think they will hold the fort on what they want to give Bryant. Clearly the deal they thought they had last fall was not good enough in Bryant’s eyes. I can’t tell you what the numbers were, but I’ve been told the guarantee was for more than the reported $20 million. The Cowboys will be willing to have Bryant play out the season on the tag....It would not surprise me if the Cowboys are looking at tagging Bryant for the second straight year.

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Dallas Cowboys free agents least likely to return in 2015: No. 3 WR Dwayne Harris - Brandon George, Dallas Morning News

Here's George's take on why Harris will not wear the star in 2015:

Harris became a better tackler on special teams but didn’t have as much impact in the Cowboys’ return game as he had in 2013. His kickoff return average dropped by an average of almost six yards and his punt return average dropped by 3.6 yards. Some of that had to do with teams kicking away from him and the blocking not being as good. However, Harris’ declined impact on offense and in the special teams makes him a likely candidate not to return.

Cole Beasley's contract numbers are in for Dallas Cowboys - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

The straight dope from Archer:

Beasley will make $1 million in base salary this season, which means he will carry a $2 million salary-cap figure in 2015. With this deal, the Cowboys saved about $400,000 in salary-cap space in 2015....Beasley will earn $2.356 million in 2016, with the contract becoming fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. For now, $2 million is guaranteed for injury only. He would earn base salaries of $3 million in 2017 and $3.25 million in 2018.

Seems like a fair deal, at a reasonable market price.

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Cowboys Sign Veteran Linebacker Keith Rivers To One-Year Deal - David Helman, The Mothership

The Cowboys signed free agent linebacker Keith Rivers to a one-year deal Wednesday evening, Helman reports, adding depth to a position that sorely needs it.

Cowboys Sign "Pedigreed" LB Keith Rivers - Mike Fisher, Cowboys HQ

Fish points out that what Rivers offers most is a pedigree:

...the 6-2, 235-pounder from USC was once a premium prospect as the No. 9 overall pick in the 2008 Draft by the Bengals. The Cowboys will be his fourth NFL team (he was with the Giants for two years) and he's a strong-side guy so he presently goes into the mix with Anthony Hitchens and (hopefully) Durant, with a healthy Sean Lee set to return as either the weakside starter (if McClain stays) or the MIKE.

Heck, it worked with Rolando McClain. Why not?

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Drunkards, Light Posts, and the Myth of 370 - Brian Burke, Advanced Football Analytics

Burke takes on a notion we have been hearing a lot about in regards to DeMarcus Murray of late: the "overuse" meme - the idea, promoted by Football Outsiders, that running backs fall off the season after they get 370 or more carries. Burke demonstrates that this conclusion is the result of sloppy statistics. One reason for the drop-off, he claims, is simple regression to the mean:

Running backs with very high YPC will get lots of carries, but the factors that helped produce his high YPC stats are not permanent, and are far more likely to decline than improve....Very-high-carry RBs tend to have very high YPC stats, and they naturally suffer bigger declines the following season. 370+ carry RBs decline so much the following year simply because they peaked so high. This phenomenon is purely expected and not caused by overuse.

Dallas Cowboys make trek to Duke once again - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

For the third time in Jason Garrett's coaching tenure, he has made a pilgrimage to Durham to talk process and program with the legendary Coach K. The difference this time is that he didn't just bring Tony Romo, as he did last year, but also invited Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray to make the trip. Here's why they do it:

"That’s a big part of what we do, encouraging our [guys] to really be thoughtful about taking a trip," Garrett said two weeks ago in Indianapolis. "We call it, ‘one-day learning excursions.’ Go somewhere in football, outside of football, in town, out of town and try to spend some time with somebody who has been successful in what they do and hopefully we can learn from and come back and grow as an individual."

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2015 NFL Draft profile: What I see in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon - Bob Sturm, Dallas Morning News

The Sturminator's draft profile series shifts to the defensive backfield, with a look at Oregon's top corner. Here's Sturm's takeaway after watching the requisite 200 plays:

Despite my reluctance about a few issues, I really like this player and would be torn about him at a certain point of the 2nd round as being "too talented to ignore".  Combine the 1st round skill-set with the idea that you can never, ever have too many corners and the idea that the Cowboys corner situation is hardly set in stone, and you arrive at the reasonable conclusion that this is something to consider hard if he falls down to you at #60....This is a very talented player who possesses the type of mentality you have to have to play corner in the NFL.  Somebody is going to get a real value on draft day.

Here's the problem: the Cowboys will only consider corners under 5'11" if they are off-the-charts athletes and, while he's fairly athletic, he's not a freak. Honestly, I doubt he'll even be on Dallas' board.

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Why Jason Garrett became more effective in ‘roll-the-dice’ moments in 2014 - Bob Sturm, Dallas Morning News

In his mid-week chat, Sturm responds to a query about Jason Garrett's aggressiveness in 2014:

I will tell you this: it is much easier to roll the dice on your team when you are convinced you have the better team on the field. And, last year was the first time he consistently had the better team on a regular basis. I am sure it is no coincidence that he also was more aggressive with this better side.

This is what I've been saying for a long time now. He opted not to go for it in that famous 'icing the kicker" debacle in Phoenix not because he lacked courage, but because he lacked playmakers. Now that the Cowboys' roster is becoming stacked, I have every confidence that we'll see an increasingly aggressive Garrett.