Things are getting pretty crazy in free agency already, and we are still just in the legal tampering period. Despite the fact that the rules state that actual contracts are not supposed to be discussed before the official beginning of free agency the afternoon of March 10, there are already some surprising numbers being thrown around. The top free agent on the market by most accounts is Ndamukong Suh, and it is being reported that the Miami Dolphins are going to sign him to a $114 million dollar deal with $60 million in guaranteed (read real) money. Meanwhile, the genius of Chip Kelly continues to astound us all as word comes out that the Philadelphia Eagles are going to sign Frank Gore from the San Francisco 49ers for $5 million a year, with $7.5 million in guarantees. Meanwhile, LeSean McCoy, who must have been caught spitting (or something else) in Kelly's smoothie is getting a nice, fat new deal from the Buffalo Bills.
As they have now made standard practice, the Dallas Cowboys are holding back from the bigger names in the league and waiting to see how the market shakes out, most notably for star running back DeMarco Murray. But the team has many other of its own free agents still waiting to find out their fate. We have debated long and hard about who the Cowboys should and shouldn't try to re-sign. We have watched our own players closely, but now their value is going to be determined to a large degree by how the rest of the league views them.
There is no way to know what the other teams actually think until there are offers on the table. But there are other sources out there that offer opinions, so here is a look at what a couple of well-known sites think about some of the Cowboys' own.
NFL.com has a list of the top 101 free agents still on the market, ranked in a sort of big board fashion. Several Cowboys made their cut, starting with the top one on the team. Here is where they turn up on this list:
4. DeMarco Murray
38. Henry Melton
45. Rolando McClain
65. Bruce Carter
91. Anthony Spencer
Murray is, of course, no surprise, and this high ranking, along with some deals already being reported, may belie the meme that running backs are no longer valued in the NFL. It is a blow to the fading hopes that Dallas may be able to retain the services of the reigning Offensive Player of the Year.
Of the remainder, Melton is a bit of a surprise being ranked so high on this list. There was some thought that Dallas might want to offer him another low-risk, low-cost deal, but if this is any indication of how he is seen by other teams, then that is also not likely. McClain is also looking like he might get bid up out of what the Cowboys feel they can afford. Carter was probably the least likely of the linebackers who are free agents to be offered a new deal, so it looks like he will get a decent contract elsewhere.
Spencer is one player that the team may want to work on keeping. He was playing better as the year progressed and he continued to recover from microfracture surgery to his knee. His veteran leadership and productivity may be important to the team as it continues to try and improve the play of the defensive line.
Another take, that disagrees in some important aspects, is provided by Rotoworld. It is a list of all the unrestricted free agents as well. They break up the free agents by position group, and here are how the various Dallas players they rank show up.
1. DeMarco Murray.
No surprise there.
5. Tyler Clutts
This is a small group, which reflects the lessened importance of the position, but Clutts is fifth out of the nine that are listed. It may indicate that Dallas may try to bring him back since the Cowboys still seem to find a fullback important in their scheme.
1. Dez Bryant (franchise tagged)
18. Dwayne Harris
Bryant of course is the number one priority for Dallas as reflected by his tag. But Harris got a surprisingly good rating, showing up on the list ahead of names like Jacoby Jones and Miles Austin. The assumption that many have made that the Cowboys may be ready to move on from him might be a bit premature.
2. Doug Free (re-signed)
8. Jermey Parnell
This shows that the Cowboys were probably quite wise in making Free the number three priority on the team after Bryant and Murray. For Parnell, this is very good news for his future, especially since four of the names ahead of him have already been re-signed, making him the fourth most valuable OT left. Given the value of tackles in the league, he will likely be paid quite nicely somewhere else, possibly in Washington where Bill Callahan may be pushing to get him. And he may bring a compensatory pick for Dallas next year.
16. George Selvie
24. Anthony Spencer
This is a major disagreement with NFL.com, and also might be different than the Cowboys value the two. It will be interesting to see what Dallas does about the pair, or if it does not decide to try to keep either.
Interior defensive linemen
8. Henry Melton
39. Nick Hayden
Again, Melton has a surprisingly strong showing here. You really wonder if his agent is hearing any offers for him. Meanwhile, Hayden continues to be the Rodney Dangerfield of the Cowboys, coming in next to last on this list. If the Cowboys want him back, he should be cheap.
4. Rolando McClain
It looks more and more like McClain may be expensive to keep, which leads you to wonder if Dallas may make the decision to move on from him at least partly due to financial concerns with Sean Lee due back from injury.
4-3 Outside Linebackers
4. Justin Durant
6. Bruce Carter
The list is fairly short, with only 16 total names, but it raises a concern that Dallas may have made a mistake if, as some reports indicated, they were close to a deal with Durant and backed off. There is still time to get a deal done with him, but the price may be getting pushed up now that the legal tampering has started. Carter is also higher than you might have expected, and given the inconsistency of his play since being drafted, he may get paid elsewhere.
23. Sterling Moore
This is not a high ranking (there are 36 names on this list). It falls in line with the calculated risk that the Cowboys have taken in letting him become an unrestricted free agent by not tendering him as a restricted free agent. Their hope that they can pursue him for less money than the tender has a decent chance of paying off.
27. C.J. Spillman
If Dallas wants to keep the special teams specialist and backup safety, they probably can.
Top restricted free agents
17. Lance Dunbar (original pick tender)
27. Cole Beasley (re-signed to four year deal)
29. Chris Jones (original pick tender)
I think Beasley was very undervalued on this list, and a very intelligent pick-up by the Cowboys.
This hopefully gives some sense of the competition the Cowboys will face in trying to sign whichever of their free agents they want to retain. As an article at the SBN flagship blog states, the best free agent moves are the ones where the team keeps its own. It also makes an observation that should make all Dallas fans feel pretty good.
Re-signing Doug Free was a smart move for the Cowboys. The Cowboys are making smart decisions in free agency now ... what kind of world are we living in?
The answer, we hope, is a very good one indeed.