For years, June 1 was an important date for NFL teams, because after June 1, unrestricted free agents signed by other teams didn't count against a team's compensatory draft-pick formula. Starting in 2015, that date has been moveed from June 1 to May 12, according to the league office.
The move was made to incentivize teams to sign veteran free agents shortly after the NFL draft instead of waiting until shortly before camp to sign veterans, as they had done in the past. Those veterans would then be able to participate in a team's OTAs and offseason program instead of sitting on their couch and waiting for a call in July.
For the Cowboys, the date is significant because they could now sign additional free agents that won't count against their compensatory draft picks in 2016.
In principle, compensatory draft picks are awarded to teams losing more or better compensatory free agents than they acquire. The number of comp picks a team receives equals the net loss of compensatory free agents up to a maximum of four per team. Importantly, not every free agent lost or acquired automatically qualifies as a compensatory free agent.
Players who do not qualify as compensatory free agents: players who have been cut (e.g. CB Corey White, who was cut by the Saints and picked up by the Cowboys), restricted or exclusive rights free agents that were not tendered (CB Sterling Moore), players whose contract value is below about $1 million per year (e.g. 2016 acquisition LB Keith Rivers), and players signed after May 12 won’t impact the number of comp picks for their former or new team.
The Cowboys are expected to receive three to four comp picks in 2016 to compensate for their free agency losses in 2015. Predicting the exact numbers this far out can be tricky, because there are a number of additional provisions on the comp pick calculation that could have an impact on thed final number. For example, a player who is released by his new team before about Week 10 doesn't count as a compensatory free agent. Performance-based pay may or Not-Likely-To-Be-Earned bonuses may increase a player's contract value after the season. Even postseason honors can figure into the allocation of compensatory draft picks.
As it stands right now, the Cowboys lost at least six compensatory free agents (DeMarco Murray, Jermey Parnell, Bruce Carter, Henry Melton, Justin Durant, George Selvie) and possibly a seventh (Anthony Spencer) while only signing four compensatory free agents (Greg Hardy, Andrew Gachkar, Jasper Brinkley, Darren McFadden).
Everybody they bring in from this point forward won't count as a compensatory free agent.
The Cowboys currently are at the NFL roster limit of 90 players, but the Cowboys have repeatedly emphasized that roster building is a year-round activity. Except that there isn't all that much quality available at this time of year. The Cowboys got lucky two years ago with George Selvie (signed Jul 26, 2013) and last year when they traded for Rolando McClain, but if you review last year's 14 post June 1 signings, you understand just how barren the landscape can be at this time of year:
- Jun 10: Dartwan Bush (waived Aug 30)
- Jun 27: Uche Nwaneri (waived Aug 30)
- Jul 21: Dallas Walker (waived Aug 14)
- Jul 21: Dezmon Briscoe (waived Aug 30)
- Aug 2: Kenneth Boatright (waived Aug 30)
- Aug 2: Adawale Ojomo (waived Aug 26)
- Aug 4: Wayne Tribue (waived Aug 26)
- Aug 5 Korey Lindey (waived Aug 14)
- Aug 5: Johnny Thomas (waived Aug 26)
- Aug 9: D.J. Adams (waived Aug 30)
- Aug 12: Stephen Goodin (waived Aug 30)
- Aug 12: Tom Hornsey (waived Aug 26)
- Aug 14: Zach Minter (waived Aug 30)
- Aug 14: Asa Watson (waived Aug 30)
The Cowboys still have needs at running back, they'll keep their eyes peeled for a kick and punt returner, and will likely continue to look for bargains all over the roster, but the list of remaining veterans is slim pickings indeed.
Unless you have a guy you think the Cowboys must abolutely, positively sign. Right now.