The Dallas Cowboys look to enter the 2016 offseason with quite a bit of cap space and could have a bunch more with a few swipes of the pen. The NFL salary cap for this upcoming season will be well over the $150 million mark and with the Cowboys carrying over $4.5 million from 2015, they stand at $13.74 million in space. However, that's before they make any decisions that could give them more cap space. Tyron Smith, Tyrone Crawford, and Dez Bryant could all be candidates for a restructuring that would add more money to the pot.
They could also come to a decision on Brandon Carr, who is in the last year of his deal. If they cut him, they would create almost $7 million in space right away. They could gain $9.1 million by designating him a post-June 1 cut, but that would incur a $2.7 million in dead money on the 2017 cap. Then again, if they cut Carr, they must find a replacement for him. Morris Claiborne is also set to hit the open market and could be looking for fresh scenery. All in all, the Cowboys have a lot of decisions looming, but they won't be without the resources to handle anything that should come their way. The Cowboys can be as big a player in free agency as they want to be though it's unlikely they will overpay unless given good reason to. Jerry Jones gave this quote last year at the Scouting Combine:
"Overpaying free-agent wise has not borne out," Jones said at the time. "Not just for us, but around the league in general. When you go out and overpay in free agency, those usually don’t have good endings."
There are certainly many statistics out there that point to Jones being absolutely correct. In fact, since handing out a $50 million dollar deal to Carr, the Cowboys have shied away from that type of spending. It doesn't mean they wouldn't pony up the dough, should the right player present themselves. The Cowboys could likely fill their roster with one key signing and a lot of depth or role players sprinkled in. If that is to be the case, might I suggest:
CB Trumaine Johnson (26), 6'2, 208 pounds
The Los Angeles Rams will have a big decision to make this offseason because both of their corners Johnson and Janoris Jenkins are unrestricted free agents this offseason. Now, this could all be for nothing as they could end up re-signing one and franchising the other but we will see. For the sake of this column, Johnson could be a tremendous upgrade over what the Cowboys currently have. Orlando Scandrick is on the mend and the Cowboys could end up re-signing Morris Claiborne if he decides to stick around. However, Trumaine Johnson was very good in 2015. He racked up seven interceptions and left quarterbacks with a measly 55.3 passer rating. He also had 71 tackles and five pass deflections with only giving up one touchdown.
The Cowboys have a serious problem at cornerback and it really makes zero sense to keep Brandon Carr around unless he took a significant reduction in salary. They haven't got much out of him since his first season and he's had zero interceptions in two seasons now. The money that you save in releasing him could be used to get a better addition that is going to make plays for this football team. Dallas will have to address the position in both free agency and the draft. They could decide to take a Jalen Ramsey in the first round, but Johnson is intriguing. He has been in the league four years less than Carr and has already eclipsed his career interceptions. The contract that you would have to give Johnson would probably be big money, but his ability to play zone and man could warrant the payday. Somebody took a stab at it on Twitter and it might be just right to lure him to Dallas:
If I'm running the Cowboys I release Carr saving $6.4m in 16 and $10m in 17 and I go after Tru Johnson with this... pic.twitter.com/xmBv2PvpYd— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) January 3, 2016
The next item of business will be at quarterback. Regardless if the Cowboys draft one high or not, they will need a veteran presence too. Matt Cassel is not the likely candidate and we sure hope that Johnny Manziel goes elsewhere too. The other name that keeps getting linked to Dallas is Robert Griffin III, but with new coaching hires elsewhere, he may just get an opportunity to start somewhere. For this let's assume that he's gone for a better opportunity with another club.
QB Colt McCoy (29), 6'1, 215 pounds
McCoy doesn't get much talk but Bob Sturm gave him a quick look the other day and it sounds like he's a capable and intelligent passer. Now, the majority believe that Jay Gruden really likes him and could likely bring him back to Washington to serve as Kirk Cousins backup. Colt is intriguing because we have seen that he's a smart player that knows his role and has had success as a starter when called upon. Sturm calls him 'a more capable Kellen Moore' and I agree with those sentiments. This is more of trying to find a solid option in a free agency class that doesn't look to appealing. We have seen with most cases in the NFL that backup quarterbacks are pretty far off from the top tier guys in the position. McCoy is certainly a fan favorite of a lot of folks as is Johnny Manziel and RGIII, but he just may be the smartest option available.
As previously discussed in my last column on defensive linemen, if Dallas decides to let Greg Hardy walk, it will leave a huge hole on the defensive line. Though Hardy only had six sacks, he was coming off a long hiatus from football. If Hardy is inexpensive, there is still a scenario where he finds his way back to the Cowboys. However, here is a re-tread from last year that might be a less expensive option.
DE Adrian Clayborn (27), 6'3, 281 pounds
Last offseason, Clayborn signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons and didn't have a terrible year. He received positive grades from PFF, but only managed to get three sacks. Still, he hit the quarterback 15 times and had 26 quarterback hurries, while getting positive marks in both run and pass defense. As a former first-round pick, Clayborn could do well in a system like Rod Marinelli's. He's been described as having a very high motor and willingness to give constant effort. Dallas is likely to keep addressing their defensive line in the draft but bringing in a guy with upside like Clayborn could help kick-start them for 2016. They could also bring back Jeremy Mincey as a bridge player to keep the rotation going.
RB Lamar Miller (24), 5'11, 225 pounds
Miller is another candidate who may actually be out of their price range but we know via Bryan Broaddus that they like him a lot. Miller has shown to be very good in a zone blocking scheme like the Cowboys and it seems like things are on the outs in Miami for him. Miller finished 2015 with 872 yards and a 4.5 average but had eight rushing touchdowns. It seems as though a lot of folks out there want to link Matt Forte to the Cowboys but Miller is by far the better option with Forte being 30 years old. Miami may have some interest in re-signing him but they seem to be ready to see what Jay Ajayi is all about. If the Cowboys could present Miller with a contract similar to what they offered DeMarco Murray, he may just bite. If that were the case, the Cowboys would be thrilled to go into the draft with Darren McFadden and Miller as their one-two punch. That would also alleviate the pressure to go for one early in the draft.
As the offseason rolls along, we will certainly be looking in-depth at a lot of free agent possibilities but it's still so early to predict much of anything. These are just a few possible acquisitions to consider but as always we look forward to the discussion in the comments.