Teams that spend big money in free agency tend to find themselves watching the playoffs from home. As Cowboys fans, we've seen this play out far too often in the past. The Cowboys have a different front office now, one that typically avoids the urge to spend big and instead prefers signing a few depth players and gearing up for the draft. In many ways, that approach has worked as the Cowboys have gotten quality production out of the players they've brought in on two-year deals recently. However, 4-12 is still 4-12, and the 2015 Cowboys had questions that go beyond the scope of quarterback injuries. What we learned from the 2015 Cowboys is that their depth was not all as impressive as it was thought to be. In fact, there are still a lot more holes that need to be filled this offseason.
The Cowboys' free agency plan this offseason should remain about the same as it's been in recent years, but with a few differences here and there. Trusting Will McClay has led to some really good additions, but now may be time to up the ante a bit. The salary cap is going to be well over $150 million, which gives the Cowboys some room to play a little. With that said, here is a three-point projection plan about what could get this team set up rather nicely as they try and get back to the playoffs in 2016.
Attempt One Or Two High Impact Signings
You can get high impact guys in free agency these days without breaking the bank. Much like the NBA, some players will sign one-year deals in hopes of hitting the market again the following year. However, high impact guys for the Cowboys does not mean re-signing Jack Crawford's or Jeremy Mincey's. Dallas should go after some guys with youth that can be significant upgrades to a position group. The Cowboys will have money to spend in the right areas should they choose to do so. They simply need to get better and you cannot do that without taking some chances via free agency. Simply resting on your laurels will usually get you similar results.
RB, Lamar Miller- At 24 years old, Miller has just barely tapped his potential in the NFL and he has quite the potential to tap into. Rumors of his desire to leave Miami coupled with their draft selection of Jay Ajayi point to a likely divorce. Miller carried the ball just under 200 times this season and had 872 yards with eight touchdowns. He also racked up another 397 yards in receptions too. Just about every back on the market would love to play for the Cowboys, at least that's what we've been hearing. Though Darren McFadden was solid this season, his age and history would suggest another 1,000-yard season is unlikely. Miller is a significant upgrade at a position of need and they could likely get him in the $5-6 million a year range, something similar to what they offered DeMarco Murray.
All the rumors out there about the Marshawn Lynch's and Matt Forte's of the world should fall on deaf ears. The best option for the Cowboys is a young, capable playmaker at running back and Miller is the real deal.
DE, Greg Hardy - Though it may be an unpopular opinion, the Cowboys should really consider re-signing Greg Hardy. He only got them half the sacks that he's capable of, but he had been out of the league for a year. His presence was immediately felt when he stepped onto the field. He was able to open up doors for guys like DeMarcus Lawrence to step through. If they decide that he's too much of a hassle, then that's understandable. However, they better have a pretty good plan in place to replace him. Randy Gregory wasn't ready to be a four-down starter last year and Jeremy Mincey's production fell off from leading the team in sacks to zeroing out. If Hardy isn't able to command big money on the open market, the Cowboys should take advantage of his misfortune. He's arguably the best pass rusher set to hit free agency, but might be untouchable to most teams. If Hardy walks, replacing him may be harder than many people think.
Cut Ties With Non-Producing Guys, Re-Sign Quality Depth Players
You know where this is heading, it's time to get rid of Brandon Carr and his giant cap figure. The Cowboys can save close to $7 million by cutting him. If they want more savings, they can get it by designating him a post-June 1 cut and save $9.2 million. However, if they decide to do so, it will incur a $2+million hit in dead money in 2017. They could also choose to extend him to a new deal that fits his production level, but it might just be time to find a better option. Though it would please me greatly to see Trumaine Johnson or Janoris Jenkins playing opposite of Orlando Scandrick, they might cost too much.
Losing two corners that started games for them in 2015 might be problematic, but that's reality in the NFL. Neither of these two guys has been much of anything for this team. Morris Claiborne had a decent season, but that was based on extremely low expectations. The Cowboys deserve better from their cornerbacks and this offseason offers up ample solutions to this conundrum. Whether they go after a smaller name like Brandon Boykin, draft a younger player that better fits their needs or go after a big fish; the Cowboys can fix the problem. They have issues at cornerback, and these two guys aren't part of the solution anymore.
He fits the mold of the two-year deals they like to hand out to bridge players. After not recording a single sack, despite playing far fewer snaps, Mincey is not the answer anymore. It's highly unlikely that Mincey will suddenly become more productive at 33 years old by season's close. He's a self-promoter who will likely get a chance somewhere else, but his ship has sailed away from Valley Ranch.
After these three, guys like Mackenzy Bernadeau, Jack Crawford, James Hanna and Kyle Wilber all join the re-signing discussion. Hanna has been a very integral part of their run-blocking scheme and is likely needed with the injury to Gavin Escobar. Crawford is a quality depth guy who has proven the ability to get to the quarterback. Kyle Wilber is a core special teamer with the ability to play multiple spots for Marinelli. Mackenzy Bernadeau may have takers elsewhere but having him as a guy who can play both center and guard is of great importance on gamedays.
Sign A Veteran Quarterback, Just Not The Ones We've Been Hearing About
The free agent market for quarterbacks this offseason is nothing to write home about. However, the Cowboys need to find a quality veteran who is capable of stepping in should they face similar bad luck again. Let's not kid ourselves, that guy is not on the roster right now. Sorry to any of those who believe in Kellen Moore, but he is just not.
Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, or Drew Stanton are all guys with a more proven track record. If Robert Griffin III was available, that would be another guy to consider, but he just may find a team that may start him. Of course, you would like to go with the younger guy of the other three, but any of these would be upgrades over what they have. McCoy is a guy to keep an eye on. Washington might want to keep him, if not, the Cowboys should gladly scoop him up. No, not because he's a Texas guy. I couldn't care less about that, instead, it is because he's intelligent, has poise and is a very capable passer. That's more than you could say for what they currently have on the roster.
Lots of decisions looming for the Cowboys. If they follow a formula of filling out the roster with quality depth signings and sprinkle in a few impact players, there is no reason that they won't be back in the thick of things soon enough.