It's never the best idea to go into free agency willing to spend big money. Usually, the impulse buyer comes back with a lot of regrets. For free agents themselves, their best deal sometimes comes from their respective club. However, free agency is a platform to begin assembling a solid product for Sundays. In the past few years, that's the approach the Dallas Cowboys have taken. They are still willing to spend money but only on their terms, which has made their salary cap outlook about as healthy as it can be.
This season, the Cowboys will likely have to get a bit more creative with how they are going to fill holes on their roster. As my new colleague Ryan Ratty outlined in his last post; free agency is going to have some options that the draft may not provide. The draft is the best tool in building a roster but it's certainly not the only tool. Free agency is still a very good thing for teams that need more proven production and experience. The Cowboys can't just add a bunch of rookies and think that's going to get them over the hump. As Mickey Spagnola has pointed out each offseason, you have to bring in a guy or two that gets the locker room going.
Dallas tried that with Greg Hardy this past offseason, we're not truly certain that played out like they wanted. Sure, guys saw his abilities, but extracurriculars often got in the way. That plus inconsistent play has made it uncertain if the Cowboys plan to re-sign him or look elsewhere. Darren McFadden did a strong job at running back this season by surpassing the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his now eight-year career. Despite his performance, the Cowboys are by no means set at running back. Then you have the conundrum at cornerback with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys declined Mo's fifth-year option and Carr has a fat contract that he's not producing enough to retain.
Needless to say, the Dallas Cowboys have their hands full and still have to keep extensions for Travis Frederick and Zack Martin on their minds. Overthecap.com has laid out some free agency previews on what the market may look like. It seems with a few touches of Stephen Jones' magic wand and Jerry's negotiating power, they may be able to come out with a few not-so-harmful contracts. Let's look at the free agency wish list:
RB Lamar Miller, 24 years old
OTC believed that Miller would have had a bigger market had he finished in the 1,000-yard mark. However, due to differences with interim coach Dan Campbell and increased usage of Jay Ajayi, it's looking more and more like Miller will test free agency. The Cowboys are a great spot for any running back but probably especially for Miller. He's cut from the same cloth as DeMarco Murray, a one-cut runner with the potential to carry the workload. That's the caveat though, people believe he's a 60-65% player but have yet to see it. OTC doesn't see a situation where Miller gets something like Murray got. That could be a perfect situation lining up for Dallas to make a play. Miller finished the year with 872 yards on 194 attempts for a 4.5 average and eight touchdowns. He also added 397 yards on 47 receptions for two more scores.
OTC Contract Offer: 5 years, $25-27 million
DE Olivier Vernon, 25 years old
Re-signing Greg Hardy is an option, but is his play worth the damage in the locker room? That's the question they will be pondering this offseason. The Cowboys only got three more sacks (31) than in 2014 when their pass rush was non-existent. Hardy got six sacks of his own but three came in weeks five and six, he only manage three more over the next nine weeks. That's hardly close to what the Cowboys wanted out of an elite pass rusher. At the same time, Hardy was absent for the year prior.
Vernon is a great option as a pass rusher with a lot of upside. He finished the year with ten sacks, 30 QB hits, and 48 tackles. The draft has been the bread and butter for edge guys though rookies don't tend to light it up at first. With the inconsistent production of Vernon over his short career, OTC believes he will be selling his youth. That's something worth buying for the Cowboys, who may just want to rid themselves of the Hardy hangover.
OTC Contract Offer: 4 years, $20-24 million
CB Trumaine Johnson, 26 years old
I've long been on the cut Brandon Carr and save close to $7 million train. I'm also hopping along the let Morris Claiborne follow him out the door train. With that said, that still leaves a giant hole at cornerback. The Los Angeles Rams have a decision to make as both of their starting corners are set to hit the free market and both will likely get paid decently. Johnson had a career-high seven interceptions this season but Janoris Jenkins is the higher draft collateral and is younger, too. A few articles back, I may have misled some of you after I saw some numbers that suggested Johnson is a $60 million man. OTC doesn't agree with me though their article was published in mid-December, it still holds some weight. In fact, they believe that there is some injury (concussion concerns) with Trumaine and consistency issues. He seemed to have a wonderful season, but at times had his share of struggles. PFF has Johnson as the 16th ranked cornerback with three free agent corners ahead of him and his counterpart Jenkins coming up the rear. If that's the case, this is the one position where I would consider spending some valuable resources. That means via free agency and the draft. The Cowboys' secondary is just not good enough and they don't get turnovers. Though the figures OTC came up with could certainly change, Johnson is their candidate for a prove me deal. Corners get paid, though, that's a fact. There just seems to be a lot of people skeptic of his consistency level.
OTC Contract Offer: 4 years, $22-24.5 million
QB Chase Daniel, 29 years old
We all know that the Cowboys must address their backup quarterback situation this offseason. Whether they decide to take a quarterback high in the draft doesn't change that they need veteran help as well. Though Kellen Moore is a favorite of Scott Linehan's, he can't make all the throws of an NFL quarterback. The Cowboys need a quality veteran that can serve the purpose should they ever need the help. The market this season doesn't look that promising in what could be out there. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Sam Bradford are the big names, but both are candidates for re-signing with their respective clubs. Colt McCoy has been on my radar, but I don't think you see him leave Washington with RGIII on the outs. Daniel has some upside, but in six years, he's only thrown 77 passes in live action. Still, he's a capable passer and has played well in preseason. Daniel could be a candidate to stay in Kansas City but could also wind up with Doug Pederson in Philadelphia. Either way, if he's available and knowing the Cowboys' need, he might be an inexpensive option.
OTC Contract Offer: 2 years, $6-7 Million
Notable Free Agents To Consider Re-Signing:
Jack Crawford, DE: 2 years, $7 million
Mackenzy Bernadeau, OG/C: 2 years, $6.5 million
Ronald Leary, OG: Restricted Tender (2nd round pick)
Rolando McClain, MLB: 1 year, $ 1.5 million, ladened with incentives