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Breaking Down The Cowboys' Free Agents: Are There Any "Must Keeps"?

The current crop of free agents in Dallas is full of players who may be expendable.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL offseason has some distinct phases. The two biggest are free agency and the draft, and free agency itself has two sub-components, the players teams can sign from outside and their own free agents that have to be evaluated as to whether the team wishes to re-sign or let go. Last year, the Dallas Cowboys had two of their own free agents that were important. They were not able to retain DeMarco Murray due to cost considerations, but were able to keep Dez Bryant, albeit at a very high cost. This year, there is no one to compare to Murray or Bryant. And every single one of their free agents is a candidate for moving on from. Here is the complete list as given by, with a brief take on why or why not the team should offer them a new deal.

Mackenzy Bernadeau. He is a capable backup for the entire interior of the line. But his price tag will likely go up if the team wishes to retain his services. He may also wish to go somewhere he can compete for a starting job. The team also has Ronald Leary for now, who can play as a guard but is not a proven backup at center. Bernadeau is a hard one to decide on. The team could go either way with him.

Charles Brown. Strictly a depth spot on the roster. He is highly unlikely to stick around.

Matt Cassel. Unless we are all reading things completely wrong, the Cassel era in Dallas has come and gone.

Morris Claiborne. Although he still has some injury issues, 2015 was unquestionably his best year. But his previous injury history has to be a big caution flag on just how big a deal he should be offered. With the team also having to make a decision on Brandon Carr, who is very pricey for his contributions, Claiborne may elect to test the free agent waters before he makes a decision on any offer from Dallas, and given the value of corners in the league, is likely to get a better deal elsewhere.

Tyler Clutts. We have all wondered why Jason Garrett insists on keeping a fullback. It seems like a wasted roster spot. Will they waste it again? Sadly, it is not out of the question.

Jack Crawford. He was a  key part of the defensive line rotation, but not a top producer. With so many other defensive linemen hitting free agency in Dallas, he may be offered a deal to keep the numbers up. And he shouldn't be too costly.

Lance Dunbar. He has had a very rough beginning to his career, with excellent starts being cut off by injury. His loss this season was more significant than was expected as he was the leading receiver when he went on injured reserve. His injury status may keep others away from him, making him affordable. But the question of whether he can ever stay healthy is a big one.

James Hanna. With the injury to Gavin Escobar and the relative lack of progress from Geoff Swaim, Hanna may actually be a fairly high priority to sign as the number two tight end. He is solid, not spectacular, but that makes him valuable behind Jason Witten.

Nick Hayden. He is seen as somewhat marginal in his talent, especially over at Pro Football Focus, but Rod Marinelli loves him. Hayden has been a reliable part of the defensive line for several years. He may just continue in that role.

Greg Hardy. The most divisive player for the Cowboys, and possibly in the entire league, Hardy was not as effective as most hoped he would - statistically. But it has been argued that his presence benefited the rest of the defensive line, especially DeMarcus Lawrence. He also appears to have divided the coaching staff, with head coach Jason Garrett noticeably lukewarm in his comments about him, while Rod Marinelli was talking earlier about how much he wants to see him back. How much would he cost to keep? Will there be a bidding war for him, or will the rest of the league shy away from the controversy surrounding him.? He is another case where the market will set his price tag, and the Cowboys will have to decide if that price is worth it or not - if Garrett does not veto bringing him back entirely.

Rolando McClain. The biggest argument against McClain is the way his performance on the field seemed very inconsistent. At times, he just looked a bit lost on the field, with missed assignments and tackles. Add in his well known habit of not being really motivated to practice hard, and it is a good bet he will be seeking employment elsewhere.

Danny McCray. Does his value as a special teams ace justify another contract? Probably not.

Jeremy Mincey. In terms of leadership and character, Mincey is definitely a keeper. But his production on the field fell off, and that is going to be the determining factor. Just judging from his own comments in social media, he is not terribly optimistic about staying in Dallas. Still, if the team does not elect to keep Hardy, it may be unwise to not try to work out a deal with Mincey, at least until they can see what the defensive line looks like in training camp.

Rodney Smith. Signed for depth late with Dez Bryant ailing, he is a very long shot.

Josh Thomas. Given the play of Terrance Mitchell and Deji Olatoye, it seems very doubtful he will get an offer.

Robert Turbin. Darren McFadden took over the lead back position, and there is a limited amount of data on Turbin's value. But the Cowboys don't have a lot of running backs around. He may just get a chance to come into camp to compete.

Casey Walker. This is probably dependent on how much he showed after he joined the team. He seemed to look capable at times. He may get offered a minimum deal.

Kyle Wilber. He may be involved in a numbers game. How many linebackers are the Cowboys comfortable on having on the roster going into the draft? Who do they think they might be able to get once they can sign other free agents? Wilber is a decent backup, but not someone you want to rely on to start.

This is a list that has several players who may be useful to keep on the roster, but not one that you can say the team absolutely has to have. Cost is likely going to drive many of the decisions, while it seems almost certain most of these players will not be staying in Dallas. Who do you believe might be worth hanging onto?

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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