The bad news is piling up. Greg Hardy wasn't the answer for Dallas and probably won't be re-signed. Dallas had hoped that he would be a huge key in a reinvigorated pass rush for the team. Didn't happen. Randy Gregory looked like he could become a force quickly, but a high-ankle sprain sidelined his season and he never got back into the groove. Then he was hit with a four-game suspension in 2016 for failing multiple drug tests. DeMarcus Lawrence turned out to be a bright spot with eight sacks and a growing feel for the position. But offseason back surgery turned out to be worse than expected so his health is a concern.
"He did something that was obviously a lot worse than what he was having. We were somewhat surprised that it was what it turned out to be," executive vice president Stephen Jones said of Lawrence's surgery. "We thought it might be something a little less significant, but it's nothing that we have concerns about going forward."
On top of that, the Cowboys have the fourth-overall pick in the draft, but this is a year where they may not have a clear-cut pass-rushing demon to pick depending on how you view Joey Bosa and DeForest Buckner. If Dallas feels like either of those players do not fit the bill of what they're looking for, then they will have to turn to free agency. Even if they draft a defensive end in the high rounds, they will likely have to dip into the free agent pool.
But over the last few years the Cowboys have become budget-buyers in free agency. Long gone are their high-spending ways, they are still smarting from their last big-ticker buy, Brandon Carr. But to find someone to make a real difference in free agency, they might have to spend some cash.
Jones said "it's yet to be determined" if there is enough talent in free agency and the draft to sufficiently upgrade what is arguably the Cowboys' biggest need.
"We've just got to do everything we can," Jones said. "Obviously we tried hard last year. That will continue to be a focus. At the end of the day, that's a big part of a successful football team, getting pressure on the passer. We've got some good players that can do it. We just need a couple more to go with [DeMarcus] Lawrence and [Tyrone] Crawford and those guys."
When asked specifically about spending cash on a free agent pass rusher, Jones was not shutting the door.
"You never say never," Jones said. "You never know what player is going to be out there and how we feel about them. Obviously we've slowed down our spending in free agency. I think Brandon [Carr has] been a solid player, but at the end of the day, I've always thought that that's what you end up doing in free agency, paying solid players like they're All-Pro players. That's the negative about the good ones in free agency, you tend to overpay because you're competing. It's a tough deal."
Dallas needs to go ahead and take the chance. They need to get involved with some of the top names like Olivier Vernon, Malik Jackson or Bruce Irvin.