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Dallas Cowboys 2016 Free Agency: Recapping The Strategy Up To This Point

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There is still a lot of work to do, and there are ramifications for the draft.

Free agency has heated up in Dallas.
Free agency has heated up in Dallas.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Things are beginning to shape up for the Dallas Cowboys in free agency, but there is still a ways to go. They have only signed one outside free agent at the time this is being written, DT Cedric Thornton. But they have also re-signed six of their own, LB Rolando McClain, LB Kyle Wilber, CB Josh Thomas, OT Charles Brown, CB Morris Claiborne, and now TE James Hanna. This is consistent with the philosophy they have lived by the past few years, where they put a lot of value on players they know well.

So what is next? Well, no one at Valley Ranch cares, but here are some thoughts.

One name among Dallas' own free agents that has not seen any action so far is Jack Crawford. The Cowboys obviously still need to work on their pass rush, and he would be a good piece that would fall in line with the Wilber re-signing. He is a solid piece who is more of a role player, but who can make a contribution. Hopefully he is coming back to the Cowboys soon (he certainly seems to hope so - he retweets every tweet supporting the idea). Pass rush is a continuing concern, and with word that Robert Ayers has signed with the Buccaneers, there is little help to be found in free agency. Crawford would at least fill a hole, and may be more than just that.

Lance Dunbar is making a visit to another team, and he would create additional needs for the Cowboys he is lost. It would open up the possibility for them to look for another change of pace back at some point, unless they should somehow wind up taking Ezekiel Elliott. Based on everything so far, including his pro day at Ohio State, he can do it all.

The Hanna re-signing is pretty big. With Gavin Escobar coming off injury and Geoff Swaim very much an unproven quantity, the Cowboys really needed him to back up Jason Witten as well as provide his strong blocking presence in the run game. It is a very good retention, and maybe the Cowboys won't spend much draft capital on another tight end this year.

The Claiborne re-signing keeps the question of what will happen with Brandon Carr open. It may also be a reaction to the team not reaching a deal with Nolan Carroll during his visit. However, if they do keep Carr as well, the team is at least not desperate for corner help, since Orlando Scandirck is coming back from injury. Also, as has been mentioned here at BTB earlier, the Cowboys could offer Carr a small (say $2-3 million) amount of new money to extend his contract a year and lower his cap hit, although that is purely speculation.  If they do keep him, however that worked out, it definitely makes the idea of drafting Jalen Ramsey to pair with Byron Jones at safety even more tasty.

The loss of Mackenzy Bernadeau to the Jaguars was not unexpected. Anticipation of this probably drove the second-round tender placed on Ron Leary in an attempt to make him too expensive for another team to go after. It does leave a question of what to do for a backup center. One name that is probably on a lot of minds is Nick Martin, younger brother of Pro Bowler Zack Martin. Even though he is seen as more of a Zack Lite, he might be a valuable depth addition, although he would likely cost one of the team's fourth-round selections. If he is too pricey, or taken by someone else before Dallas can get to him, this might be a good place to use one of the four sixth-round picks the team now has with the awarding of the compensatory picks. A couple of names that may be of interest there are Michigan's Graham Glasgow and Mike Matthews from Texas A&M. According to Drafttek, they would be in the right range.

Matt Moore left Dallas without a deal as well, which leaves Kellen Moore as the only option at the moment for a backup quarterback. Given the dismal state of the pool of talent there, this is going to be something to watch (and don't even bring up Johnny Manziel, or you get a wedgie). Late news is that the Colts, who Matt Moore was going to visit, have signed another QB, so the story may not be over there just yet.

It does seem very clear that the price pressure has reduced to the point where the Cowboys are now comfortable closing some deals, as the flurry of activity on Friday showed. A lot of holes are now filled.

If there is a real disappointment so far, it is that the Cowboys have not found defensive end help. The prices got high (ridiculously so in some cases) and Dallas was not going to get into bidding wars. It remains to be seen if they can find someone, but that may be the biggest worry. However, the team needs to avoid reaching in the draft, which like the free agent pool this year, is shallow at the position. It looks like the best we will see will be a body or two to fill the hole, with a prospect maybe added in the draft. Although Thornton looks like a serious upgrade in the interior of the line (as well as marking the likely end of Nick Hayden in Dallas), he is primarily a run-stuffer. Rod Marinelli may have to work some magic, and that is not a dependable thing to rely upon. But there is also word that Chris Long is really coming for a visit, and one report has it that it was at his request. There may be a ray of hope.

Overall, the Cowboys have done well outside DE and QB, and it is still early. Hopefully more useful pieces are still coming.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB