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Cowboys News & Notes: Franchise Tags Shaping Free Agency Landscape; Could Cowboys Take A Running Back At 4?

It was the news from around the league that was most important.

Is Mario Williams now the top free agent defensive end?
Is Mario Williams now the top free agent defensive end?
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

This was one day where much of the important news for the Dallas Cowboys actually had to do with what was happening with other teams. It was the deadline for putting franchise and transition tags on players. This not only starting setting the prices for free agency, it also included some players that many fans wanted to see the Cowboys pick up.

Franchise tag tracker: Who's been tagged? -

Olivier Vernon, Trumaine Johnson, and to a lesser extent Eric Berry have all been mentioned as ;players that many would have loved to see come to Dallas. That's three of the ten total players tagged, which may say more about fans wanting to look for premium players than anything.

Dallas Cowboys: Cowboys might be outpriced on Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, but Mario Williams could be discussed | SportsDay

Although some have mentioned that the transition tag on Vernon means that the Cowboys could still make an offer, the high price plus the fact the Dolphins would have a week to match it mean that he is almost certainly off the table for Dallas.

Miami's Olivier Vernon was arguably the most attractive defensive end poised to hit the open market. Vernon is young (25), has recorded 25.5 sacks over his last three seasons and hasn't missed a game in his four-year NFL career.

But just hours before Tuesday's deadline, the Dolphins hit Vernon with the transition tag of $12.734 million. Other clubs can still come in and sign Vernon, but Miami will have seven days to match. It will clearly take a long-term contract with a substantial guarantee for any club to pry Vernon away from the Dolphins.

And as was covered in the article, the Bills released Mario Williams, who will now certainly get a look from the Cowboys. But he is also going to be on the radar for every other team needing pass rushers.

Mailbag: Affordable DE Options In Free Agency? Trading For Garoppolo? | Dallas Cowboys

Although there are some other names out there, David Helman also thinks that Williams is someone the team needs to consider.

My ideal scenario would be an affordable deal for Mario Williams, who has excelled in a 4-3 scheme.

DallasCowboys free-agent watch: Jack Crawford could get more elsewhere - Dallas Cowboys Blog- ESPN

Jack Crawford is one of the Cowboys' own free agents that they probably would like to re-sign, but he illustrates the problem that so many forget: There are 32 teams all looking at every free agent, and if said free agent is any good at all, several teams could make offers.

This will come down solely to price. With so much money available in free agency, he could get out of range of what the Cowboys want to pay him. The Cowboys aren't the only team looking for pass-rush help. So are 31 other teams. Crawford has some 3-4 experience as well, so his market could open up to more teams.

NFL salary cap officially set at $155.27 million in 2016 -

Just in case you missed it, the salary cap has been formally announced. It is an increase of about $12 million from last year. And a lot of that money is going to be thrown at free agents - although not necessarily by Dallas.

Phillips: Cowboys’ Rep As Carefree Free Agency Spenders Is Overrated | Dallas Cowboys

Everyone knows how Jerry Jones loves to go get the big name, big dollar free agent, right? Except that is largely a myth, based on a few scattered deals. The last really big contract handed out was to Brandon Carr, and we all know there is a bit of buyer's remorse there. Dallas does hand out some big contracts - but mostly to players it drafted that have proven themselves.

The philosophy isn't complicated. The Cowboys try to plug as many holes as possible so they enter the draft with as few "must-haves" as possible. The big-money deals should be reserved for the draft picks that become leaders on the football team: the Smiths and the Crawfords and the Bryants and the Lees. April's when you build the team's foundation, not March.

FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS: Innovative Statistics, Intelligent Analysis | 2015 Adjusted Games Lost

As we are all aware, the Cowboys are coming off a season where they had one of the healthiest rosters in the NFL.

Go back and read that again. It is not a misprint or typo. Using a metric called Adjusted Games Lost (AGL), the stats guys at Football Outsiders determined that Dallas had the fifth FEWEST games lost to injury in 2015. They were simply one of the healthiest rosters in the league.

And this points out one of the problems with statistic-based metrics: You have to understand the context, and realize that some things carry more weight than others. FO acknowledges this.

Obviously, AGL is about totals rather than measuring the quality of the specific players injured. Dallas had a pretty good AGL count this year, but it was really a lost year for the Cowboys, and we could have called it after Week 2. By then, the Cowboys basically lost Tony Romo (Week 2 collarbone injury), Dez Bryant (Week 1 foot injury) and Orlando Scandrick (preseason torn ACL) for the year. Mostly everyone else stayed healthy, but you would trade a lot of those parts to keep your franchise quarterback, dominant wideout and best defensive back healthy all year. This is why the correlation between AGL and team performance is not quite as strong as you might expect, because teams can still get by as long as certain players are not accumulating the AGL.

The Shrinking Shelf Life of NFL Players - WSJ

The CBA was supposed to get more money for the players, but it is having very mixed results. While star players are able to command high dollars as free agents, the journeymen veterans are seeing teams replace them more and more with players on their rookie contracts, who are so much cheaper.

According to data from, NFL careers are shrinking at an unprecedented rate. From 2008 to 2014, the average NFL career dropped in length by about two and a half years.

The decrease in career lengths is a historical abnormality. From 1991 to about 2008, career lengths were mostly consistent. But since 2008, players have been exiting the league earlier.


Of course, the draft is still a big topic, and will be for the next eight weeks or so.

Would a runner make sense for the Dallas Cowboys at No. 4? - Dallas Cowboys Blog- ESPN

This is something that has also been hotly debated in social media. There are some who are adamant that you do not take a running back at the top of the draft because the position is just not that valuable. However, there are two counter arguments. First, running backs are able to transition from college to the NFL better than almost any other position. Secondly, an argument can be made that Ezekiel Elliott is one of the top two or three players in the draft - period. Only Jalen Ramsey is considered to be clearly ahead of him. There are many who rate him as a more sure-fire prospect than Myles Jack, Joey Bosa, or any of the available quarterbacks. If Ramsey is gone, could Elliott make sense for Dallas?

"I think you look at backs a little different," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "Most of the backs that you pick are ready to come in and play right now, unless there is an injury issue like Gurley. But he was still able to come in and be pretty productive even though he missed the first four to six games, whatever that was."

One more thing to consider. It is impossible to know something like this, but if you did know that Elliott was going to have an Adrian Peterson kind of career, how would you value him?

Behind Closed Doors at the NFL Combine | The MMQB with Peter King

Just to wrap things up, this is an informative take on what really goes on during at least one team's interview with a prospect. If you have ever been curious, it is worth your time to absorb.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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