As the start of the NFL free agency period on March 9 grows near, we here at Blogging The Boys are trying our best to keep you up to date on all the possibilities and permutations for the Dallas Cowboys. But we do have a focus on the Star, and there are 31 other teams that also are trying to figure out who to go after and who to part with. Here are some things of interest that you might want to keep in mind while you are forming your own opinions about what the Cowboys should do.
As has been mentioned several times, the Cowboys could easily create nearly $50 million in cap space to use without having to restructure Tony Romo once more. They have over $12 million in cap space for 2016 now, and have some built-in contract triggers that will almost certainly be used to double that, at a minimum. That looks pretty healthy and the brain trust of the team maintains that they will be able to do whatever they deem necessary in free agency.
But there are a lot of teams in the league with a lot more cap space than that. According to Over the Cap, there are seven teams that already have over $49 million in space without doing anything further. The Jaguars have a staggering $84 million and change to play with. And all of those other teams with gobs of space (that they have to use most of at some point under the CBA) are coming off of disappointing years. Many of them, such as the Raiders, Browns, and Buccaneers, are teams that have a reputation for continuing ineptitude in building successful rosters. There is a strong correlation between bad management, free-spending ways in free agency, and losing. In other words, these are teams that tend to throw money around for players that are no longer seen as valuable or good fits by their previous employers. This has to be considered when looking for good targets for the Cowboys to go after. Any player they see as worth acquiring will likely have multiple other suitors, and many if not most of those other teams will have even more money to put on the table than the Cowboys. This is one of the reasons why Dallas has followed the strategy of sitting out the first few days when the big contracts are done, then going into the market when a lot of that other money has already been committed to face less competition. It means they miss out on the big names at times, but it also is a much more viable long-term strategy. Free agents are just not as effective a way to build your roster as the draft, and with the favorable position the Cowboys have this year, sticking to their strategy is even more wise.
Meanwhile, the rumors about various big names are flying fast and furious. Here are some that have varying degrees of impact on how the Cowboys might approach the next few weeks.
Lamar Miller is one of the hottest names being discussed as a target for the Cowboys. There is even a Twitter campaign trying to recruit him by mentioning the chance to run behind the Dallas offensive line and having a legitimate franchise quarterback and star receiver to compliment him. But his old team has reportedly put an offer amounting to about $5 million a year on him. That is the starting point for his services, and it looks like he could wind up with a lot more than that, even with the reduced valuation of the running back position. Some may think he might be willing to take a similar offer from a team he really wants to play for, but it is absolutely certain his agent is not on board with that idea. The Cowboys were unwilling to go beyond $6 million a year to retain the services of the defending rushing champion last year. Although Miller is much younger than DeMarco Murray was, it is doubtful that Dallas would enter into any real bidding war for his services.
Doug Martin is not seen as nearly as good a fit for Dallas, partly because he is 27, on the cusp of the age when production falls off for NFL running backs. But he is seen as one of the best free agents prospects at the position. Will there be some inflation of the deals being offered to running backs in general? It might happen, which could filter down for the Cowboys if they seek to bolster the backfield in free agency, which is likely given the paucity of runners currently under contract.
Mario Williams is another player that Cowboys fans are really interested in with the crying need to find more pass rushers. Since Williams was released by the Bills, he is available to be signed immediately. It seems a bit odd for the Dolphins to be the first team to have him in, because they are already facing some serious cap issues. They currently are over $4 million dollars in the hole in cap space, which they must resolve before the start of the new league year on March 9. They have already placed a transition tag on Olivier Vernon, who was also seen as a player the Cowboys could have pursued. He would represent a $12.7 million cap hit. And Miami also has huge cap numbers for Ndamukong Suh ($28.6 million) and Cameron Wake ($9.8 million). It is hard to imagine a team tying that much money up in its front four but that is what bad management can do to you. It might mean that Wake could go on the market, since he could save them $8.4 million if cut.
(UPDATE: It was reported late Saturday that the Dolphins had restructured Suh's contract and that of Koa Misi as well as releasing Greg Jennings, creating $23.8 million in cap space.)
Another thing the Cowboys really need to be looking for is a backup quarterback. The talent pool is rather shallow there, and quarterbacks are always expensive even as backups. Brock Osweiler is the cream of the crop this year, and indications are that he is not going to take the deal on the table from the Broncos. As his price climbs, and it almost certainly will, it will put upwards pressure on the entire QB market.
This may just be more of the fog of free agency. After all, it is based on the same rumor that had the Cowboys interested in Nick Foles as well. However, it also may indicate that the 'Fins are looking to move on from Matt Moore, who might be of interest to Dallas, where he started his NFL career as a UDFA in 2007.
Andrew Sendejo is another player who passed through Valley Ranch early in his career. He is reported to have gotten a four-year, $16 million dollar deal, although there is no word yet on guaranteed money. What is important is that he is something of a journeyman safety who contributes more on special teams. It is just another sign that the prices are going to be high for all positions.
These are just some of the many threads that will make up the fabric of free agency. Some directly affect what the Cowboys can do, while others are just indicators of how the market will shape up. But the more you know, the more you can understand.