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Cowboys 2016 Free Agent Philosophy: Positions Of Need

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Everyone keeps wanting Dallas to make a big free agent splash, but how has that worked out over the years?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There are some enticing names on the NFL free agent market at the moment. Despite a 4-12 season without Tony Romo, Dallas is viewed by most fans as being in win-now mode and is still the odds-on favorite to win their division this year. Despite a more cautious approach in recent seasons, Jerry Jones still shows a willingness to spend if it means putting the team over the top. Obviously, the team should be making a splash, with cap space a-plenty and names like Mario Williams, Charles Johnson, Eric Weddle, Matt Forte, Roddy White, and Antonio Gates floating around.

But should they? How has it worked out for them?

Look back at free agent splash signings and you'll see many disappointments.

Greg Hardy was a strong player. But he did not take the defense to the next level as he was paid to.

Brandon Carr has been a nice player, but fans have been trying to find ways to cut him for three years.

Kyle Orton was a good backup, but motivation became an issue and he and the team parted ways in poor rapport.

Adam Jones played decently, but not well enough to be brought back.

And then, of course, there was Terrell Owens, who was magnificent for a couple of seasons and then tore the team apart as he failed to cope with his own declining physical ability.

The big name free agent simply hasn't been a good bet. The reason is simple: if these guys were worth the money, their team wouldn't let them go. Hence the overriding theme of free agency in Dallas the last few years (despite the Carr and Hardy signings): plug holes in free agency, improve the team in the draft.

So where are the actual holes on this team? Let's take a stab.

Offense:

While the lack of a productive Dez Bryant showed that the team does not have a legitimate number one behind him, wide receiver isn't really much of a need for this team, with Terrance Williams being a capable second receiver, Brice Butler showing a lot of promise when healthy, and Cole Beasley manning the slot.

Running back is far from settled, but Darren McFadden proved a capable player last season and is back for a pittance of money. The team does seem to want Lance Dunbar back, but that still leaves room for one player who is capable of a lead role. They could address this in the draft (even in a later round), or target a free agent. Lamar Miller is a name being thrown around a lot, but I'd prefer the capable and likely much less expensive Alfred Morris.

The offensive line is pretty well settled at the moment.

Tight end could be a need, but the drafting of Geoff Swaim last year seems to indicate that the release of James Hanna was anticipated and, for all his unpopularity with fans, Gavin Escobar is still under contract.

Quarterback is the position of real need, with Kellen Moore and Jameil Showers currently the only competition to back up Tony Romo. The free agent market at quarterback, however, is less than inspiring, with perhaps the best options being 34-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrcik and 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck. The possibility of Robert Griffin III as a reclamation project is intriguing, but also a long-shot.

Defense

Unlike the detailed position discussion required by the offense, the concept of the hole in the lineup becomes very clear when you consider the defense. Dallas has one starting caliber defensive end able to start week one in DeMarcus Lawrence. Greg Hardy's imminent departure, Randy Gregory's suspension, and Jeremy Mincey's aging all take them out of the candidacy (and that's assuming Mincey is even re-signed). They need to get someone. Jason Pierre-Paul and Adrian Clayborn have been suggested by some. Other options could involve moving Lawrence to the weak side and picking up a 3-4 end like Malik Jackson, Kendall Reyes, or Jared Crick to play the strong side. Perhaps David Irving's promise as a hybrid end/tackle would let him move up to start at left defensive end as well, but it's not something I am ready to count on.

The other position of obvious need is cornerback. You can never have too many cornerbacks, or so goes the saying. Brandon Carr is under contract, but under-performing. Morris Claiborne is not signed, and Dallas may hope they can get him to come back to a team-friendly deal, but hopes are not reality. That leaves Orlando Scandrick and Byron Jones, which is not a bad starting duo at all, but Jones has talked as if he will be moving to safety, and the remainder of the team's corners are guys who have floated from team to team at the fringes of the roster. It's unlikely that starting caliber corners will just show up in free agency, and if they are there, they will cost a ton, just as Carr did. Perhaps Dallas is best served by holding on to Carr... or perhaps they intend to use the fourth-overall pick on a cornerback or on a safety to keep Byron Jones at corner.

Some may consider middle linebacker a hole, but Anthony Hitchens has played well there in the past, and a bevy of players could play well on the strong side, including the very re-signable Kyle Wilber, the still developing Damien Wilson, and the under contract Andrew Gachkar. Rolando McClain would be a nice security signing, but I don't believe he's a necessity.

But the thing to remember is this: legitimate players who hit free agency are expensive and tend to perform well below their cost. Buyer beware.