During the last two NFL Drafts I have come out looking like a genius in front of my friends as I have correctly predicted the Cowboys selecting Zack Martin and Byron Jones. As the draft experts on TV throw different names out there, my friends are surprised that the name I said is the name that is called. Now, I have been fortunate to become a scholar of Cowboys information courtesy of the things I've read here at BTB over the last several years. But another thing that helps in these draft day predictions is knowing who the Cowboys select for pre-draft visits. The correlation is strong with that one.
And just as paying a visit to Valley Ranch has been linked to the Cowboys draft selections, the free agent decisions have a strong commonality as well - age.
It doesn't seem like it was that long ago when the Cowboys front office was being criticized for overpaying for guys that were over the hill. Well, that practice came to an abrupt halt as the Cowboy have done a 180 when it comes to investing in older players. In short, the Cowboys just don't do it anymore.
Over the last three seasons, here are the notable (made the team) free agent signings and their ages:
2015: Greg Hardy (26), Andrew Gachkar (26), Danny McCray (26), and Darren McFadden (27)
2014: Terrell McClain (25), Henry Melton (27), Brandon Weeden (30), and Jeremy Mincey (30)
2013: Justin Durant (27), Dante Rosario (28), and Will Allen (29)
There are some other similarities in how the Cowboys operate in free agency these days. For example, they don't sign long-term deals as most of these deals are two years or less. Another one is that the Cowboys protect themselves by structuring the contract in a more incentive-based fashion. Those attributes are helpful, but doesn't offer a whole lot of help forecasting who the Cowboys are going to sign. Age, however, helps tremendously.
In constructing the Free Agent Big Board, scores were given to each player based on their age:
Ages 24-25 = 5
Ages 26-27 = 4
Ages 28-29 = 3
Ages 30-31 = 2
Anyone 32 or older = 1
Based on this criteria, here some players that could be front runners when it comes to being signed by Dallas:
Don't hold your breath for: Ryan Fitzpatrick
The ideal scenario for the Cowboys backup quarterback situation would be for the Cowboys to have a veteran as well as a developmental player behind Tony Romo. If they take a quarterback in free agency, they'll be looking for a veteran so the age isn't so significant here. Romo's backups over the years (Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, Kyle Orton, Brandon Weeden, and Matt Cassel) have all be on the wrong side of 30 years of age. Of course, none of those QBs have been the answer so all bets are off when it comes to what the Cowboys plan on doing.
Don't hold your breath for: Antonio Gates
Whomever the Cowboys target as their tight end better be able to block. If they have special teams experience on their resume, that would also be a plus.
Don't hold your breath for: Matt Forte
Just think how (fill in the blank) would do running behind this offensive line? Yeah, we know this song all too well. The Cowboys will be looking for another ball carrier, but you can bet on it being a fresh set of legs.
Don't hold your breath for: Roddy White
The Cowboys receiving group is fine. There is some room to compete at the bottom of the depth chart, but if you're looking for Dallas to bring in someone to come in and take snaps away from Terrance Williams or Cole Beasley, you're going to be disappointed.
Defense - Back Seven
Don't hold your breath for: Pacman Jones
There is life after Dallas. Over the last handful of years, the Cowboys have let a lot of players leave and a great majority of them have done very little elsewhere. DeMarcus Ware and Martellus Bennett are a couple of the exceptions. And so is Pacman. But that doesn't matter. Jason Garrett has a method to how he is putting the team together and it doesn't involve disruptive players (except for Greg Hardy). There will be no extra life for this Pacman.
Rather than bringing back a former Cowboy, the best bet might be to just keep the one they got.
Don't hold your breath for: Derrick Johnson
Every team needs a veteran linebacker. But the Cowboys already have theirs as that title goes to General Lee. And if they re-sign Rolando McClain, they'll have two veterans. When the Cowboys sign a free agent linebacker, you can bet that he'll be young and real excited about the opportunities he'll get on special teams. Hellooooo, Wilber.
Don't hold your breath for: Eric Weddle
There has been a lot of interest from Cowboys fans for Weddle's services as if the Cowboys may go against the grain and sign the over-30 veteran safety. Granted, you can get some good value out of safeties at an older age, but it just doesn't seem to fit how the team is operating these days. The Cowboys aren't going to give a lot of money to anyone in free agency, especially a player who's only got a Weddle bit of time left.
In The Trenches
Don't hold your breath for: Mario Williams
Signing Super Mario would have had Jerry Jones name all over it if was four years ago. With Stephen Jones keeping the voice of reason alive and well in Dallas, the Cowboys won't view Williams as a "super" player, and therefore - shouldn't be paid as such.
Despite the front office claiming to not be overindulgent in free agency, they could surprise us with a higher-priced pass rusher. If they do, he won't be on the north side of 30.
Don't hold your breath for: Haloti Ngata
Trying to guess what the Cowboys are going to do at defensive tackle is like trying to guess what is wrong with my wife when she's not talking to me. Zero chance. The only safe bet is that he's going to be a young player, and probably someone very few people have ever heard of.
Don't hold your breath for: Mackenzy Bernadeau
Some fans have narrowed the Cowboys backup guard spot to two candidates - Ron Leary and Bernie Mac. One can play center and one can't. But more importantly - one can play guard and one can't. The youth movement along the offensive line.
Do you expect the Cowboys to keep going after the young guns or is this the year they surprise everyone with a savvy, big-name veteran?