The draft and free agency are both over. The Dallas Cowboys have made their moves for the off season and now comes the long evaluation period culminating at the beginning of September with a 53-man roster. The team's choices, however, give a view into their thought processes. Looking at cap figures can provide further insight. Between the two, we should be able to make some predictions about who may be fighting for a job come summer.
First we should look at acquisitions. Who did the cowboys bring on and who might they replace?
Their biggest free agent acquisition, Cedric Thornton, directly replaces the unsigned Nick Hayden. The addition of 311 lb defensive tackle Maliek Collins, however, along with the re-signing of DE/3-tech rotational player Jack Crawford might mean Terrell McClain ought to find a way to stay healthy this year. Currently, the Cowboys have Tyrone Crawford, David Irving, Chris Whaley and two other developmental players to go with the above mentioned tackles. That's nine guys for two spots, three of whom have position flex to end as well. I could definitely see the team going with Thornton, both Crawfords, Irving, and Collins to give them five tackles. But even if they keep six, they surely won't have that many active on game day, so McClain needs to earn his way into the top 5, because if he's inactive, there's no real reason to keep him around -- he's not a developmental player.
The biggest overall impact, however, has to be at RB, with the #4 overall pick going there, as well as another draft pick and free agent Alfred Morris. With Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar, Rod Smith, and Ben Malena already in the stable, it's obvious that several of these guys go to make room for the others. Dunbar needs to be healthy and productive. Rod Smith will have to be an indispensable part of special teams, and Darren McFadden... just may not have a path to stay here.
Less acquisition driven is the safety position. Byron Jones has been announced as the free safety. But until recently, that designation was given to Barry Church, though the current depth chart assigns it to J.J. Wilcox. The odd thing here is that the Cowboys brought in two safeties of note. Roland Milligan hails from Barry Church's alma mater of Toledo and sixth-round draft pick Kavon Frazier was projected into the NFL by both NFL.com and CBS as "Barry Church". It seems almost passive-aggressive.
Finally, the Cowboys did draft a cornerback and have a few in camp as well. Morris Claiborne came back at a way reduced rate that tags him as depth at best. Many, myself included, expect him to play well enough to be third corner on this team, but with a fourth-round grade and zone traits and experience, Anthony Brown may in fact come in and compete here.
Now, how do these guys stack up salary-wise?
|Player||2016 Savings ($m)|
So it appears Barry Church is our big winner for the hot seat award, with Darren McFadden hot on his tail due to the crowded backfield. It may be that Church wins the starting job, and $4 million for a starting safety is no big deal, but with Wilcox being the more versatile of the pair (say what you will but Wilcox is capable of playing single high, Church is not) as well as the cheaper option and I'd say he's more likely to stick around and more useful as the back up.
McFadden gives a lot of savings and really doesn't have much role here, with Alfred Morris being a better fit for the system and Ezekiel Elliott being a superstar-in-waiting (or else we'll be hearing about the horrible 2016 draft for decades to come). He makes a very close runner up, and could arguably be the guy with the hottest seat of all. While Claiborne actually saves slightly more, $2.1 million is not a lot to pay a 4th or 5th corner, while it is a ton to pay a 3rd running back with no special teams value.
Both Church and McFadden may have some minor trade value, and if the team hears a realistic offer on anyone I would expect that player to jump to the head of the list. But, barring that, I would say all of these gentlemen better come to camp ready prove their value to the team.