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ESPN Picks The Cowboys Most Team-Friendly Contract, And The Winner Is...

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys used to be big spenders in free agency. Now, not so much. We've all noticed that with the ascension of Stephen Jones to an increased role in the power structure, the Cowboys free-spending ways are a thing of the past. Now, this doesn't mean that sometimes we don't gnash our teeth when the team refuses to spend on positions that we consider major problems (cough*pass rush*cough). But overall, the Cowboys frugality in free agency has allowed them to get the salary cap under control and be able to part with players should they decline in production without paying enormous financial penalties.

When ESPN ran a story today about each franchise's most team-friendly contract, I thought they might go with Tyron Smith's deal. But that was me looking very long-term, because when you look at Smith's cap numbers far down the line, they are going to be such a bargain it's ridiculous. Plus, he is signed though the year 2023.

But ESPN went with a much smaller contract, and one that verifies the Cowboys smart approach to free agency.

Dallas Cowboys

Alfred Morris, RB

Before drafting Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys bought cheap insurance by signing Morris to a two-year, $3.5 million deal. Getting a second year at low cost was key for the Cowboys, who used a similar strategy with Darren McFadden. The team gets all the upside.

The Alfred Morris contract was a great deal. You have to remember the context too, this was before they drafted Ezekiel Elliott. When they looked around for insurance for Darren McFadden, they found a two-time Pro Bowler who has rushed for over 1,000 yards in three of his four seasons, and is only 27-years-old. He also happens to fit their running scheme pretty well. His cap number for 2016 is $1.3 million, for 2017 it's $2.2 million.

That should be the definition of bang for the buck.

The Cowboys pulled off a similar trick in 2015. When DeMarco Murray left, another sign of their frugality, especially at the running back position when they refused to pay him over the limit they had set, they grabbed McFadden. That one was more of a leap of faith than Morris' signing, McFadden was injury-prone and older, no one knew if he could really get it done. But the Cowboys signed him to a two-year deal with cap hits of $1.15 million in 2015 and $2.15 million in 2016. Last year he showed he could still get it done.

Of course the Cowboys bucked conventional wisdom in the draft and used a very high draft pick on a running back. Ezekiel Elliott will be here for five years (unless something tragic happens and they don't utilize his fifth-year contract option), but running back is a tough position, prone to injury more than most in the NFL. The Cowboys are playing it smart by not breaking the bank in paying for a stable of running backs. Instead, smart deals like the Morris and McFadden contracts allow the Cowboys to pay decent money to Elliott and still have a competent set of running backs.