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Three Contract-Year Players The Dallas Cowboys Should Re-Sign Early

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20 Cowboys are playing on expiring contracts. Which of the players should the Cowboys re-sign?

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When the Cowboys picked up the fifth-year option on Travis Frederick’s contract at the end of April this year, they ensured that they'd keep the two-time Pro Bowler in Dallas to anchor their offensive line through at least the 2017 season. They also ensured that at least one player set to enter a contract year in 2016 would stay with the team for at least one extra year.

Heading into 2016, the Cowboys currently have 20 players on the roster whose contracts expire after the end of the 2016 season and who would qualify to be some kind of free agent. Which places the Cowboys front office in somewhat of a conundrum: extend those players now and hope to get a great performance on the cheap, or wait until those players break out before re-signing them and risk having to overpay in the process?

The 20 players are a motley crew of soon-to-be free agents.

Three players are from the 2013 draft class (Gavin Escobar, Terrance Williams, J.J. Wilcox) and are entering the final year of their rookie contracts. Do the Cowboys want to work out an early deal with any of them, or will they let them hit free agency first to gauge their value?

Six players signed one-year deals with the Cowboys this year (Rolando McClain, Morris Claiborne, Lance Dunbar, Jack Crawford, Charles Brown, Joshua Thomas), which makes them feel a little bit like rentals. And I'm not sure you would have any long-term plans with a rental.

Six players joined the Cowboys as veterans (Brandon Carr, Darren McFadden, Terrell McClain, Andrew Gachkar, Kellen Moore, Brice Butler) and are playing out the final year of their veteran contracts. Carr's contract goes through 2017, but the final year is voidable and was only added for cap purposes.

Two players are former Cowboys UDFAs (Barry Church, Ronald Leary) who are playing on different contracts. Church is entering the fourth and final year of his second contract with the Cowboys, while Ronald Leary has signed a one-year restricted free agent tender that should keep him in Dallas for another year. Extending Church would allow the Cowboys to reduce his cap hit in 2016 by around $2 million, depending on what type of contract they would offer him, while Leary's time in Dallas will almost certainly end after this season, and perhaps earlier if a trade can be worked out.

Three players are exclusive rights free agents (David Irving, Rod Smith, Deji Olatoye), which means they aren't really free agents at all. An ERFA has no more than two accrued seasons in the NFL and may only sign with his prior team, provided, of course, that the team extends a minimum qualifying offer to the player. So if the Cowboys want them, they can keep them at the veteran minimum for another year at least.

Here's a summary table of all 19 players who could carry some kind of free agent designation after the 2016 season.

Player Pos. Type Cap Hit 2016
2013 draft class
Terrance Williams WR UFA $1,825,868
JJ Wilcox S UFA $1,817,517
Gavin Escobar TE UFA $1,339,703
Veterans on expiring contracts
Brandon Carr CB UFA $10,217,000
Darren McFadden RB UFA $2,150,000
Andrew Gachkar ILB UFA $1,900,000
Terrell McClain 43DT UFA $1,100,000
Kellen Moore QB UFA $760,000
Brice Butler WR UFA $675,000
One-year "Rentals"
Rolando McClain ILB UFA $3,375,000
Morris Claiborne CB UFA $2,687,500
Jack Crawford 43DT UFA $1,100,000
Lance Dunbar RB UFA $987,500
Charles Brown LT UFA $600,000
Josh Thomas CB UFA $600,000
Former UDFAs
Barry Church S UFA $4,750,000
Ronald Leary LG UFA $2,553,000
Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFA)
David Irving 43DE ERFA $525,000
Rod Smith RB ERFA $525,000
Deji Olatoye CB ERFA $525,000

So which three players should the Cowboys re-sign early? Here's who I think they should look to re-sign early.

Terrance Williams: The Falcons signed WR Mohamed Sanu to a 5-year, $32.5 million contract earlier this year to play opposite Julio Jones as their No. 2 guy. In four years in Cincinnati, Sanu totaled 1,793 receiving yards, 11.8 yards per reception and 11 touchdowns. In three years in Dallas, one year of which was spent catching passes from a succession of clowns, Terrance Williams has totaled 2,197 yards, 16.5 yards per reception and 16 TDs. If $32 million over five years is the going rate for a solid No. 2 receiver then the Cowboys should be glad if they can sign Williams to anything close to that. And they may be able to if they start talks early, but no way can they get him for that money once he hits free agency.

Morris Claiborne: Perhaps Morris Claiborne, now free of Jerome Henderson as a position coach and finally healthy, will live up to his draft pedigree. If he does, should the Cowboys look to get an extra two or three years from Claiborne while they can still get him at a discount? They shouldn't do this over the summer, but if Claiborne starts showing up in games early, I'd try to get a deal done quickly. This could end up being a great value, and the Cowboys need to plan ahead for 2017 anyway, as they might not like a situation where Carr and Claiborne are both gone and a then 30-year old Scandrick heads up a bunch of no-name cornerbacks.

Lance Dunbar: I don't have a lot of good memories from the 2015 season, but the play of pre-injury Lance Dunbar is one of them. The Cowboys covered their bases by signing him to a one-year extension, and mitigated their risk by only giving him a $100,000 signing bonus. Nobody knows at this stage whether Dunbar will come back from his injury, and whether he'll again be the playmaker he was in 2015. But if he finds back to his old self (he's still only 26), the Cowboys should look to get a deal done early while the prices are still low.

Looking over the list of players above, which three (or fewer) players would you have the Cowboys extend early? Or would you simply adopt a wait-and-see approach, even it could mean shelling out big bucks next year because a player had a "career year"?

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There's no way all of 20 players in the table above make it to the 53-man roster, but the Cowboys will probably carry around a dozen of the UFAs above through the season. After the season, and if the players are not re-signed by the Cowboys, they could provide the Cowboys with one final return on their contracts: compensatory draft picks.

If the Cowboys don't sign too many free agents in the 2017 offseason, and if their own free agents find gainful employment elsewhere in the NFL, the Cowboys could be looking at another solid haul of compensatory draft picks to rival this year's haul. The Cowboys won't get any comp picks for the 2017 draft, but if they play their cards right, they'll pick up a few extra picks for the 2018 draft.

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