For a team that had some money to spend in free agency as well as a top-five pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, this offseason was a big one for the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have a talented roster and with the addition of a player in the top five that can immediately contribute, the hope is that there is something brewing with this year's Cowboys. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they knocked their offseason out of the park, at least according to Pro Football Focus' offseason grade series.
Before free agency kicked in, the Cowboys made it a goal to retain their players rather than going out and spending tons of money in free agency. Stephen Jones mentioned that the best way to improve in the NFL is by bringing in the right players through the draft and then retaining those players once they reach their full potential. And while Super Bowl-winning teams sprinkle in their team-planning with some impact free agent additions, the draft has proven to be the key in today's salary cap league.
Dallas' biggest splash in free agency was the acquisition of Cedric Thornton, a splash if you can even call it that. Thornton is a gap-filling defensive tackle whose skillset will be of great use in Rod Marinelli's scheme, one that is predicated off quickness off the ball and disruptiveness. On top of Thornton, the Cowboys' other free agent additions were Alfred Morris, Benson Mayowa, and Joe Looney. Each may carve out a role at some point this season, but none of them provide star impact. Dallas valued future financial flexibility over going all out for this year, which will prove to be the right move over time.
Look no further than the New York Giants. The Cowboys' division rival shelled out over $135 million to just Janoris Jenkins and Olivier Vernon. While each has been productive in this league and could very well prove me wrong, I don't see Jenkins nor Vernon living up to their contracts. Jenkins is an inconsistent corner coming from a defense where he played behind the most disruptive defensive lines in football. Regarding Vernon, he played next to arguably the best defensive tackle in the league in Ndamukong Suh and now he's set to make more money than J.J. Watt. That's just simply preposterous.
Rather than using their cap space to sign exterior free agents, the Cowboys used their money to bring back players like Morris Claiborne, Jack Crawford, Rolando McClain, Lance Dunbar, among a few others. And even though defensive end is still the position on their roster that provides the most questions, the Cowboys decided to not bring back Greg Hardy, a decision that is sound. Hardy was not only a nuisance to the team, but he also under-performed as a whole during his Dallas tenure.
PFF noted that the drafting of Ezekiel Elliott was a "match made in heaven" and how the pair of Elliott and the Cowboys will immediately reap the rewards. But they also mentioned that this pick could very well be defined depending on how Jalen Ramsey performs in his career. Jaylon Smith and Maliek Collins were given some decent remarks, but Dak Prescott seemed to have gotten the most flack from PFF:
Dak Prescott has raw physical tools, but was only the 14th-highest-graded passer in this draft class last season, and the 18th-best at passing alone. He has a lot of work to do to become a viable asset for the Cowboys at the next level.
I've noticed that there is a wide array of analysis with Prescott. PFF isn't the biggest fan, but NFL.com's Lance Zierlein had a third-round grade on the Mississippi State product. And while PFF may not be too impressed with the idea of Prescott eventually taking over at quarterback for Tony Romo, the Cowboys were the team that did the most following-up on him so they definitely did their homework.
But in total, PFF's Sam Monson summed up the Cowboys' offseason perfectly in his overall analysis of the team's offseason:
This offseason was one of quiet conservatism from the Cowboys, which may not be a bad thing for a team that was expected to contend last year, only to lose their quarterback and any chance of that happening along with him. With Tony Romo back healthy, Dallas immediately launches back into contender status, and therefore dramatic offseason overhauls were not necessary.
It's interesting to think the Cowboys were pretty transparent about their offseason when you look back at it. Dallas had wanted to beef up their running attack, they did just that. They felt comfortable with the defensive ends on the roster even with the suspensions to Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, they didn't make a major move for a defensive end. They wanted to find Romo's heir, they drafted Dak. They said they weren't going to dish out a ton of money in free agency, and made good on that promise. In recent years, we've noticed a management shift to a more conservatively-run football team. With the bigger presence of Stephen Jones and Will McClay in the front office, that looks to remain the case for sometime.