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Dallas Cowboys’ Free Agents: How Many Snaps Need To Be Replaced?

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The Cowboys have a lot of free agents this offseason, and not a lot of cap space to re-sign them. From a snaps perspective, how do they line up?

Divisional Round - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This year, we published two weekly articles on snap counts, one for the offense, and one for the defense and special teams. Let’s match these numbers up with this DMN list of Dallas free agents.

When you combine those two, you see where all the free agents fit this year in terms of snap counts, broken down by position group. Let’s start with the offense.

Offense

Offensive Line

Free Agent? Player Pos Games Total Season Percent
Travis Frederick C 16 1059 1059 100%
Zack Martin G 16 1059 1059 100%
Doug Free T 16 1054 1059 100%
Tyron Smith T 13 836 1059 79%
UFA Ronald Leary G 13 804 1059 76%
La'el Collins G 3 186 1059 18%
Joe Looney G/C 16 155 1059 15%
Chaz Green T 4 151 1059 14%
Emmett Cleary T 8 76 1059 7%
UFA Jonathan Cooper G/C 0 0 0 0%
  • Ron Leary. Big Ron did a great job, and logged 804 snaps.

Dallas has internal options to replace Leary in La’el Collins, and Jonathan Cooper could likely be brought back fairly cheaply if the Cowboys liked what they saw in limited practices.

The real question along the line is whether Doug Free will be kept for the last year on his deal, or pushed out for a younger option. Chaz Green played well, but couldn’t stay healthy, and if you try to move Collins outside, you create a hole inside. My guess is that Dallas will stay with Free while continuing to look for options, and may draft another lineman.

The other issue is how much Zack Martin’s likely new contract will cost.

Quarterbacks

Free Agent? Player Pos Games Total Season Percent
Dak Prescott QB 16 1013 1059 96%
UFA Mark Sanchez QB 2 39 1059 4%
Tony Romo QB 1 7 1059 1%
UFA Kellen Moore QB 0 0 0 0%
  • Tony Romo. Not a free agent, but for cap and value reasons, he’s almost certainly going to be traded, which is a topic best left to other articles.
  • Mark Sanchez. If the Philadelphia game was his tryout for being brought back as Dak Prescott’s backup, he failed miserably, and is likely to be gone, even though he had some value in helping Dak acclimate to the NFL.
  • Kellen Moore. A cheap alternative, but not one who the team could have any confidence in if he had to step forward if Dak was hurt. Expect Dallas to look elsewhere.

It’s likely none of these players will be back, and that Dallas will sign the best cheap backup option available who can win a few games if called upon. Those don’t necessarily all go together, so Dallas may have to compromise and hope/expect Dak will stay healthy.

Running Backs

Free Agent? Player Pos Games Total Season Percent
Ezekiel Elliott RB 15 713 1059 67%
UFA Lance Dunbar RB 13 139 1059 13%
Keith Smith RB 16 134 1059 13%
Alfred Morris RB 14 130 1059 12%
UFA Darren McFadden RB 3 48 1059 5%
  • Lance Dunbar - 139 snaps. He had almost no impact this season, and is almost certain to be gone.
  • Darren McFadden - 48 snaps. When he returned, he supplanted Alfred Morris.

This is where Darius Jackson had value, as he could have become the primary backup to Zeke, with everyone else let go. As it is now, it would make more sense to re-sign McFadden. Morris could be kept as insurance against a Zeke injury.

Wide Receivers

Free Agent? Player Pos Games Total Season Percent
UFA Terrance Williams WR 16 746 1059 70%
Dez Bryant WR 13 688 1059 65%
Cole Beasley WR 16 603 1059 57%
UFA Brice Butler WR 16 429 1059 41%
Lucky Whitehead WR 15 143 1059 14%
Vince Mayle WR 5 29 1059 3%
Chris Brown WR 0 0 0 0%
  • Terrance Williams - 746 snaps, most among wide receivers.
  • Brice Butler - 429 snaps.

The loss of Williams and Butler would open a gaping hole in the Dallas attack. Dallas won the three games Dez missed because of these two. Williams will likely be too expensive to retain, and Butler was too inconsistent. Dallas may have to draft a wide receiver, or look for a bargain on the free agent market, or both. Something like the Laurent Robinson deal they made a few years ago.

Tight Ends

Free Agent? Player Pos Games Total Season Percent
Jason Witten TE 16 1017 1059 96%
Geoff Swaim TE 9 203 1059 19%
UFA Gavin Escobar TE 16 169 1059 16%
James Hanna TE 0 0 0 0%
Rico Gathers TE 0 0 0 0%
  • Gavin Escobar - 169 snaps.

No loss there. The return of James Hanna and Geoff Swaim, and the potential emergence of Rico Gathers should improve the Cowboys’ tight end position next year even if they do nothing else.

Defense

The Defensive Line

Free Agent? Player Pos Games Total Total Percent
Maliek Collins DT 16 659 1058 62%
Tyrone Crawford DE/DT 14 593 1058 56%
UFA Jack Crawford DE/DT 16 561 1058 53%
ER David Irving DE/DT 16 489 1058 46%
UFA Terrell McClain DT 15 471 1058 45%
Benson Mayowa DE 13 382 1058 36%
DeMarcus Lawrence DE 9 329 1058 31%
Cedric Thornton DT 13 277 1058 26%
UFA Ryan Davis DE 8 155 1058 15%
Susp Randy Gregory DE 2 66 1058 6%
ER Richard Ash DT 1 30 1058 3%
Charles Tapper DE 0 0 0 0%
  • Jack Crawford - 561 snaps
  • Terrell McClain - 471 snaps
  • Ryan Davis - 155 snaps
  • Randy Gregory - suspended - 66 snaps

Dallas should be okay at defensive end with Charles Tapper coming back, DeMarcus Lawrence not suspended, David Irving capable of playing outside, Tyrone Crawford, and Benson Mayowa. No need for any free agents here, though Dallas might draft someone, expecting them to replace Lawrence when his contract comes up in 2018.

At defensive tackle, Dallas is thinner, with only Collins and Thornton signed. Irving and T. Crawford could move back inside. That’s seven guys overall.

My expectation would be that J Crawford, McClain, and Davis will be let go. Expect Dallas to make D Line a high priority in the draft, with at least one, and possibly two additions.

Linebackers

Free Agent? Player Pos Games Total Total Percent
Sean Lee LB 15 977 1058 92%
Anthony Hitchens LB 16 581 1058 55%
UFA Justin Durant LB 13 282 1058 27%
Damien Wilson LB 16 284 1058 27%
UFA Andrew Gachkar LB 4 74 1058 7%
Kyle Wilber LB 7 49 1058 5%
Mark Nzeocha LB 1 16 1058 2%
Jaylon Smith LB 0 0 0 0%
James Morris LB 0 0 0 0%
  • Justin Durant - 282 snaps.
  • Andrew Gachkar - 74 snaps.

With Jaylon Smith expected to start in the middle, Dallas may have an abundance of depth at linebacker, with Hitchens and Wilson fighting for snaps behind Lee and Smith. Nzeocha may take Gachkar’s role on special teams.

Secondary

Free Agent? Player Pos Games Total Season Percent
UFA Brandon Carr CB 16 1015 1058 96%
Anthony Brown CB 16 717 1058 68%
Orlando Scandrick CB 12 645 1058 61%
UFA Morris Claiborne CB 7 408 1058 39%
Leon McFadden CB 3 56 1058 5%
UFA Josh Thomas CB 0 0 0 0%
Byron Jones S 16 986 1058 93%
UFA Barry Church S 12 676 1058 64%
UFA J.J. Wilcox S 13 557 1058 53%
Jeff Heath S 16 243 1058 23%
Kavon Frazier S 3 37 1058 3%
  • Brandon Carr - 1015 snaps
  • Mo Claiborne - 408 snaps
  • Barry Church - 676 snaps
  • JJ Wilcox - 557 snaps

We’ve saved the biggest issue for last. That’s a lot of snaps to fill.

The most logical player(s) to re-sign are Brandon Carr and Barry Church. Mo Claiborne is just too brittle to hold up over a season, and there’s no one ready to step in for Church at safety if Wilcox is also gone. (Though Jeff Heath seems to be our only safety who can intercept a pass!) The Cowboys might then hope that Heath could move up to take Wilcox’s snaps, while Kavon Frazier could take Heath’s snaps.

Dallas is going to have to add here in the draft, and likely at a high enough quality where that player or players can step in as a rookie. Wouldn’t it be nice to find another Anthony Brown in the 6th round?

Overview and Conclusion

The biggest areas Dallas will need to address are:

  • Secondary. Four players - 2656 snaps. If Dallas re-signs Carr, Anthony Brown and Orlando Scandrick can cover Mo Claiborne’s snaps, as they did for most of the year. Dallas would then be looking to add depth they could develop. At safety, if Church is re-signed, Dallas can likely fill in for Wilcox, and add depth they could develop. It would be nice to upgrade here, but that could mean spending a high draft pick that might be better spent on the pass rush.
  • Wide Receiver. Two players - 1275 snaps. Here’s another area where Dallas should be expected to spend a draft pick. Williams was productive as a third rounder. They will also likely be looking for guys like Butler and Robinson as cheap options to develop.
  • Defensive Line. Three players - 1253 snaps. Dallas has options for filling these holes, but should be expected to try to upgrade this group through the draft.
  • Offensive Line. One player - 804 snaps. Dallas has in-house options to replace Ron Leary. The trickier question is what to do with Doug Free and the right tackle spot.
  • Backup quarterback. Not a big issue if Dak stays healthy, but someone will have to fill the backup job, and it’s not going to be Tony Romo.

Everything else should be fairly easy to manage. The Cowboys are set to get boosts from returning injured players at linebacker, on the offensive line, at tight end, and on the defensive line. Overall, the team looks to be in very good shape.