Over the past few seasons, we have learned a few things about how the Dallas Cowboys front office works in the offseason. Stephen Jones and Will McClay have shown that they will spend wisely on players they believe helps them going forward. This team uses free agency as more of a guide to fill holes to set themselves up for the ultimate prize, which in their minds is the NFL draft.
This is quite the young team outside of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Doug Free and L.P. Ladouceur. The Cowboys’ brass knows that the NFL is a young man’s league and they really don’t like to throw money at aging players. We also know that the Cowboys really prefer their own homegrown free agents versus guys that are outside the walls of The Star in Frisco.
This team has 18 free agents set to hit the market this offseason and there are some pretty big names on that list too. Guys like Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne, Ronald Leary, and Terrance Williams all have starting roles on this team. Other guys like Brice Butler have made an impact on the team that will also result in an open spot if they're gone.
Over the past few offseasons, we've noticed a path and that's what leads to the thought process of this column. The Dallas Cowboys are most assuredly going to decide which guys they want to keep first before they look outside for help. Here are the names of guys that the Cowboys should consider bringing back for 2017.
CB Brandon Carr, 30
Now rumors have surfaced that he’s contemplating retirement, but out of him and Claiborne, give us the guy that doesn't leave the field. Carr has gone from being someone that we've clamored for dismissal to a guy that this team has found serious value in. Carr doesn't have the flashy stats such as interceptions on his side but he quietly had one heck of a season.
Week after week, he showed that he can battle back from adversity and make plays. This season he was moved to right corner and all he did was handle his business. Rarely did Carr have a play where he was out of position or got absolutely maimed. Though Claiborne is the younger player, you're most assuredly going to miss time from him. The Cowboys have a young upcoming cornerback in Anthony Brown, Carr is a great bridge player to a potential draft pick they could make this season.
DT Terrell McClain, 28
The impact he had on the field this season opened things up for the rookie Maliek Collins as well as put serious question marks on Tyrone Crawford. McClain can play both inside spots for Rod Marinelli and he showed that once he was healthy, he was ready to roll. The Cowboys have finally started to find some success along their defensive line rotation.
Each player has his role and they ended up finishing the month of December with the most sacks of any NFL team in that span with 16. They racked up three more against Aaron Rodgers in the Divisional Round playoff game (although a blitzing secondary helped in that respect). Sure, they still have plenty of work to do but McClain is one of those guys that is finally paying off. With other high-priced free agents such as Bennie Logan set to hit the market, re-signing McClain is a low-key move that can produce high rewards in 2017.
LG Ronald Leary, 27
Now, this may be a lot harder to do seeing as his market value could end up being a lot higher than we expect. We’ve seen teams in the past such as Jacksonville pay high prices to Jeremy Parnell because of what he did in this offensive line. Still, Leary is a priority if you can get him. Nothing against La’el Collins but Leary has proven that he’s the better left guard for this team. Collins came out of college as a true tackle prospect that the Cowboys saw having potential at both guard and tackle.
If you can somehow find a way to work out a contract with Leary, you may have a contingency plan in place for Doug Free. Sooner rather than later, Free will need to be replaced. The Cowboys have a plan to keep this offensive line as strong as they can. With that said, as good as it would be to strike a deal, they have Zack Martin in mind and have to be fiscally responsible. It may be hard to do but it should be a priority to at least try.
SS Barry Church, 28
Assuming that there isn’t a huge market for his services, Church makes a lot of sense to bring back. He played through a fractured forearm and played very well. When he was in the game, the tandem of him and Byron Jones was a solid combination. The team played admirably in his few game absence with help from J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath but Church is still the better player for that position. He’s intelligent and has shown to be a quality performer in run defense.
Church is a great leader in the locker room but most importantly he’s a quality safety for this defense in a league that is seeing less and less of the position succeed. Church is still playing at an above average level and he fits Marinelli’s philosophy of his defense. It’s hard to find guys like him in free agency and even harder to replace him right off the bat in the draft. He’s earned another shot to make a run with the team that took that first chance on him.
In setting the priorities of where to begin in free agency for Dallas, all four of these players would be at the top of the list of players that should be back in 2017. With a young nucleus, it’s important to also retain the services of the veterans that make the team better. These guys will hopefully be more affordable than those that are set to hit the market in the coming weeks.