In part one of this 10-part series, we set the ground rules by discussing the Cowboys’ team-building philosophy. In parts two, three, and four, we looked at where the Cowboys are strong, okay, and weak. In part five, we showed how the Cowboys can create cap space to sign in-house and outside free agents. In part six, we divided the Cowboys’ in-house free agents into three piles, likely to keep, possible keepers, and unlikely to keep. In this article, we’ll look at the external free agent options on offense.
What holes does Dallas need to fill with free agents on offense?
Before looking at the free agents available, we need to recall two things. First, let’s revisit the ground rules by which the Cowboys operate. In the first article in this series, we talked about five elements of the Cowboy’s team philosophy. The last three are relevant here.
3. Plug holes through free agency, but don’t break the bank.
4. Go into the draft with holes filled, so you can take the best player available.
5. Stay young. Don’t re-sign any player over 30.
The most important of these is #4 - to use free agency to fill holes so the team can draft the best player available when their turn comes.
That leads us to the second point - the fourth article in this series where we identified the Cowboys’ holes. On offense, the Cowboys have three holes - wide receiver, backup running back, and backup quarterback (once Romo is traded).
Of these three, wide receiver is by far the biggest, as Dallas at the moment only has a #1 wide receiver and a slot receiver. There is no one in the #2 and #3 positions under contract.
At running back, Alfred Morris could suffice if someone better is not brought in. And at quarterback, Kellen Moore could provide an emergency backup if no one better is found, as he would certainly re-sign in an instant if Dallas wanted him to.
Dallas needs upgrades at all three of these slots, but at a minimum, the team needs to protect itself if it’s unable to upgrade these slots in the draft. Dallas could also improve on the offensive line, which is why we talked about signing Jonathan Cooper in the last article. But they are well enough set there that, aside from Cooper, they might look to the draft to sign a tackle they can develop.
Let’s turn now to each position.
Spotrac provides a very useful tracker of free agents. We have taken the liberty of sorting their list by position, and turning it into the following spreadsheet. The columns are sortable.
|WIDE RECEIVERS (43)||AGE||FROM||2016 AAV||MARKET VALUE|
|Alshon Jeffery||27||CHI||$14,599,000||Market Value|
|Vincent Jackson||34||TB||$11,111,111||Market Value|
|Pierre Garcon||30||WAS||$8,500,000||Market Value|
|DeSean Jackson||30||WAS||$6,000,000||Market Value|
|Kenny Britt||28||LA||$4,575,000||Market Value|
|Kamar Aiken||27||BAL||$2,553,000||Market Value|
|Brandon LaFell||30||CIN||$2,500,000||Market Value|
|Michael Floyd||27||NE||$2,492,875||Market Value|
|Ted Ginn Jr.||31||CAR||$2,100,000||Market Value|
|Kendall Wright||27||TEN||$2,054,613||Market Value|
|Brian Quick||27||LA||$1,750,000||Market Value|
|Terrelle Pryor||27||CLE||$1,671,000||Market Value|
|Robert Woods||24||BUF||$1,216,692||Market Value|
|Jeremy Kerley||28||SF||$850,000||Market Value|
|Terrance Williams||27||DAL||$724,243||Market Value|
|Markus Wheaton||26||PIT||$702,844||Market Value|
|Kenny Stills||24||MIA||$588,613||Market Value|
Which of these receivers might make sense for Dallas? Let’s use a process of elimination.
- High-priced free agents
If Dallas were going to spend a lot on this position, the most likely to return would be Terrance Williams. Dallas knows him, he fits their profile, he’s proven he can sub for Dez Bryant when Dallas has a QB who can get him the ball, he blocks well, he stays healthy. Spotrac estimates Williams will get a four-year deal with an average annual value of $8.2 million. Dallas is unlikely to be willing to spend that much.
So this rules out anyone over that, or in the $7+ million a year range, and that includes: Jeffrey, Vincent Jackson, Cruz, Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Aiken, Woods, and Pryor.
- Over 30 crowd
This might be a more stringent rule than the contract price. It knocks out Vincent Jackson, Cruz, Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Boldin, LaFell, Ginn Jr., Weems, Norwood, and Hester.
- Not the right type
Little guys need not apply to be outside receivers for the Dallas Cowboys. This takes out Kendall Wright (5’-10”) and perhaps others.
- Who is left?
Kenny Britt. Estimated $6.7 million average annual value. 28 years old. 6’3” 215 lbs. Gained 1002 yards last year. If he could be had for this price, the Cowboys should grab him.
Cordarelle Patterson. No estimate. Great returner, but hasn’t started many games, and wasn’t used as a receiver at all in 2015, even though he played 16 games. Pass.
Brian Quick. Estimated $5.6 million, 27 years old, 6’4” 209 lbs. Has started only 24 of 67 games. Gained almost as many yards as Terrance Williams last year, but not nearly as consistent. He’d have to come cheaper than the estimated price.
Markus Wheaton. Estimated $6.4 million, 26 years old, 5’11” 189. Was hurt last year after having two solid years. A bit undersized. Possible if he’s cheaper than the estimate.
Kenny Stills. Estimated $6.4 million, 24 years old, 6’1” 194 lbs. Gained 726 yards with 9 TDs last year. At this price, he’d be a possibility, especially given his youth.
Dallas might not be willing to commit as much as these players will command. But if the Cowboys were to strike out, it would force them to go wide receiver high enough in the draft to get a solid #2. If they grabbed one of the Kennys - Britt or Stills - they would be protected, and might upgrade the position. Of course, neither may end up being available depending on whether the Rams and Dolphins try to re-sign them prior to free agency.
Here is the list.
|RUNNING BACKS (39)||AGE||TEAM||2016 AAV||MARKET VALUE|
|Le'Veon Bell||25||PIT||$1,030,150||Market Value|
|LeGarrette Blount||30||NE||$1,000,000||Market Value|
|Eddie Lacy||26||GB||$848,103||Market Value|
|Latavius Murray||25||OAK||$566,550||Market Value|
As we argued in the last installment, Dallas would be wise to cut Alfred Morris and re-sign Darren McFadden. He’s a complete back, is familiar with the team, and owes Dallas for paying him all season despite his missing 13 games with a non-football related elbow injury.
Frankly, it’s pretty hard to get excited about anyone else on this list. Indeed, if the Cowboys don’t get McFadden, they are likely to keep Morris and look for someone late in the draft or as an undrafted free agent to develop. This is where Darius Jackson would have made sense to keep.
Here is the list.
|QUARTERBACK (27)||AGE||TEAM||2016 AAV||MARKET VALUE|
|Kirk Cousins||28||WAS||$19,953,000||Market Value|
|Ryan Fitzpatrick||34||NYJ||$12,000,000||Market Value|
Of these, Brian Hoyer looks like the most solid backup, especially at $2 million per year. He may be over 30, but he’s posted quarterback ratings of 91.4 for Houston two years ago, and 98 for the Bears last year.
The rest appear to have serious flaws. Kellen Moore might be as good an option as most of them.
If Dallas were to get Kenny Britt for $6-7 million per year for two-three years, Darren McFadden for $2 million a year for two years, and Brian Hoyer for $2 million a year for two-three years, they would have improved the team and be in great shape going into the draft. An investment of $10 million per year would be well worth it, and well within the Cowboys’ means, as we discussed in part five of this series.
Next - Part 8: Free Agents on Defense.