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A Cowboys’ Offseason Plan, Part 7: Free Agent Targets For The Cowboys On Offense

In a ten-part series, we are going to take a comprehensive look at the Cowboys and how they might get better in 2017. This is part seven.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Wide Receiver

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
Victor Cruz 30 NYG $8,600,000 -
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
Anquan Boldin 36 DET $2,750,000 -
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
Andre Holmes 28 OAK $2,000,000 -
Cordarrelle Patterson 25 MIN $1,805,262 -
Brian Quick 27 LA $1,750,000 Market Value
Percy Harvin 28 BUF $1,740,000 -
Russell Shepard 26 TB $1,671,000 -
Terrelle Pryor 27 CLE $1,671,000 Market Value
Justin Hunter 25 BUF $1,356,037 -
Robert Woods 24 BUF $1,216,692 Market Value
Eric Weems 31 ATL $1,140,000 -
Cecil Shorts 29 TB $1,050,000 -
Jordan Norwood 30 DEN $880,000 -
Jeremy Kerley 28 SF $850,000 Market Value
Deonte Thompson 28 CHI $840,000 -
Rod Streater 29 SF $810,000 -
Brandon Tate 29 BUF $760,000 -
Bryan Walters 29 JAC $760,000 -
Marc Mariani 29 TEN $760,000 -
Andre Roberts 29 DET $760,000 -
Terrance Williams 27 DAL $724,243 Market Value
Marquise Goodwin 26 BUF $713,469 -
Markus Wheaton 26 PIT $702,844 Market Value
Stedman Bailey 26 LA $684,026 -
Aldrick Robinson 28 ATL $675,000 -
Marlon Brown 25 DEN $675,000 -
Jeremy Ross 28 ARI $675,000 -
Quinton Patton 26 SF $637,875 -
Kenny Stills 24 MIA $588,613 Market Value
Brice Butler 27 DAL $556,875 -
Marquess Wilson 24 CHI $551,787 -
Devin Hester 34 SEA - -
Michael Johnson 25 PHI - -

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.

Bad character guys are also a no-no. This strikes Michael Floyd, who was cut by the Cardinals because of an arrest (only to be picked up by New England and win a Super Bowl ring).

  • 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.

Running Back

Here is the list.

RUNNING BACKS (39) AGE TEAM 2016 AAV MARKET VALUE
James Starks 30 GB $3,000,000 -
Danny Woodhead 32 LAC $2,750,000 -
Rashad Jennings 31 NYG $2,500,000 -
DeAngelo Williams 33 PIT $2,000,000 -
Benny Cunningham 26 LA $1,671,000 -
Darren McFadden 29 DAL $1,500,000 -
Chris Johnson 31 ARI $1,500,000 -
Reggie Bush 31 BUF $1,500,000 -
Lance Dunbar 27 DAL $1,250,000 -
Brandon Bolden 27 NE $1,160,000 -
Cedric Peerman 30 CIN $1,065,000 -
Le'Veon Bell 25 PIT $1,030,150 Market Value
LeGarrette Blount 30 NE $1,000,000 Market Value
Johnathan Grimes 27 HOU $900,000 -
Justin Forsett 31 DEN $885,000 -
Chase Reynolds 29 LA $862,500 -
Shaun Draughn 29 SF $860,000 -
Eddie Lacy 26 GB $848,103 Market Value
Matt Asiata 29 MIN $840,000 -
Tim Hightower 30 NO $840,000 -
Bobby Rainey 29 NYG $840,000 -
Jacquizz Rodgers 27 TB $760,000 -
Dexter McCluster 28 LAC $760,000 -
Jordan Todman 26 IND $760,000 -
Travaris Cadet 28 NO $760,000 -
Robert Turbin 27 IND $760,000 -
Antone Smith 31 TB $760,000 -
Ronnie Hillman 25 LAC $760,000 -
Joique Bell 30 DET $760,000 -
Christine Michael 26 GB $725,000 -
DuJuan Harris 28 SF $710,000 -
Knile Davis 25 KC $675,000 -
Joe Banyard 28 JAC $630,000 -
Denard Robinson 26 JAC $593,403 -
Stepfan Taylor 25 ARI $590,125 -
Latavius Murray 25 OAK $566,550 Market Value
Andre Ellington 28 ARI $565,966 -
Rex Burkhead 26 CIN $565,550 -
C.J. Spiller 29 NO - -

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.

Quarterback

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
Josh McCown 37 CLE $4,666,667 -
Case Keenum 29 LA $3,635,000 -
Shaun Hill 37 MIN $3,250,000 -
Matt Schaub 35 ATL $2,750,000 -
Matt McGloin 27 OAK $2,553,000 -
E.J. Manuel 26 BUF $2,221,325 -
Blaine Gabbert 27 SF $2,000,000 -
Matt Cassel 34 TEN $2,000,000 -
Mark Sanchez 30 DAL $2,000,000 -
Brian Hoyer 31 CHI $2,000,000 -
Geno Smith 26 NYJ $1,254,901 -
Kellen Clemens 33 LAC $1,065,000 -
Dan Orlovsky 33 DET $1,065,000 -
Josh Johnson 30 NYG $885,000 -
Ryan Mallett 28 BAL $815,735 -
Christian Ponder 28 SF $800,000 -
Mike Glennon 27 TB $776,016 -
Thaddeus Lewis 29 SF $760,000 -
T.J. Yates 29 MIA $760,000 -
Kellen Moore 27 DAL $710,000 -
Matt Barkley 26 CHI $675,000 -
Ryan Nassib 26 NYG $653,400 -
Landry Jones 27 PIT $649,805 -
Bruce Gradkowski 34 PIT - -
Austin Davis 27 CLE - -

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.

Part 1: What Is Dallas’s Team Building Philosophy?

Part 2: Where is Dallas Strong?

Part 3: Where is Dallas Just Okay?

Part 4: Where is Dallas Weakest?

Part 5: Freeing up Money For Free Agent Signings

Part 6: In-house Free Agents

Next - Part 8: Free Agents on Defense.