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 part seven, we looked at the external free agent options on offense. On defense, we’re going to divide the secondary from the defensive line. This part will discuss the secondary. Part 8b will discuss the defensive line. The Cowboys don’t really have free agent needs at linebacker.
What holes does Dallas need to fill with free agents on defense?
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. OCC’s article on Will McClay reaffirms this point.
That leads us to the second point - the fourth article in this series where we identified the Cowboys’ holes. On defense, the Cowboys have two big holes - cornerback and safety. They also need to upgrade the pass rush, but with seven linemen under contract, they could survive by focusing on the draft. As long as Jaylon Smith returns, they are in the best shape at linebacker.
Dallas has plenty of internal options to fill these slots. The question is whether they can A) do better, and/or B) find someone as good on a more affordable deal.
Dallas only has Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown as starting caliber cornerbacks. They absolutely have to either bring back Brandon Carr (1,015 snaps) or Mo Claiborne (408 snaps), or pick up a free agent because that’s too many snaps to expect from rookies. Claiborne’s health history would make him okay as an extra, but not as a reliable starter. With one free agent able to provide 700-1,000 snaps, Dallas could then draft someone to fill in and to groom.
Who is available? Once again, we’re relying on Spotrac.
|CORNERBACKS||AGE||TEAM||2016 AAV||MARKET VALUE|
|Trumaine Johnson||27||LA||$13,952,000||Market Value|
|Brandon Carr||30||DAL||$10,020,000||Market Value|
|Prince Amukamara||27||JAC||$5,500,000||Market Value|
|Stephon Gilmore||26||BUF||$3,021,038||Market Value|
|Darius Butler||30||IND||$2,500,000||Market Value|
|A.J. Bouye||25||HOU||$1,671,000||Market Value|
|Logan Ryan||26||NE||$693,313||Market Value|
|Kayvon Webster||26||DEN||$686,450||Market Value|
If you assume Dallas isn’t going to break the bank on a free agent cornerback, that rules out Stephon Gilmore ($14.6M estimate), Logan Ryan ($14.4M), Trumain Johnson ($12.4M), AJ Bouye ($11.4M), and Prince Amukamara ($10.9M), even if you want to quibble with those numbers. Of the three others with market value estimates:
Brandon Carr, at $5.8M, would be affordable. He’s 30, so he would break the over-30 rule, but he’s also been extremely reliable and the Cowboys know him, so he’s a viable option. It wouldn’t be an upgrade, which the Cowboys need to improve their real quarterback rating differential, but Carr could provide a bridge if Dallas drafted well at this position. His Pro Football Focus grade was 75.3.
Darius Butler is even more affordable, at $3.3M, and graded 82.6 by PFF, but he’s also 30, which is a strike against him. He also played only 472 snaps, or not many more than Mo Claiborne. He played in 12 games, starting seven. As a fourth cornerback, he could be an option, but he’s never been a regular starter.
Kavon Webster is estimated at $1.7M, but he wasn’t rated very highly by Pro Football Focus, and he’s never been a starter.
Looking at Pro Football Focus ratings for the remaining under-30 cornerbacks, the only ones rated in the 70s or above were:
Jerraud Powers, 29, Baltimore. Rating 70.3. 508 snaps.
Dre Kirkpatrick, 27, Cincinnati. Rating 74.7. 974 snaps. Looks like the best option, if he’s affordable. Michael Sisemore of BTB ran a profile on him last month.
Darryl Morris, 26, Indianapolis. Rating 74.3. 360 snaps.
Captain Munnerlyn, 28, Minnesota. Rating 75.5. 637 snaps.
There isn’t a great deal to choose from here, unless someone on this list is much better than their PFF rating.
Given this landscape, it would not be surprising to see Brandon Carr back in Dallas for a couple more years, assuming he still wants to play. Dre Kirkpatrick would probably be better, but will he get the kind of contract Dallas does not like doling out?
Dallas has Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, and Kavon Frazier. Barry Church was the glue last year, and JJ Wilcox was the hitter. A free agent and a draft pick are needed here.
Here are the guys ranked as free safeties.
|FREE SAFETIES||AGE||TEAM||2016 AAV||MARKET VALUE|
|Eric Berry||28||KC||$10,806,000||Market Value|
If Byron Jones is your free safety, the Cowboys may not be looking at this list, especially since Jeff Heath tends to play free safety when he’s in.
Here are the guys ranked as strong safeties.
|STRONG SAFETY||AGE||TEAM||2016 AAV||MARKET VALUE|
|Jahleel Addae||27||LAC||$2,553,000||Market Value|
|Barry Church||29||DAL||$2,206,750||Market Value|
|Tony Jefferson||25||ARI||$1,671,000||Market Value|
|John Cyprien||26||JAC||$1,367,276||Market Value|
On this list, the guys with estimated market value include:
Tony Jefferson, 25, Arizona, $5.7M. PFF 88.6, 928 snaps.
John Cyprien, 26, Jacksonville, $4.9M, PFF 87.8, 1070 snaps.
Barry Church, 29, Dallas, $4.5M, PFF 85.3, 675 snaps.
Jaheel Addae, 27, San Diego, $4.5M. 85.2, 510 snaps.
Dallas would benefit by signing any of these players, and the first two are upgrades over Barry Church. The only other interesting name on here is Micah Hyde, 26, Green Bay, who is listed as a cornerback by PFF, with a 74.7 rating.
Dallas needs a free agent cornerback and safety, and may have to spend more than they want to both protect themselves, and give the team a chance to improve. With the money saved by moving on from Tony Romo, they likely have the cap flexibility to do it.
Next - Part 8b: Outside Free Agents, Defensive Line