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A Cowboys’ Offseason Plan, Part 8a: Free Agent Targets For The Secondary

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 eight(a).

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-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 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.

Cornerback

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
Sam Shields 29 GB $9,750,000 -
Tramon Williams 33 CLE $7,000,000 -
Prince Amukamara 27 JAC $5,500,000 Market Value
Captain Munnerlyn 28 MIN $3,750,000 -
Justin Gilbert 25 PIT $3,208,376 -
Leodis McKelvin 31 PHI $3,100,000 -
Stephon Gilmore 26 BUF $3,021,038 Market Value
Morris Claiborne 27 DAL $3,000,000 -
D.J. Hayden 26 OAK $2,580,925 -
Terence Newman 38 MIN $2,500,000 -
Darius Butler 30 IND $2,500,000 Market Value
Nolan Carroll 30 PHI $2,360,000 -
Dre Kirkpatrick 27 CIN $2,155,699 -
Josh Robinson 26 TB $2,000,000 -
Jerraud Powers 29 BAL $1,750,000 -
A.J. Bouye 25 HOU $1,671,000 Market Value
Antwon Blake 26 TEN $1,500,000 -
Leon Hall 32 NYG $1,500,000 -
Johnthan Banks 27 CHI $1,181,580 -
Teddy Williams 28 CAR $900,000 -
Mike Jenkins 31 ARI $885,000 -
Corey White 26 BUF $840,000 -
Greg Toler 32 WAS $840,000 -
Kyle Wilson 29 NO $840,000 -
Chykie Brown 30 CIN $760,000 -
Sterling Moore 27 NO $760,000 -
Leonard Johnson 26 CAR $760,000 -
Coty Sensabaugh 28 NYG $760,000 -
Brandon Boykin 26 CIN $760,000 -
Joshua Thomas 27 DAL $760,000 -
Asa Jackson 27 DET $760,000 -
Crezdon Butler 29 DET $760,000 -
Robert McClain 28 LAC $752,500 -
Logan Ryan 26 NE $693,313 Market Value
Kayvon Webster 26 DEN $686,450 Market Value
Antonio Allen 28 NYJ $675,000 -
Neiko Thorpe 27 SEA $675,000 -
Darryl Morris 26 IND $675,000 -
Blidi Wreh-Wilson 27 ATL $675,000 -
Dwayne Gratz 26 PHI $675,000 -
Trevin Wade 27 NYG $630,000 -
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu 23 MIA $584,325 -
Marcus Cooper 27 ARI $551,474 -

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?

Safety

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
Christopher Conte 28 TB $3,000,000 -
Nate Allen 29 OAK $3,000,000 -
Bradley McDougald 26 TB $2,553,000 -
Rashad Johnson 31 TEN $2,000,000 -
Rafael Bush 29 DET $1,500,000 -
Anthony Levine 29 BAL $1,100,000 -
Colin Jones 29 CAR $927,500 -
Michael Griffin 32 CAR $885,000 -
Dashon Goldson 32 ATL $885,000 -
Sergio Brown 28 BUF $760,000 -
J.J. Wilcox 28 DAL $702,767 -
Michael Thomas 27 MIA $675,000 -
Don Jones 26 HOU $675,000 -
Duke Williams 26 IND $675,000 -
Jordan Poyer 25 CLE $555,064 -
Jonathan Meeks 27 BUF $550,000 -

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
Mike Adams 35 IND $2,425,000 -
Barry Church 29 DAL $2,206,750 Market Value
Matt Elam 25 BAL $1,691,751 -
Tony Jefferson 25 ARI $1,671,000 Market Value
D.J. Swearinger 25 ARI $1,671,000 -
Quintin Demps 31 HOU $1,500,000 -
John Cyprien 26 JAC $1,367,276 Market Value
Roman Harper 34 NO $1,065,000 -
Donte Whitner 31 WAS $985,000 -
Jamarca Sanford 31 NO $965,000 -
James Ihedigbo 33 BUF $885,000 -
Robert Blanton 27 BUF $840,000 -
Chris Prosinski 29 CHI $840,000 -
Brynden Trawick 27 OAK $825,000 -
Shiloh Keo 29 NO $760,000 -
Jeron Johnson 28 SEA $760,000 -
T.J. McDonald 26 LA $731,570 -
Kelcie McCray 28 SEA $717,500 -
Duron Harmon 26 NE $677,775 -
Duke Ihenacho 27 WAS $675,000 -
Bacarri Rambo 26 MIA $675,000 -
Josh Evans 25 WAS $675,000 -
Shamarko Thomas 26 PIT $653,288 -
Micah Hyde 26 GB $584,527 -
Kemal Ishmael 25 ATL $551,474 -
Daimion Stafford 26 TEN $551,474 -

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.

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

Part 7: Outside Free Agents on Offense

Next - Part 8b: Outside Free Agents, Defensive Line