Back in January, we wrote an article about the Cowboys free agents and how many snaps they had played in 2016. The conclusion was clear, of all the position groups, it was the secondary that stood to lose the most snaps to free agency.
The biggest areas Dallas will need to address are:
Secondary. Four players - 2656 snaps. If Dallas re-signs Carr, Anthony Brown and Orlando Scandrick can cover Mo Claiborne’s snaps, as they did for most of the year. Dallas would then be looking to add depth they could develop. At safety, if Church is re-signed, Dallas can likely fill in for Wilcox, and add depth they could develop. It would be nice to upgrade here, but that could mean spending a high draft pick that might be better spent on the pass rush.
Wide Receiver. Two players - 1275 snaps. Here’s another area where Dallas should be expected to spend a draft pick. Williams was productive as a third rounder. They will also likely be looking for guys like Butler and Robinson as cheap options to develop.
Defensive Line. Three players - 1253 snaps. Dallas has options for filling these holes, but should be expected to try to upgrade this group through the draft.
Offensive Line. One player - 804 snaps. Dallas has in-house options to replace Ron Leary. The trickier question is what to do with Doug Free and the right tackle spot.
Backup quarterback. Not a big issue if Dak stays healthy, but someone will have to fill the backup job, and it’s not going to be Tony Romo.
At this point, just a day into free agency, the Cowboys have already lost Ron Leary (804 snaps), Barry Church (676 snaps), Jack Crawford (561 snaps), and Terrell McClain (471 snaps). In addition, J.J. Wilcox (557 snaps) has also been talking to several teams, and Mo Claiborne (408 snaps) has been linked by rumors to Baltimore.
This news is not all that devastating for the defensive line, a subject we’ll address later today. But in the secondary it’s a different story. Anthony Brown (717) and Orlando Scandrick (685) could up their snap totals next season at cornerback, while Jeff Heath (243) and Kavon Frazier (37) have a lot of room to grow. Yet of these four, only Scandrick has reliable experience. This is not a good position to be in going into the draft.
Dallas really needs Brandon Carr back.
The main reason to bring Carr back is that he’s dependable. He’s never missed a game for Dallas. Last season, he played 1,015 snaps, and would have played more, but they took him out of the final game of the year. He also had a bit of a resurgence switching back to the right cornerback position, where he had the most success in Kansas City.
The other reason to bring Carr back is he may be the most affordable quality cornerback left on the market. In our 10-part series, we spent one article looking at free agents in the secondary. Stephon Gilmore and AJ Bouye are already signed, and word is that Dre Kirkpatrick is being retained by Cincinnati. No other remaining cornerback ranked much higher than Carr’s 75.3 rating from Pro Football Focus.
With Carr and his 1,000+ snaps in the fold, Dallas can still draft a cornerback and phase him into the lineup, but they won’t be up against it as much.
At safety, Dallas will feel the loss of Barry Church, but this is not as critical of a position as cornerback is. The wild card here is Kavon Frazier, who received only 37 snaps last year. Is he ready for a significantly increased role? Or will Dallas need to sign a safety to protect itself? Either way, this is a notch below the importance of retaining Brandon Carr.
Wide receiver is another important position, but Dallas already protected itself a bit against potentially losing Terrance Williams by bringing back Brice Butler on an inexpensive one-year deal.
At running back, it would be nice if Darren McFadden returned, but the Cowboys still have Alfred Morris, and can more easily find another backup. Same is largely true at backup quarterback, where Dallas can hope the backup never plays. On the offensive line, Dallas still has La’el Collins to step in for Ron Leary.