A couple days before free agency officially began we put out an article that listed players who could be overlooked, value signings for the Cowboys. After about 48 hours several of those players have been snapped up in the market, some to very surprising deals (defensive back Micah Hyde - signed for 5 years, $30 million with Buffalo, defensive end Andre Branch - re-signed for 3 years, $27 million with Miami), while others have received very reasonable deals (safety Duron Harmon - re-signed for 4 years, $17 million with New England, safety D.J. Swearinger- signed for 3 years, $13.5 million with Washington).
Of course in that time the Cowboys have had their fair share of additions and subtractions, losing several free agents who played large roles last year, while bringing in depth at cornerback (Nolan Carroll), at the 1-technique defensive tackle (Stephen Paea) and re-signing both Brice Butler and, surprisingly, Terrance Williams. With that said, aside from Williams I do not think any of these signings should be counted on to be anything other than depth. There is still plenty of work to be done and the Cowboys should still be looking to further solidify their depth chart at various spots, including at the positions that Paea and Carroll play.
Most glaring of course is still the front seven, particularly the defensive line, and there are several names available from the initial list who could reinforce that area such as Alex Okafor, Devin Taylor, Chris Long, DeMarcus Ware, Datone Jones, and Mario Williams. However the options at other positions are starting to dry up quickly, especially at defensive back, which is quickly becoming a sore spot with the departure of Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox and possibly Morris Claiborne, even with the addition of Carroll.
Before getting into some of the remaining defensive backs I’d first like to point out that ideally Brandon Carr would be brought back on a two- or three-year deal at a reasonable rate. He knows the system, never misses a game, and is a much safer option than Carroll, or most of the remaining options. Of course with the losses at safety the depth chart is looking quite bare as well with just Byron Jones (who becomes a cornerback in many sub-packages), Jeff Heath, and Kavon Frazier. So with that in mind here a few cost-conscious alternatives who could help further bolster the depth at cornerback and safety.
Cornerback Alterraun Verner, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: After an All-Pro 2013 season in Tennessee Verner joined Tampa Bay as a free agent. Without mincing words, he was a free agent bust for the Buccaneers, but he could still be a reasonable fourth or fifth cornerback as long as he isn’t asked to play a starting role. Had four interceptions in three seasons in Tampa and turns 29 during the season.
Cornerback Marcus Cooper, Arizona Cardinals: Like Verner, Cooper is not a player you want starting for you, but he could help solidify the depth chart at cornerback. He’s young (27) with good size (6-2, 192) and had four interceptions and 11 pass deflections last season. Again, not a starting caliber player, but there’s nothing wrong with rolling the dice on a young player with his size as your fourth cornerback. Played more snaps than any corner for Arizona last year except for Patrick Peterson.
Safety Bradley McDougald, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Played almost every snap for Tampa in 2016, McDougald has good size (6-1, 209) and decent range. Only Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, and Vernon Hargreaves played more defensive snaps for the Bucs in 2016. Five interceptions and 21 pass deflections over the last three seasons.
Safety T.J. McDonald, Los Angeles Rams: If it weren’t for an incident where McDonald plead guilty to reckless driving a few months ago, which could result in a suspension, McDonald likely wouldn’t be available right now. A physical box safety with good size (6-2, 217) who will be only 26 when the season starts. Had five sacks and four interceptions with the Rams since entering the league in 2013.
Moving away from the defensive backfield, there is still value to be had at linebacker, a position that could use some depth considering Sean Lee’s injury history and the Jaylon Smith situation.
Linebacker Zach Brown, Tennessee Titans: Signed a one year deal with Buffalo last offseason and proceeded to put up nearly 150 total tackles, four sacks and an interception. Brown is an inconsistent, but highly athletic player with good size at 6-1 and almost 250. At the right price he would help provide insurance in case something happens to Sean Lee or if Jaylon Smith isn’t as ready to go as the Cowboys want us to believe.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges, San Francisco 49ers: Another potential cost-effective piece of insurance for Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith. Hodges is only 26 and is coming off a season where had three sacks and two interceptions. Better in run-support than in coverage Hodges could be a nice rotational piece in base packages who comes off the field in nickel and dime.
Linebacker DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions: Second Team All-Pro in 2014. When healthy Levy is an extremely athletic three down linebacker, although he’s barely seen the field the last two years due to various nebulous injuries that left many in the dark as to the true nature of the injuries. Will turn 30 in a few weeks, if healthy he is a big-time impact player, so he may be worth a flier.