In our 10-part Cowboys’ offseason plan, we laid out the five elements of the Cowboys’ team-building philosophy.
- Build through the draft.
- Re-sign your best players.
- Plug holes through free agency, but don’t break the bank.
- Go into the draft with holes filled, so you can take the best player available.
- Stay young. Don’t re-sign any player over 30.
Let’s see how the signings so far have fit this philosophy.
Terrance Williams. Williams would qualify as among the Cowboys’ better players, and they got him back for a very team-friendly cost of $17 million over four years, when other wideouts were making more than double that amount. This fits numbers 2-5.
Brice Butler. Butler is not one of the Cowboy’s best players, but for $1.1 million he fills a hole with a bargain contract by any measure, which fits 3-5.
Nolan Carroll. Carroll, or someone like him, was essential with the uncertainty at cornerback. He’s going to be 30, so he doesn’t really fit number 5. But his $10 million over three years does fit numbers 3 and 4.
Stephen Paea. On a one-year, $2 million contract, and at 28 years old, Paea fits 3-5, holding down the slot opened by Terrell McClain’s departure.
Damontre Moore. He’s also on a one-year deal, and is under 30, so he would fit numbers 3-5. The issue with him has been some locker room issues. If those crop up, he may not make it to the season when his contract would be guaranteed. So this seems like a low-risk, potential upside move that the Cowboys love to do. Just think of George Selvie, though Selvie didn’t have the character questions.
So far, so good. It’s not the type of bold moves like New England made by giving Stephon Gilmore a massive contract to play cornerback, or trading their first-round pick for Brandin Cooks, or getting Kony Ealy from the Panthers for dropping down eight slots in the second round. But the Cowboys’ execution has fit their philosophy very closely so far. With Doug Free’s retirement, they also have another $5 million in cap space they can use to sign players this year (as soon as Free officialy hands in his retirement papers).
What else is left to do?
Dallas needs three things on offense that they will likely address in free agency.
New right tackle? With Doug Free retiring, Dallas only has Chaz Green, a capable tackle who hasn’t been able to stay healthy, Emmett Cleary, the backup tackle from last season, and possibly La’el Collins, if Dallas decides to move him outside. If Dallas chooses this last option, they then have a hole at left guard. This has gone from one of the most stable areas of the team to a sudden situation that’s in flux.
Re-signing Jonathan Cooper might help them on both fronts. Cooper is a bit of a mystery. He was coveted by the Cowboys when he first came out, and was picked ahead of where Dallas drafted. But the Cowboys were his fourth team, and we never saw him play, so it’s very hard to get a bead on whether the Cowboys would even want him after what they saw in practice. Yet if Dallas can help him reach his potential, he might solve both the left guard and right tackle issues for a modest investment. In our 10-part series, we speculated that the Cowboys might retain Cooper.
Dallas is also likely to draft an offensive lineman to protect themselves against injury, and cultivate him to take over one of the two line spots that remain uncertain in a year or two, like they hoped Chaz Green would do. The challenge will be whether Dallas can find such a linemen in lower rounds, so they can prioritize their highest picks for defensive help.
Backup running back. The Cowboys still have Alfred Morris, but they benched him down the stretch once Darren McFadden returned. Look for the Cowboys to re-sign McFadden, and hopefully offset his cost by cutting Morris. Dallas could then draft a third running back, or pick one up as a UDFA, or find a cheap free agent. It’s possible Lance Dunbar could also be brought back.
Backup quarterback. When Romo is eventually gone, the cupboard will be bare. The Cowboys have already met with Josh McCown, but is he worth what he might ask for? Cowboys need to wait for his price to come down to $2 million or less, which is what Mark Sanchez received. Kellen Moore would come back much more cheaply if the Cowboys want him.
Dallas needs a free agent safety at least, but let’s look at all the defensive groups.
Defensive line. With the signing of Paea and Moore, Dallas now has nine defensive linemen - Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins, David Irving, Stephen Paea, Cedric Thornton, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, and Damontre Moore. They might still add players if they want to go after someone like DeMarcus Ware to give them speed off the edge, if he comes at a reasonable price, but they don’t have to add anyone else at this point.
Look for Dallas to add one or two defensive linemen in the draft. Dallas has enough players now, but with Lawrence a potential free agent, Crawford and Thornton underperforming their deals, Tapper a wild card, and Paea and Moore only on one-year contracts, the Cowboys need to infuse the line with controlled assets and an impact player if they can find one.
Linebacker. Dallas might bring in a free agent linebacker for special teams, but they are reasonably set, given the expectation that Jaylon Smith will be able to play this year.
Cornerback. With the addition of Carroll, the Cowboys could go into the draft with what they have. But there is still room to bring back Brandon Carr or Morris Claiborne. Carr brings durability, while Claiborne is a better corner when healthy. It would not be surprising for Dallas to sign one of them, and then draft a cornerback. Dallas needs youth here, with Scandrick, Carroll, and Carr (if they bring him back) all 30 or older this year.
Safety. With the loss of Church and Wilcox, this is the biggest problem area of the roster at the moment. Sure, the Cowboys have Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, and Kavon Frazier, but they can’t be expected to cover for both missing safeties. Dallas needs a free agent and a draft pick. Unfortunately, all the highly rated safeties are now gone. TJ McDonald of the Rams is the highest-rated free agent safety left, and only 26, but he was arrested last January on a DUI when he crashed his car.
In free agency, look for the Cowboys to add, at a minimum:
- Backup running back, hopefully Darren McFadden
- Backup quarterback, either a more established vet, or Kellen Moore
They might also add:
- Offensive lineman, perhaps Jonathan Cooper
- Second cornerback from among Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne
- Edge rusher like DeMarcus Ware.
Over to you, what do you expect Dallas to do?