The Dallas Cowboys managed to follow two seemingly contradictory aphorisms during the first few days of NFL free agency this year: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”. They stuck to the basic strategy they have used the past several years, while making a bit of a tactical swerve. The free agents that have been brought in certainly fit the profile of lower-cost acquisitions to fill needs along with some selected re-signing of their own players. But things moved at a much faster pace this year, with four moves announced after only about 30 hours had passed since things kicked off, and all four coming with absolutely no real hints that the team was even talking to the players.
One thing seems fairly obvious. The four players announced late Friday, Terrance Williams, Nolan Carroll, Stephen Paea, and Damontre Moore, had to have been targets all along for the team to have moved so rapidly. Williams was apparently a case of deciding to accept an offer that the team had on the table once he had a chance to survey the market, but the others were all players that Dallas has had at least some interest in prior to this offseason. They brought Carroll in for a visit a year ago before he decided to return to the Philadelphia Eagles. Paea has been seen as a player Rod Marinelli wanted to acquire for some time. And they also had Moore in for a visit over the summer last year. All indications are that they had some information on that trio to make them early priorities for free agency.
This is probably not any different than most years. What is somewhat of a change is that the Cowboys moved so early in free agency. We have become used to days passing, with any signings coming sporadically as the fan base wailed and gnashed their teeth. The sudden burst of announcements was almost exhausting if you are a blogger trying to keep track of things on social media - but it was also a strangely fun couple of hours.
What was really surprising was that the team managed to get the deals done with absolutely no word leaking out that they were moving on them. That may be due to a focus on maintaining better operations security at the Star than existed at Valley Ranch, but it may just be because of the whole Tony Romo saga, which not only sucked all the oxygen out of the room, it got the nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water vapor as well. This is a clear sign that the Cowboys, and particularly Stephen Jones, who runs the nuts and bolts stuff more than his father Jerry, are much more capable of handling multiple things than the media and fans. While the team is unquestionably doing all they can to find a favorable resolution of Romo’s departure, they also are efficiently tending to the rest of business as well. It was again rather amusing to watch the near-consternation as the names rolled out in rapid succession.
But none of this deviated at all from the more crucial underlying plan. The signings were all team friendly and designed to bring in serviceable options rather than star quality. Williams is more a case of keeping the band together, but Carroll and Paea in particular look to be adequate replacements. There has been some complaints voiced in certain quarters that the team did not really upgrade the positions, of course. Again, that is not the mission for the Cowboys in free agency. And there are arguments that there may be more to these signings than just trying to mark time. Bryan Broaddus, the scouting expert for DallasCowboys.com, took a look at Carroll’s video from last year, and came away with a favorable opinion. And our own Michael Sisemore detailed how Paea may actually be an upgrade over Terrell McClain, who departed in free agency.
Moore is another case entirely. He looks like another attempt at a reclamation project, with red flags for problems in the locker room and an arrest involving alcohol and maybe even marijuana. The terms of his deal were not released at the time this was written, but it is assumed that they are even more favorable for the team, with little to no cost if things don’t work out. He was a very talented college player at Texas A&M, and if he is serious about resurrecting his career, then there could be a real payoff. It seems that Dallas will not move completely away from these kinds of projects, so we should hope that they are judicious in just how much they risk.
It has been a very interesting start to free agency, and with the retirement of Doug Free, both Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr still unsigned by anyone, and no answer yet at the backup quarterback position, we likely have a lot more to look forward to. We will see if there are any more surprises coming.