Every year during free agency, there's almost no big-name free agent that isn't linked to the Cowboys at some point. This year, there was almost no free agent pass rusher or cornerback the Cowboys weren't linked to, the more expensive the better.
And while we collectively like to point our fingers at Big Media and poo poo them for writing stories linking premier free agents to the Cowboys, some of the worst offenders are Cowboys fans themselves who flood comment boards, blogs, and social media with ideas about which players the Cowboys should acquire - only to then be disappointed when the Cowboys don't sign them.
So while the calls for DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul, Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram, and many others went unheeded, the Cowboys quietly went about their business and spent almost $40 million on free agents in March. That's right, $40 million.
Here's an overview of the 10 free agents the Cowboys have signed so far this year, along with the contract terms that have become available so far.
|Player||POS||AGE||Years||Total Contract Value||Guaranteed Money||1st year Cap Hit
|Terrance Williams||WR||27||4||17.0 million||9.5 million||2.3 million|
|Nolan Carroll||CB||30||3||10.0 million||3.0 million||2.0 million|
|Byron Bell||RT||28||1||2.5 million||0.3 million||tbd|
|Stephen Paea||DE||28||1||2.0 million||0.5 million||1.9 million|
|Jonathan Cooper||OG||27||1||2.0 million||0.5 million||1.7 million|
|Damontre Moore||DE||24||2||1.7 million||0.1 million||0.8 million|
|Brice Butler||WR||27||1||1.1 million||0.3 million||1.1 million|
|Darren McFadden||RB||29||1||1.0 million||0.1 million||0.7 million|
|Kellen Moore||QB||27||1||0.8 million||0.1 million||0.6 million|
|David Irving||DT||23||1||0.6 million||-||0.6 million|
|Total||38.6 million||14.3 million||11.7 million|
The Cowboys have handed out contracts worth almost $40 million in free agency so far this year. But the contract value is just one part of the equation in free agency.
In free agency, headlines blasting out contract values are the norm, but the value of an NFL contract is not in the total contract dollars or in the length of the contract. What really matters in any NFL contract are the guarantees. Teams owe their newly signed free agents only the guaranteed portion of their contracts, and nothing more. And when that guaranteed portion is used up, it often signals the end of that player's tenure with his new team.
Take newly signed Cowboys cornerback Nolan Carroll. His three-year, $10 million contract (plus a $3 million signing bonus) is essentially a one-year rental which the team can decide to extend if it wishes. The Cowboys will pay Carroll $4 million in 2017, $3 million in the form of his guaranteed contract and $1 million as a base salary. The Cowboys hold option years on 2018 and 2019, which effectively makes the contract a 1-year, $4 million deal.
So how does the Cowboys free agency spending compare to other teams across the league? Here's an overview (per Spotrac.com, whose contract database is behind by a day or two) of where the Cowboys rank relative to their NFL peers.
|Rank||Total Value||Guaranteed||Cap Hit 2017|
|Team||FA Spend||Team||FA Spend||Team||FA Spend|
The big and expensive names are all gone, so while this snapshot of free agency spending will change as teams sign more free agents, it is unlikely to change dramatically, and as such gives us a good feel for where the Cowboys rank relative to their peers, and that's somewhere in the lower half.
The Cowboys didn't go overboard like some of the teams at the top of the table, but neither did they sit still and do nothing. The almost $40 million may come as a surprise given the relative paucity of headline-grabbing signings, but that is par for the course for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys have been trying to follow a specific business model for a while now, and that model is less about spending your money on someone else's free agents, and more about spending it on your own instead.
Free agency is as much about managing risk as anything. Ideally you invest your money where you know the risks are minimal, and that's for the players you know the best - your own players. What you want to avoid in free agency is tying up too much of your money, especially your guaranteed money, in risks that you can't control. There is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing in veteran players to help your team, as long as you don't do it with contracts that are potential cap killers if the player doesn't live up to your expectations, doesn't fit your scheme, brings some baggage with him that you don't know of, can't get along with your coaches, contracts the uptown-flu, or otherwise doesn't work out for some reason.
Next year, 2017 free agents like Dontari Poe, Melvin Ingram, or Kawann Short will be free agents again, and will again top the free agency wish list of many Cowboys fans, but the Cowboys will instead spend their money on re-signing players like Zack Martin, Demarcus Lawrence, or Anthony Hitchens, and fill roster holes with mid-tier free agents.
But for that business model to work, you've got to draft successfully.
Since 2010, the Cowboys have drafted nine future Pro Bowlers and added one as a college free agent (Dan Bailey). Eight of them received contract extensions in Dallas, as the Cowboys focused on retaining their top guys. And if they want to avoid spending big in free agency, and instead spending big on their own players, they'll have to continue drafting well, starting with the next draft in about four weeks.