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Cowboys 2017 Free Agency: Five Low Cost Options At Defensive End

With free agency about to begin, here are five pass rushing options the Cowboys could explore for a cheaper price.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

With free agency beginning this week, the mystery will finally be solved as to which players certain teams will go after as they look to strengthen their team for the 2017 season. Of course, the Cowboys front office has typically employed a "sit back and wait" philosophy in recent years so we are likely going to have to wait a little longer to find out which players they sign. Predicting free agents is quite the chore, but the Cowboys have set the framework in place to where we might be able to at least get some idea. For this exercise, we will use a process of elimination to weed out certain defensive ends that don’t fit the mold based on criteria the Cowboys have used in the past.

Here are the top 30 defensive end free agents according to Walter Football.

First off, five of these players have either been franchise-tagged or have re-signed with their old teams (in green).

[EDIT: Right after this article was prepared for publication, William Gholston signed a five-year extension with the Bucs, so he is off the market and should be in green. We note this again later in the article.]

Criteria #1 - Be patient, avoid players in the top 10.

They Cowboys don’t indulge in these big name signings because they understand that teams will be overpaying significantly for such acquisitions. If Dallas is to make a deal, it’s likely going to come by seeking out the talent from the leftovers of the elite group. Removing the top 10, as well as all tagged/re-signed players, leaves 19 players that will come at a more affordable cost.

Criteria #2 - Eliminate players that are a poor scheme fit.

While coming from a 3-4 system is not a deal-breaker, it is also not ideal. We will bounce all players that aren’t already accustom to their role as a 4-3 defensive end.

Criteria #3 - Not interested in older players.

The team could look for a veteran pass rusher to lean on as a bridge player so an older pass rusher is not out of the question. But if Dallas is looking for a player with some upside, it’s going to be of the younger persuasion.

Criteria #4 - Don’t want another team’s problems.

There are many reasons why a team might not choose to retain one of their own players. Maybe it’s financial or maybe it’s a matter of being overloaded in depth at certain positions. Those are reasons teams can live with. What they don’t want is another team’s baggage. There are two players who have character red flags.

Armonty Bryant was suspended three games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Where have we heard that song before? No thanks.

Damontre Moore is well traveled, having stints with the New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, and then the Seattle Seahawks last year. He was arrested for a DWI and driving with a suspended license as well has having several altercations with his teammates in 2015.

What does that leave us with?

Devin Taylor

The Detroit Lions pass rush is about as dismal as the Cowboys and when Ziggy Ansah missed time due to injury, Taylor was the team’s best edge rushing option, logging the most playing time with 715 snaps. He is just a year removed from a seven sack season when a healthy Ansah was manning the other side, but after a strong 2015 season, he struggled in a starting role. He’s ranked around 15th among free agent pass rushers so he won’t be expensive. He should warrant somewhere in the $4 M range which should be the most costly of this group as he’s the most talented edge rusher from this list.

Our own Michael Sisemore identified him as a potential free agent target back in January.

William Gholston

[EDIT: Just after publishing this article we learned that Gholston signed a five-year extension with the Bucs, so he is off the market.]

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have Robert Ayers and Noah Spence on the edge, but it was Gholston who led the defensive line group in snaps with 586. He’s a reliable fixture in the rotation and while his numbers don’t jump out at you, he’s got the attributes that Rod Marinelli can use. At 6’6", he’s got great size and speed combo and can even provide some position flexibility if they used him inside. Sitting at 19th for free agent edge rushers, Gholston’s price won’t be too bad.

Andre Branch

After a career that went nowhere in Jacksonville, Branch was able to take a positive step forward in Miami’s defense. Branch played in all 16 games, started 11 of them and took advantage of his extra reps with a career high 5.5 sacks. He played well enough to turn Mario Williams into a reserve player with spot service. Buyer beware – he plays on a defensive line that features Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh so he’s a guy that sees a lot of single coverage.

Ethan Westbrook

The pass rusher from West Texas A&M wasn’t drafted and hasn’t had much of an NFL career. In three seasons, he’s played in 35 games, starting only two of them. He’s only had four sacks in that span and has only had one big play his entire career.

Kerry Wynn

The Giants are deep on the defensive line, but you’d still have to go way down the depth chart to find Wynn. He only played in 131 snaps last season over a span of 14 games. While he only has minimal value to the Giants, his skill set doesn’t provide the Cowboys anything to get excited about either. He would come cheap, but wouldn’t add much to the rotation.

Many fans are still hoping the Cowboys look at one of the more prominent forces around the edge that are available in free agency. Dallas has to manage it’s money carefully and it’s just not like them to make a big splash signing. If they wait it out and still hope to land a free agent defensive end, it will mostly likely be one of these type of players.

Which pass rusher do you think the Cowboys will sign?

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