The Dallas Cowboys have made it clear: They rely first and foremost on the NFL Draft to build their roster each year. It is the primary source of new talent, and the team seeks to re-sign the more productive players as their rookie deals draw to a close. That does not mean that free agents are seen as being without value. But their role with the team is always more about filling holes on the roster than a long-term hope that they will become core members of the team. This has become even more the plan after free agent debacles like Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain.
And with the combination of highly-regarded draftees and the three “red-shirts” from 2016’s class (Jaylon Smith, Charles Tapper, and Rico Gathers), places on the 53-man roster are at a real premium this year. And something else has emerged with how the Cowboys sign free agents, they tend to have something of an “escape hatch” built into their contracts, where the cost of releasing them is at worst manageable, and in many cases absolutely cheap.
Earlier, Danny Phantom took a look at veterans who are at risk of losing their jobs this year to the influx of new talent. He touched on some of the names discussed here, but this is a look specifically at the five new free agents brought into Dallas this offseason, and just how likely each is to be gone by the start of the season. As Danny did, this will include the dollars involved should each be released at some point in camp. (Figures from Over the Cap.)
It is of note that the Cowboys only added five outside names, which is not only reflective of their overall approach, but is expected to result in a real windfall of compensatory picks next year.
Cornerback Nolan Carroll, age 30
Dead money if cut: $1 million. Cap savings: $1 million.
Carroll was certainly a needed insurance policy with the loss of both Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in free agency. While his resume is hardly the greatest, he at least gave the team an experienced starting corner. However, with three cornerbacks drafted, two in the first three rounds, Carroll is going to have to prove he is a better option - and that is going to be a real challenge. His age does not work in his favor, either. Dallas clearly prefers youth and those rookie contracts.
Prediction: Released at the final cutdown to 53.
Defensive Tackle Stephen Paea, age 29
Dead money if cut: $500,000. Cap savings: $1,406,250.
Paea is in another crowded room as part of the defensive line group. And the Cowboys also drafted two DTs this year - but unlike with the cornerbacks, they were both seventh-rounders, which makes both prime candidates for trying to get through waivers onto the practice squad.
He also has something of a sponsor in Rod Marinelli, a factor that should not be taken lightly (see Scott Linehan and Kellen Moore). And he also has a bit of that position flex that the Cowboys like.
Predicton: Danny thinks he makes the team, and that seems to be a good call.
Defensive end Damontre Moore, age 24
Dead money if cut: $100,000. Cap savings: $750,000.
Another player who is trying to shoulder his way into that densely populated rushmen room, Moore is an attempted reclamation project who has never lived up to his third-round selection. But he is also a young player, and a defensive end on a team that is looking for anyone who can consistently get to the passer. He has a great opportunity if he can get his head straight. And that age is of note, there is a pretty well researched theory that young men cross a significant maturity boundary at around age 25. It is really going to come down to what he shows on the field.
Prediction: He is going to be one of the last players to make it or not. Let’s take the optimistic view and say he will squeak onto the team, especially if the dreaded “i” word comes into play for some other DE. (Find wood and knock on it until your knuckles bleed.)
Offensive tackle Byron Bell, age 28
Dead money if cut: $250,000. Cap savings: $1,450,000.
It’s very early in the process, but it sure looks like the staff favors having La’el Collins become the new starting right tackle, with Jonathan Cooper (who joined the team late in the 2016 season and was re-signed this year) taking over the left guard spot. That puts Bell in competition with Chaz Green for the swing tackle role - and with all things considered, such as the draft capital invested in Green, Bell is at a disadvantage here. The one thing to watch is Green’s health, which has been a real issue.
Prediction: Bell will not make the team, and may go in the first cutdown from 90.
Safety Robert Blanton, age 27
Dead money if cut: $80,000. Cap savings: $615,000.
The contract may be the worst thing for Blanton. It just screams “disposable”. He really looks like nothing more than an insurance policy, and with the coup of having Xavier Woods fall to them in the sixth round as well as the presence of Byron Jones and the GOAT, Jeff Heath, Blanton’s value to the team is suddenly very questionable. He is going to have to really show up to have any chance.
Prediction: Goes in the last cut down.
However accurate these attempts at forecasting things are, there is still a lot of supporting evidence for how Dallas approaches free agency as a stopgap until they can come up with better solutions through the draft. There are none of the free agents this year that they cannot walk away from without any real damage to the cap.
And if this draft class works out the way we hope, they are likely to do just that with some. Or maybe even all.