When we reflect upon the season of 2017 Dallas Cowboys, we’re going to ask the question of what could have been. What if the Ezekiel Elliott had taken the suspension at the start of season? What if Tyron Smith never got injured? Ditto for Sean Lee. Those questions cannot be answered but we do know with every NFL off-season, there will be changes in the coaching staff and more importantly the personnel.
As we’ve learned with this team, they are rarely major players in free agency and I suspect the trend will continue as the team looks for bargains to fill their roster. Here are just a few targets the Cowboys may look for in free agency this off-season.
For the sake of a new acquisition perspective, we’re going to omit players with expiring contracts currently with the Cowboys. Also we’re going to omit positions in which the Cowboys have several players under contract such as wide receiver and tight end and seem to immediate prospects for a role on the team going into next season.
Now that doesn’t mean to say that the team won’t address those spots via the draft, just not necessarily a need given their approach with thrifty spending in free agency.
Backup Quarterback: Drew Stanton (Cardinals)
Last summer, the Cowboys found themselves in fortuitous position when Cooper Rush elevated himself from a camp arm to the team’s back up QB. However, it wouldn’t come as any surprise if the team felt the need to create more competition at the backup quarterback spot. That being said, the team may feel that Dak Prescott needs a veteran voice in the quarterback room to assist him.
Drew Stanton seems to be a sensible fit for that role. He has been in the league more than a decade and when asked to step in as the backup, has shown that he’s capable of playing well. He is coming off injury, but it seems almost certain that he will return for a 12th NFL campaign. If Scott Linehan is retained, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him reunite with a familiar face as he did with Kellen Moore.
Also Considered: Josh McCown (Jets)
Rotational RB: Orleans Darkwa (NY Giants)
With the upcoming free agency of Alfred Morris and the flashes he demonstrated over the course of the season, it’s very likely he’s played his last down as a Dallas Cowboy. As the team seeks to round out its depth at running back behind Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith, I expect the team to fill that need by way of the NFL Draft.
However, the Cowboys have shown with Morris they aren’t opposed to acquiring a divisional rival’s former lead back. Orleans Darkwa has shown at times he can be a capable rotational runner and has the experience playing special teams.
Also considered: Jamaal Charles (Broncos)
Left Guard: Alex Boone (Cardinals)
Of all the things that ailed the Cowboys offense, the offensive line should be one the main talking points. While Jonathan Cooper did do an admirable job at left guard, he did suffer what looks to be a serious knee injury in the final game of the season. With that being said, I do feel that the Cowboys will address the position with a more stable option perhaps in the coming draft.
With that in mind, to fill the depth on the roster, the team may seek out the services of Alex Boone. He may not be very mobile but he is a brawler and far too many times we saw the left guard get driven backwards at inopportune times. He has the experience and has started 86 games in the NFL.
Also considered: Luke Joeckel (Seahawks)
Swing Tackle: Jermon Bushrod (Dolphins)
The Chaz Green experiment failed… Twice! As a top 100 pick and the team’s effort to get their presumed best 5 lineman on the filed, he was slated as the team’s starting left guard to start the season. As we’ve seen far too many times, Chaz Green failed to remain healthy and lost his job at left guard to Jonathan Cooper; then relegated to swing tackle. Following the injury to Tyron Smith, he was asked start at left tackle.
When the smoke had cleared in Atlanta, we were left with 6 sacks surrendered to Adrien Clayborn (1 of those surrendered by Byron Bell) and Bell as the new swing tackle, which also had its warts. Jermon Bushrod is far removed from his days as a pro bowler for the New Orleans, but like the aforementioned Alex Boone, he does bring plenty of experience starting left and right tackle.
He has played some guard too. Per spotrac, the pending market of swing tackles are players that aren’t very good or aren’t very affordable. Jermon Bushrod fits somewhere right in the middle.
Also considered: Austin Pasztor (Falcons)
Defensive End: Alex Okafor (Saints)
If you had to pick the most pleasant surprise of the season, it may just be the improved pass rush that fans have been clamoring for anchored by breakout star Demarcus Lawrence. Lawrence had arguably the best year of any defender in the NFL.
Although he technically is a free agent, it seems highly unlikely that he is not retained by the Cowboys. The Cowboys value the flexibility of their defensive lineman (David Irvin and Tyrone Crawford) but it appears with the uncertainty of the health of Charles Tapper and the inconsistent Benson Mayowa entering the final year of his contract, the team could be searching for a more proven veteran presence to provide depth.
Also, David Irvin a restricted free agent and some team maybe willing to give up a premium draft pick to acquire him if he is tendered. Okafor is an interesting option for the Cowboys potentially. The team is very adamant of taking ends with length to play in Rod Marinelli’s system. Okafor isn’t very tall at 6’4", but he’s got almost 34 inch arms; just a shade shorter than Taco Charlton. Okafor played well in spurts this season with the Saints and perhaps the Cowboys can get a good player trending upward.
Also considered: Cassius Marsh (49ers)
Defensive Tackle: Star Lotulelei (Panthers)
The Cowboys saw a slight drop off in how they were able to stop teams from running the football this past season. Leaving camp, they felt good about the tandem of Maliek Collins and Stephen Paea. However, Paea opted to retire after he couldn’t overcome a nagging knee injury and that left Maliek Collins to man the 1 technique for much of the season. Collins himself was dealing with a foot injury for most of the season and did not fair well. The team tried other options there such as Brian Price, who also was also lost for the season, and Richard Ash.
With the impending free agency of Brian Price and Datone Jones the Cowboys find themselves thin at defensive tackle. Star Lotulelei is a high profile name and on the surface may look like he’s too rich for the Cowboys penny pockets. For all that, when looking at free agency last season, teams didn’t overvalue the position. Dontari Poe and Benny Logan were only able to acquire 1 year contracts and for 8 million dollars each, which may be more than the Cowboys are willing to spend but Lotulelei may not command such a high number.
With the presence of Lotulelei the Cowboys may be able to truly make teams more 1 dimensional for an emerging pass rush, if they can stop teams from running on early downs.
Also considered: Jay Bromley (NY Giants)
Linebacker: Gerald Hodges (Saints)
Last off-season the team showed that they were willing to part with key contributors due to the cost it would keep to retain them. With that being said, the Cowboys more than likely won’t be able to keep the flexible Anthony Hitchens. With the salary cap, it’s just the nature of the business. Average players will leave for good money and good players will leave and get great money. It remains to be seen for Anthony Hitchens. He has shown toughness to play through injuries and multiple positions.
He’s done a great job of playing with eyes and diagnosing the plays. The defense’s resurgence in the latter part of the season should not be seen as a coincidence to him playing alongside a healthy Sean Lee. Along with Demarcus Lawrence and David Irvin, he’ll be a difficult player to replace if the Cowboys were to lose him. Kyle Wilber is also set to hit free agency. It’ll depend on how much they value a replacement at linebacker for those players but they may spend a premium pick on a linebacker.
Hodges is a player that has bounced around but is a big player who has the athleticism to run sideline to sideline and does play special teams. For their budget, they won’t able to fill the void left by Anthony Hitchens, but Hodges could be solid depth.
Also considered: Terrence Garvin (Seahawks)
What are your thoughts? Who are some low cost free agents the Cowboys could acquire?