The Philadelphia Eagles made some big free agent moves and they will be playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday. And then there’s the Dallas Cowboys. They let a bunch of their players go and did next to nothing in free agency to bolster this team. They won’t be playing on Sunday.
How does that sit with you?
Well, props to Philadelphia for a job well done, but Cowboys fans need to relax and take a nap on their own rug because it’s not anything to get worked up about. Every year there are going to be teams that make moves that work and others that blow up in their face. Look how much the New York Giants spend a couple years ago in free agency. They won three games this past season.
Free agency is a valuable tool and can certainly help teams improve their roster, however the Cowboys want very little to do with this approach. They are adamant about not overpaying for players and are perfectly content with just letting their guys walk in free agency.
ESPN’s Mike Sando recently graded each team’s 2017 performance and pointed to the Cowboys complacently in the offseason as a culprit in their lack of success.
The restraint Dallas showed by letting guard Ron Leary and multiple defensive backs depart in free agency made sense from a value standpoint, but it also predictably set the Cowboys back on the field, especially when injuries affected young replacements in the secondary.
Most fans have an understanding that passing on re-signing their own free agents to over-inflated deals was the right thing to do. The remodeling of the secondary came with a savings of $15 million for just 2017 alone. And Brandon Carr is going to carry a cap hit of $7 M in each of the next three seasons for the Baltimore Ravens. That’s a pricey investment for a guy who’s 31 and is consistently performing at a mediocre level. Savings like that will allow the Cowboys to retain really good players like DeMarcus Lawrence. Had the Cowboys flipped the bill for all these veteran defensive backs, the team would be behind the eight ball when attempting to re-sign key players this offseason. But they’re not and we all understand why.
While the money aspect is easy to wrap our minds around, what often gets lost is the skill level the team has swapped out in one swift offseason. Check out how each of the veteran DBs performed (courtesy of Pro Football Focus) with their new team, how many snaps they played, and the money each of them received this season:
And now compare this to their replacements.
Not only is the team saving $15 million, but they are getting better play from their new unit already. Yes, the Cowboys endured some growing pains when all three of their rookie DB’s injured their hamstring at different points in the season. This not only left them scarce at the position at times, but also hindered their development.
Last year, so much was made about how well the unit had improved from the season before. And for good reason. Prior to the 2016 season, the pass defense had rolled out the red carpet for receivers, and ended up in the bottom third in the league in terms of passing yards allowed per attempt. But 2016 was a huge improvement and as the group moved out of the bottom and finished 13th in that category.
But even with all the injuries and running around with a bunch of rookies, the 2017 unit came together and still outperformed the 2016 squad.
What is even more impressive is that once they were fully healthy, they were performing extremely well, with all five of their remaining games below their seasonal average.
- Against Washington = 4.7 yards per attempt
- Against Oakland = 4.4 yards per attempt
- Against New York = 4.8 yards per attempt
- Against Seattle = 2.5 yards per attempt
- Against Philadelphia = 4.0 yards per attempt
The front office deserves high marks for the way they handled this. It would have stood out even more had all of them not been hit with injuries. And it would have been easier to praise had the offense not struggled in the second half of the season. Everyone feels optimistic about the future of the Cowboys secondary, but it’s a credit to how this organization approaches the offseason that got them here.
The Cowboys had a plan and it appears it was a good one. Whether it’s always apparent or not, the team continues to move in the right direction.