Every NFL team is now into the process of figuring out their plans for this coming season, including the Super Bowl participants. Due to cap space, organizational culture and how close they feel they are to being a contender, every team has their own approach. In a couple of recent years, we have seen how good the Cowboys can be in this process.
Take a look at the 2014 and 2016 seasons when the Cowboys were one of the best teams in football. Injuries and suspensions have been an issue, though, and the Cowboys have been unable to remain consistent on a yearly basis. Despite multiple up-and-down seasons, the Cowboys have kept the same approach: build your team through the draft, do not overspend in free agency, instead find bargain-bin players.
This approach has received a lot of criticism in recent days with the rival Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl. After all, head coach Doug Pederson just completed his second season as head coach and helped the Eagles rebuild entirely in those years. Signing big names to prove-it deals (see Alshon Jeffery), trading almost nothing for talented players (see Jay Ajayi), and finding steals in the draft (see Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jalen Mills, and Jordan Hicks) has propelled the Eagles to the ultimate reward in football.
Nevertheless, the Cowboys are going to continue their offseason approach until we see otherwise. It seems that management states it every year, but Stephen Jones remains intent on their strategy:
“We just really need to focus on this draft, do well in the draft, and then work the edges and work the opportunities we may see come our way that would improve our football team.”
The emphasis on the draft is obvious in this quote, whereas the “work the opportunities we may see come our way that would improve our football team” is an indirect reference to free agency.
Let’s take a look at five names that are not garnering too much attention, yet can still provide an impact for the Cowboys going forward.
John Brown, Wide Receiver
There are options in free agency that could provide more of an “throw-it-up and come-down-with-it” type of receiver. However, with the offense the Cowboys have deployed over the last couple of seasons, the offense’s goal is to wear you down, sustain long drives, and keep the defense off the field. That is why John Brown’s name is here.
At some point in time, Brown was budding as a superstar in Bruce Arians’ scheme. With his speed and ability to get open, Brown was a productive No. 2 receiver in Arizona that was out-shined by future first-ballot Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. The problem with Brown is that he has not been able to stay healthy.
Out of the guys on this list, Brown may be a little more costly given that his name is the closest to ‘household’ status. But the Cowboys would be wise to give Brown an incentive-laden deal, providing a chance for him to make closer to market value if he stays healthy and performs up to the level he can.
WR John Brown doesn't anticipate return to Cardinals https://t.co/hrDp09TDXa— Touchdown Wire (@TheNFLWire) February 3, 2018
Beau Allen, Defensive Tackle
There may not be a better defensive tackle in all of football, not named Aaron Donald, than the Eagles’ Fletcher Cox. Perhaps the best and most important player on that roster, Cox has been so dominant and so reliable that he has kept a pretty good player behind him from getting snaps.
Through four seasons, Allen has been a nice depth piece for the Eagles. Recently turning 26, Allen is a bigger defensive tackle at 6-foot-4, 325 pounds. However for a guy his size, he runs pretty well, too. Dallas needs a 1-technique defensive tackle and while they will likely look to add that player at some point in the draft, the reality is that the Cowboys do not value that specific position with that much importance.
The war of attrition is real in the trenches and sometimes the best ability or skill is availability. Allen has missed just one NFL game in his career. He has totaled 87 tackles and 11 stuffs. That’s pretty good value for a guy that has predominately been a backup in his NFL career.
From working at Detello's Pizza -- solid food -- to playing in the Super Bowl Sunday. Talked this week with those who know @TonkaSkippers alum & #Eagles DT Beau Allen best. By the way, he's a free agent in March. Selfishly, think he'd be a good fit with the #Vikings. pic.twitter.com/Uh7OrrlL6H— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) February 2, 2018
Kevin Pierre-Louis, Linebacker
It feels like a just a little while ago when Pierre-Louis was one of my favorite players in the 2014 draft class. Through four seasons, Pierre Louis has totaled just 84 tackles and one start. So, what’s the point? Why should the Cowboys have interest in him? Well, don’t count him out just yet.
A versatile, rangy linebacker out of Boston College, Pierre-Louis’ NFL potential has not been tapped into yet. He measures at 6-feet, 230 pounds, fitting that undersized linebacker mold that NFL defenses are starting to target and utilize. At just 24-years-old, Pierre-Louis has yet to find his niche after three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and a short stint with the Kansas City Chiefs. It also does not help that he was arrested last week on misdemeanor accounts of marijuana possession and driving without a license plate.
But Dallas has not been afraid to take chances on players with cloudy histories in the past. And at the price Pierre-Louis’ value is at, the Cowboys could get a decent depth and special teams chess piece.
In the 2014 draft, the Cowboys were targeting a linebacker at some point in the middle rounds. That player ended up being Anthony Hitchens. However, Pierre-Louis’ name was still on the board. What a coincidence it is that Hitchens might go elsewhere in free agency and the Cowboys have a hole that Pierre-Louis could fill.
Charles Sims, Running Back
With Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, and Rod Smith all on the roster (though Morris will be a free agent), you may question why have a running back on this list. It feels like the Cowboys have been trying to find their pass-catching running back for years. Lance Dunbar was going to be that guy in 2015. After all, before his season-ending injury, he had 20 receptions for 215 yards in just three games!
In last year’s draft, the Cowboys were targeting Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round. However, the Eagles traded up just in front of Dallas and selected him. Dallas selected Ryan Switzer with the pick after. Rod Smith showed potential to be a nice “spell” back for the Cowboys this past season, but this offense would improve immensely with an out-of-the-backfield receiver-type of player.
Sims could be an option at catching passes out of the backfield. In four seasons, Sims has caught 129 passes for nearly 1,200 yards and six touchdowns. By adding Sims, the Cowboys could add another element to their offense. If the goal for the offense is to be more ‘Dak-Friendly’, then adding a dimension to the offense like this one would be more than ideal.
E.J. Gaines, Cornerback
Gaines may not receive a whole lot of attention, but he had one heckuva year in his first season with the Bills. Playing in multiple different defenses, Gaines has been a victim of consistency. However, he was a right cornerback in Buffalo and he succeeded tremendously.
With Buffalo featuring a defense that heavily relies upon Cover 2, Gaines’ blue-collar mentality was perfectly suited. He isn’t an all-world or spectacular cornerback, but he’s a dependable player that has shown he can make an impact when in an environment that suits his strengths. He was given an 86.6 grade by PFF.
Dallas has a bevy of cornerbacks at the moment with Orlando Scandrick, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Anthony Brown. Even safety Xavier Woods gets involved in the slot. Even Byron Jones could possibly be a cornerback again in 2018. However, depending on how they decide to deploy their current safeties, the Cowboys would be wise to add another cornerback to match wideouts of the pass-heavy NFC. For that reason, Gaines fits the bill as a nice piece at the cornerback position.