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Predicting Cowboys free agency: Looking at past signings as guide for second wave

If we look back at Cowboys transactions from the past few years, can we predict who they’ll sign?

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the first wave of free agency has come and gone, this is the time the Cowboys typically go to work. One Cowboys source, Mike Fisher, is predicting that the Cowboys will sign at least two players this week:

The term “tier 2” is an interesting one as you can argue that any player that made it past an eventful first week is now in “tier 2” going forward. Sure, there are some big fish like Ndamukong Suh still swimming in the pool hoping to recoup big losses after having found themselves a cap casualty. With that said, the longer they’re on the market, the more they will see their value depreciate. For guys like Suh, he’s taking as many visits as he can to drive up his value. It’s not out of the question for players of his caliber to take one-year deals in hopes to hit free agency one more time and get paid, it happens every year. However, though there is rumored interest, the Cowboys are focused on other positions right now.

For the record, the Cowboys are meeting with a former third-round pick in versatile interior offensive lineman Marcus Martin. Martin has started 24 of 26 games he’s been activated for over the last four seasons but hasn’t been active since December of 2016. Martin can play both center and guard which could fill the Joe Looney role, if Jumbo Joe finds another suitor in free agency this offseason.

What can be considered a “tier 2” acquisition would be another rumored meeting with perhaps one of the best swing tackles in the league, Cameron Fleming. Remember when the Cowboys had Jermey Parnell as their swing tackle? This would be reminiscent of those times as Fleming is a capable starter but nobody’s really sure that he would break the starting lineup in Dallas.

While we wait to hear anything concrete out of Cowboys headquarters, I thought it might be fun to attempt to predict just what “tier 2” signings the Cowboys might make. I’m certainly no Nostradamus when it comes to these things but there have been a few of my free agent focus pieces come to reality.

The best guesses were with Greg Hardy, who was signed by the Cowboys three days after my profile and Alfred Morris (signed a month after). Other than that, I was two year’s late with Stephen Paea (profiled in 2015, signed in 2017) and there was reported mutual interest in Adrian Clayborn at one point. Still, having written so many of these profiles over the years, it’s made it easier to know what the Cowboys look for in free agents.

In order for us to know what free agents they may sign, we have to first look at the last four years of signings:

Free Agent Season Contract Length Salary Guaranteed Status
Stephen Paea 2017 1 year $2,000,000 $500,000 Retired
Nolan Carroll 2017 3 years (Optional) $10,000,000 $3,000,000 UFA
Damontre Moore 2017 2 years $1,650,000 $100,000 UFA
Terrance Williams (re-signed) 2017 4 years $17,000,000 $9,500,000 Signed
Byron Bell 2017 1 year $2,000,000 $250,000 UFA
Jonathan Cooper 2017 1 year $2,000,000 $500,000 UFA
Cedric Thornton 2016 4 years $17,000,000 $8,250,000 UFA
Charles Brown 2016 1 year $760,000 $760,000 Retired
Kyle Wilber (re-signed) 2016 2 years $3,250,000 $1,000,000 Raiders
Morris Claiborne (re-signed) 2016 1 year $3,000,000 $500,000 Jets
James Hanna (re-signed) 2016 3 years $8,250,000 $3,250,000 Signed
Benson Mayowa 2016 3 years $8,250,000 $3,350,000 UFA
Alfred Morris 2016 2 years $3,500,000 $1,800,000 UFA
Joe Looney 2016 2 years $1,675,000 $100,000 UFA
Greg Hardy 2015 1 year $11,311,600 Incentives Inactive
Andrew Gachkar 2015 2 years $5,200,000 $1,200,000 UFA
Darren McFadden 2015 2 years $3,000,000 Incentives UFA
Rolando McClain 2015 1 year $3,000,000 $775,000 Inactive
Terrell McClain 2014 3 years $3,050,000 $300,000 Redskins
Jeremy Mincey 2014 2 years $3,000,000 $500,000 Retired
Brandon Weeden 2014 2 years $1,230,000 Incentives Titans
Henry Melton 2014 4 years (Optional) $27,500,000 Incentives Inactive

There are a few things that stand out from this chart that can give you some hints on how the Cowboys operate. First, they love to play with the one- or two-year deals as 15 of the guys they’ve signed in the last four seasons were on short-term deals. So, it’s not out of the question for them to sign a guy for one year if he’s willing to bet on himself. Also, the guys they whiffed on stand out (Cedric Thornton) but so do the guys that have worked out (Jeremy Mincey & Terrell McClain). They’re not afraid to spend money on guys but when they do, they make it a priority to protect themselves on the back end.

That’s probably why they’re willing to just wash their hands of guys like they did last season because they didn’t pay astronomical numbers to begin with. One interesting side bar, five guys they had signed over the course of these past four seasons are no longer in the league by retirement or other circumstances.

By browsing Rotoworld’s Free Agency Tracker, you can get up to date information on who’s still available and what teams have paid for guys so far in free agency. Keeping conscious that the Cowboys typically like to fill holes at positions of need, we’re just going to give three varying options at the following positions: Defensive tackle, guard, safety, wide receiver, swing tackle, and linebacker.

Note: Prices vary for different talent levels. Low end deals will be anywhere from veteran minimum to $3M per season, moderate deals will be in the $4-7 million range, $8M and above will be top dollar for the Cowboys. These projections were made comparing Spotrac’s market values and NFL league minimums with current signed deals reported by Rotoworld. Also, these projections are based off what we believe the Cowboys limits would be in length and cost.

Free Agent Position Proj. Contract Length Proj. Cost per Season
Cameron Fleming OT 2 years $4-$5M
LaAdrian Waddle OT 2 years $3-$4M
Greg Robinson OT 1 year $790K-$1.2M
Jack Mewhort OG 4 years $7-$8M
Jonathan Cooper OG 2 years $1.6-$2.5M
Marcus Martin OG 2 years $790K-$1.2M
Deonte Thompson WR 1 year $790K-$1.2M
Jordan Matthews WR 4 years $6-$8M
Justin Hunter WR 1 year $790K-$805K
Ndamukong Suh DT 1 year $10-$11M
Bennie Logan DT 3 years $6.5-$8M
Johnathan Hankins DT 2 years $4-$5M
Keenan Robinson LB 1 year $915K-$1.2M
Marquis Flowers LB 2 years $790K-$1M
Korey Toomer LB 1 year $1.7-$2M
Tre Boston S 3 years $4.5-$6M
Kenny Vaccaro S 2 years $3-$4.2M
Eric Reid S 4 years $7-$9M

When you look at this short list for the Cowboys, you can start to put the bigger picture together. So, it’s time to make some predictions, let’s start on offense.

The Cowboys want to get better at left guard but not at the price it would take to land the top free agent, Jack Mewhort. Expect them to re-sign Jonathan Cooper and spend one of their first three draft picks at the position. They will also sign Marcus Martin to fill the role as a backup at center and guard.

Finding a swing tackle is much more important for them in free agency because the tackles entering this draft class aren’t impressive. As they did with Collins, expect the All Pro offensive linemen to get in on the recruiting process to secure Cameron Fleming for the next two years.

Shifting focus to wide receiver, this is a spot where Dallas is going to use a high draft pick. They already looked into a possible deal with Sammy Watkins but ultimately didn’t make a move. With Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, and Ryan Switzer on the roster, adding a veteran isn’t necessary. It’s already been reported that the Cowboys are hunting wide receivers in this draft which means anyone from Calvin Ridley to Equanimeous St. Brown is on the radar.

Where the Cowboys could open up the purse a little bit is on the defensive side of the ball. Dallas is not realistically in the race to land Suh as another team is going to get him on a multi-year deal. Do not despair, Bennie Logan accepted a one-year, $8 million deal last season with the Chiefs. He’s not a valuable pass rusher but is an outstanding run-stuffing defensive tackle, he’s not likely to get that $8 million on a one-year deal again. The Cowboys could offer him a one-year deal worth $5 million with a team option and production incentives.

The Cowboys will also land a safety and his name is Kenny Vaccaro. The Cowboys had a first-round grade on Vaccaro back in 2013. He fits the role of a strong safety which is an area the Cowboys need to improve at. Vaccaro had 12 starts last year, 60 tackles, three interceptions, and 1.5 sacks. The knock on him is the fact that he typically misses two to three games per season. Still, he fits the profile as a former high pick that Dallas was high on and they could get him on a relatively inexpensive deal.

When it comes to depth at linebacker, the Cowboys have already lost two in the same week with Anthony Hitchens signing with the Chiefs and Kyle Wilber off to the Raiders. The problem is that free agency doesn’t offer much. The Cowboys like Navarro Bowman but he’s not leaving the west coast with his family there. The best they could hope to do is bring back a productive veteran like Korey Toomer on a one-year deal and draft a player, which is what they’re ultimately going to to do.

There you have it, the Cowboys will sign two definite starters at positions of need in Bennie Logan and Kenny Vaccaro. Bringing Cooper and Martin in won’t stop them from drafting a player like Isaiah Wynn or Will Hernandez but it protects them. Dallas will also get some added depth with swing tackle Cameron Fleming and linebacker Korey Toomer. That’s how you set yourself up for an amazing draft.

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