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Cowboys week that was: Free agency finally came to life in Dallas

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Let’s try to step back and see the whole picture.

It’s alive!
Downtown Greensboro

Are you not entertained? It took a while for the Dallas Cowboys to get started in free agency, but things finally shook loose - and it turned out to be a bit more exciting than we are really used to over the past few years. Now that we have seen what the team has done, it is time to try and put it in some kind of context. But first, let’s recap the action.

  • First, the Cowboys dipped their toes in the trade market, acquiring FB Jamize Olawale from the Oakland Raiders (who had earlier signed Dallas free agent Keith Smith). It only cost them a few positions late in the draft.
  • The first free agent signing was LB Joe Thomas, formerly of the Green Bay Packers. It is seen as a move to add linebacker depth after Anthony Hitchens went to the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • The next acquisition was WR Deonte Thompson, last with the Buffalo Bills. At the time, he was seen as a consolation prize after WR Allen Hurns visited Dallas, then went to see the New York Jets.
  • But wait! In the biggest surprise of the week, Hurns decided to take the Cowboys’ offer, giving them two new pieces for the wide receiver puzzle.
  • Meanwhile, Dallas continued to sign their own, bringing back Mr. Perfect, LS L.P. Ladouceur.
  • And the departures continued, with two cornerbacks finding new teams. Orlando Scandrick going to division rival Washington, and Bene Benewikere landing with the Arizona Cardinals. While neither of them had been expected to remain in Dallas, G Jonathan Cooper was seen as a possible re-signing, but he decamped for the San Francisco 49ers.

So what does it all mean? Here are some things to take away.

Cranks and curmudgeons

Let’s just say that the natives were a bit restless. OK, in many cases, the torches and pitchforks were out. Fans were raging all over the Internet.

And then it all changed with the Hurns signing, especially as word emerged that the two new WRs did not necessarily mean the departure of Dez Bryant. That was widely feared and anticipated. Now, it certainly looks like the plan is to take a bunch of wide receivers into camp (as usual) and figure out what the best group is to keep for the regular season. And while it is certainly arguable that the chances of taking a wideout at 19 are suddenly a lot less, expect the team to dip into a deep group of wide receiver talent in the draft on day two or three of the draft. And with ten picks overall to still work with, a trade up if the right talent is seen at some point remains on the table.

Digging a little deeper into that, there is some reason to believe that the Cowboys’ staff does not see a true WR1 in the draft, at least not early. There are a lot of WR2 and slot types out there, but that big, fast type Dallas prefers as the X is not so evident. That makes the reported likelihood of retaining Bryant look good indeed.

Oh, yeah, about those contracts.

We all know the aversion the Cowboys’ front office *cough* Stephen Jones *cough* has to spending big in free agency. Well, so far, they have avoided that - extremely well. As Todd Archer reported at ESPN, the first three signings this week were for, in NFL terms, peanuts.

For $3.795 million in salary cap room, the Dallas Cowboys were able to re-sign long snapper L.P. Ladouceur and add free agents Joe Thomas and Deonte Thompson.

Ladouceur’s one-year deal is a minimum-salary-benefit contract, counting $720,000 against the cap even though he will make $1.015 million in base salary. Thomas has a 2018 cap charge of $1.275 million on his two-year contract, while Thompson will count $1.8 million against the cap in the upcoming season.

Of note here is how the initial reports of contracts often leave out the crucial details. Thompson was originally reported as signing a deal worth $2.5 million this year, but the way it was structured includes a lot of incentives that are considered not likely to be earned. Thomas has a similar contract structure on his deal. And those NLTBE dollars do not count against the cap.

Hurns’ contract is the big cherry on top.

While Hurns may not be quite the player Sammy Watkins (who the Cowboys were in pursuit of) is, at that price, he is a much more cost-effective signing. And the fact the Jets had tons of cap space is worth noting. The situation in Dallas seems to have been much more appealing to him.

And things ain’t over yet.

While the Cowboys have taken care of two areas of need, linebacker and wide receiver depth, they still have some places to work. (It remains to be seen how effective the signings will turn out to be, but early returns certainly look like this will go better than the markedly poor results in 2017.) The next thing to address is likely to be the offensive line, where they still need to find a possible starting guard and a swing tackle. A good guard will also help depth there as well.

The names that are most interesting for the O line are T Cameron Fleming, formerly with the New England Patriots, and G Marcus Martin of the Cleveland Browns. Both visited Dallas earlier this week, and there is still no word on them. Another visitor, T LaAdrian Waddle, also out of New England, reportedly re-signed there. That seems to indicate Fleming won’t go back home, which may mean the Cowboys are very much still in play for him. They still appear to be in the mix for Martin as well. Those two would be big in setting Dallas up for the NFL draft.

A couple of other places the Cowboys might shop in the coming weeks are backups at running back and quarterback.

The team has gone from doing nothing to suddenly being in a lot better shape in free agency. There are still plenty of opportunities to make mistakes (and the Dez situation will keep us on pins and needles for a while), but right now, there is more than just a hint of life for free agency in Dallas.

They look to be alive and well.