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11 free agents the Cowboys can sign without losing their 2019 comp pick

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It's slim pickings if the Cowboys want to sign any further free agents before May 12th,

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Note: This article was put together with much input from the great OCC.

For a team to receive compensatory draft picks, it has to lose more free agents than it acquires. And as it currently stands, the Cowboys are looking to get one comp pick next year for losing Anthony Hitchens. That comp pick will likely be a fourth-rounder in the 2019 NFL draft.

Importantly, not every free agent lost or acquired automatically qualifies as a compensatory free agent. You can look up the full set of rules here, but for our purposes today, only two criteria are relevant: Players who have been cut by their team do not qualify as compensatory free agents and players signed after May 12th (previously June 1) won’t impact the number of comp picks for their former or new team.

That means that from now until May 12th, the Cowboys can only sign players who have been released by their former team - if they want to keep their fourth-round comp pick next year.

In free agency this year, the Cowboys filled holes at WR and OL, and added a little depth at LB. But many fans feel there are still glaring holes at DT, LB, and safety, and at those three spots, there are exactly 11 players (if we counted right) still available that won't count against the Cowboys' comp pick tally. Here's an overview:

POS Player Age Prev. Team Status GP 2017 GS 2017 Snaps 2017
DT Johnathan Hankins 26 IND released by Colts 15 15 685
Karl Klug 29 TEN released by Titans 15 0 324
Tony McDaniel 33 NO released by Saints 0 5 22
Nick Fairley 30 NO released by Saints (heart condition) 0 0 0
S Ron Parker 30 KC released by Chiefs 16 16 1034
Mike Mitchell 30 PIT released by Steelers 13 12 682
Robert Golden 27 PIT released by Steelers 16 2 206
Quintin Demps 32 CHI released by Bears 3 3 177
LB Lawrence Timmons 31 MIA released by Dolphins 14 14 801
Brian Cushing 31 HOU released by Texans 5 5 165
Jerrell Freeman 31 CHI likely to be released by Bears (head injury) 1 1 56

At DT, Jonathan Hankins is a bona fide starter who regularly gave the Cowboys fits when he still played for the Giants. In Indianapolis, Hankins signed a three-year, $27 million contract in 2017, but was surprisingly cut one year into the deal. Hankins is still young, and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 20th-best interior defender, one spot ahead of Leonard Williams. He doesn't offer much in terms of the 3-technique traits the Cowoys are looking for, but he can hold his own against the run, posting the 14th-best run-stop percentage among DTs, according to PFF, one spot ahead of Aaron Donald.

But Hankins isn't going to come cheap, which doesn't leave the Cowboys with a lot of alternatives. Karl Klug and Tony McDaniel probably have their best days behind them, and it's not clear that Nick Fairly will ever play football again.

At safety, the pickings are just as slim. The Steelers, who kept J.J. Wilcox on their roster, released Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden, the former a starter, the latter a special teams specialist. Both are nominally free safeties, which would fit what the Cowboys are looking for, but the Cowboys may like their own players more at this point.

The Bears signed Quintin Demps to a three-year, $13.5 million deal last year but placed him on injured reserve after he suffered a fractured forearm in Week 3 and was eventually released this year. Demps is strong safety so he likely doesn't fit what the Cowboys need anyway.

That leaves us with Ron Parker, formerly of the Chiefs, who was a cap casualty in Kansas City this year. Parker was cut three years into a five-year, $25 million deal.

Parker started 64 total games for the Chiefs over the last five seasons, including all 16 last year, mostly at free safety. He has nine career interceptions, all with the Chiefs, and 43 passes defended. He also has seven career sacks, five forced fumbles and a total of 318 tackles. Parker should fit what the Cowboys are looking for: he's a free safety, he's been very durable, and he has the versatility to play multiple roles in the secondary. A proven starter, Parker may be looking for more money than the Cowboys are willing to offer, even in a depressed safety market.

At linebacker, Lawrence Timmons was cut by the Dolphins after a disappointing season.

Although Timmons played hard and prepared well enough, the Dolphins’ coaching staff noticed in late October that Timmons was starting to slow down. And by late November he looked spent. So a team that paid Timmons to be a three-down linebacker started resting him on passing downs. And then even on some early downs.

I was told by one team source Timmons had “slowed down” significantly.

What a shock! Older with tons of snaps throughout his career, and he slowed down!

Another big-name linebacker, Brian Cushing, served a 10-game suspension in 2017 and was cut by the Texans in part due to his diminishing play (and his huge cap hit). Two season-ending knee injuries in 2012 and 2013 along with various other ailments (the Houston Chronicle's John McClain reports Cushing has had more than 20 surgeries as a Texan) may mean his playing career is over, just like Jerrell Freeman, who's been struggling with a head injury and would have to sit out the first two games of 2018 due to a PED suspension.

So there you have it. 11 players the Cowboys can sign without losing their 2019 comp pick. Interested in any of them?

If not, and if you want to keep that Hitchens comp pick in 2019, then you'll have to wait until May 12, because players signed after May 12th don’t count against potential comp picks.