Free agency will begin in just over a week and though the Cowboys are not likely to be major players in the early goings of the event, they will eventually get their feet wet in the shallow pool. It’s been this team’s M.O. to sit back for the frenzy portion of free agency that can last two or three days. Once the dust has settled and guys have signed the mega-deals, players who haven’t seen much action tend to grow anxious as each day passes. That’s when the Cowboys go to work and look for mid- to lower-tier players that need a home.
Sometimes, the Cowboys find contributors as we’ve seen with Jeremy Mincey, George Selvie, Benson Mayowa, Terrell McClain, although they tend to be short-lived. There are other times, such as last season, where the Cowboys make a flurry of moves only to watch it completely blow up in their face as all three of their “big” signings were off the roster by week eight. Free agency has long been described as “Fool’s Gold” but if done right, it still is a very useful tool. The Cowboys have done a nice job in their college scouting department but their pro personnel department could use a win.
In this piece, we’re going to take a look at areas where the Cowboys can still hunt for bargains but find some value. The Cowboys have 10 picks in this draft but that doesn’t equal 10 day one contributors. This is a team that needs to pick their free agent acquisitions carefully but also need guys that can step in and assume roles. Here are a few guys that will hit the open market that could really benefit this roster.
Josh Kline, Guard, Tennessee Titans
Guys like Andrew Norwell and Justin Pugh will likely price themselves out as the highest paid guards to hit the market. Well, at least until the Cowboys extend Zack Martin that is. That being said, the Cowboys could still find a starting left guard in Josh Kline. He’s 28-years-old and has spent the past two seasons with the Titans, starting 30 of 32 potential games. Is he special? No, Kline is just a solid player that is a slight upgrade over what the Cowboys had in Jonathan Cooper.
Again, the Cowboys can’t expect to fill all of their needs in the draft and left guard could be argued as one of their more pressing ones. By signing Kline, it doesn’t really hinder them from drafting a guy at whatever point they want. Kline last signed a two-year deal for $3.3 million with the Titans and though he will command a little more this time around, it’ll still be affordable. It was only two seasons ago where Kline was part of a Titans team that ranked third in rushing. Though they had a steep fall in 2017, the Cowboys would be smart to rescue Kline from the heap of guys looking for gigs.
Andre Smith, Tackle, Cincinnati Bengals
This just makes so much sense with the Cowboys bringing in Paul Alexander to coach the line this season. Smith was going to get a look at guard in 2017 but stayed at tackle due to necessity. The Bengals offensive line was an absolute mess last season and Smith ended his season on IR. However, Smith could fill a very important role with the Cowboys and that is swing tackle. The Cowboys 2017 season was at it’s worst when Tyron Smith left the line up and Chaz Green failed them. Byron Bell stepped in but wasn’t much better.
Swing tackle has become a very key ingredient to the Cowboys success as they can’t expect Tyron Smith (chronic back issues plus knee problems) to miraculously never miss another game. Andre Smith has ten years of NFL experience with 85 starts under his belt but he’s only 31-years-old, which isn’t ancient. He was cleared from his injury last month and shouldn’t have much of a market outside of Cincinnati. The Cowboys need to fill this position with a veteran as the tackle class in this draft is not promising. Smith made a little over $3 mil last year, could Dallas get him for under that this year?
Bradley McDougald, Safety, Seattle Seahawks
While everyone is focused on a certain other Seahawk safety right now, it may be more realistic to look at McDougald. As my colleague DannyPhantom pointed out earlier this offseason, McDougald is a phenomenal run-defender. This past season, he stepped in and played quite well when Kam Chancellor was lost for the season. McDougald is certainly not the household name everyone wants at free safety but the Cowboys have an underrated need for a strong safety, too. With Kris Richard in the fold, he may find that McDougald serves well as a safety closer to the line of scrimmage reading the quarterback’s eyes and diagnosing the play.
McDougald was the top run-stopping safety to close out the season with nine starts and 16 stops. He also recorded 75 tackles and defended four passes. With Byron Jones moving to cornerback, the Cowboys need at least some veteran insurance policy even if they do look to the draft. McDougald has been a solid player stuck behind better players but that means he won’t cost much, he’s probably in the $3-4 million range.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Another free agent who’s position coach now works in Dallas but Moncrief fits so much of the free agent profile the Cowboys look for. He’s a former third-round pick, big receiver with solid route running ability and a whole bunch of upside. In fact, upside is all that Moncrief is at this point, which isn’t entirely his fault. The quarterback situation has been a disaster for a few seasons without Andrew Luck in the fold. When Moncrief had Luck, he did well with his opportunities.
The only way his market rises above a minimal level is if another team buys into his Combine performance from four years ago. Moncrief is super athletic and has 4.4 speed but he’s never reached 1,000 receiving yards in his brief career. It’s realistic to see Sanjay Lal selling this to the front office and them giving him a low-cost incentive-laden deal with a potential high reward.
Wildcard Signing: Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, New York Jets
Okay, Wilkerson is not a bargain-bin free agent, but we’re throwing him in here because of his history (noted below). He will probably not command top dollar so it’s a name to explore.
Wilkerson played eight seasons at defensive end for the Jets 3-4 scheme but would make the switch to defensive tackle in the 4-3. For the past few offseasons, the Jets have been wanting to rid themselves of this headache as Wilkerson can often be more trouble than he’s worth. Wilkerson has 404 tackles, 44 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, and two interceptions in eight years with the Jets that saw him earn a Pro Bowl nod and two All-Pro designations.
Wilkerson hasn’t been in trouble with the league but folks with the Jets had enough of his habitually tardiness, questionable effort, and salty demeanor. It’s noteworthy that the Jets called the Cowboys in 2016 to gauge their interest in trading for him but nothing was ever in motion. If motivated, Wilkerson is still one of the best linemen in the league and could help the Cowboys take that next step.
Wilkerson being released early tells you that the Jets weren’t likely to get much in return for him. The question is if Rod Marinelli thinks highly enough of him to sprinkle some Marinelli-Magic on him. It’s hard to see his agent being able to convince teams to open up the pocket book too much, but he wills till command some cash. Maybe an incentive-laden deal is possible.