The Cowboys will have more cap space this offseason than they have had in quite a while but don’t expect them to suddenly go on a spending spree in free agency. They will prioritize signing their own free agents, starting with the big fish DeMarcus Lawrence, and possibly extend several others. Though the Cowboys are reluctant spenders in free agency, they should consider opening up the checkbooks this year. It doesn’t mean they have to go the way of teams in the past and sign every “name” out there, but the right investment at the right position could go a long way.
This offseason, the Cowboys aren’t exactly plugging major holes in the roster but they do have areas of concern. When considering what to spend in free agency, it’s important to think about it in relation to the draft and ask where’s the value? For example, the Cowboys’ spent a first-round pick on Amari Cooper so they won’t be picking until the end of the second round, they must consider the learning curve for a rookie vs. plugging in a veteran. What positions would be more beneficial for the Cowboys to address in free agency?
For a lot of teams, swing tackle isn’t a big priority but that’s not the case for Dallas. In each of the last three seasons, Tyron Smith has missed at least a couple of games with back issues. It’s better to be safe than sorry and assume that you’re likely to never see a full 16 game season from Smith, that means having a quality understudy is imperative.
The offensive line is the lifeblood of the Dallas Cowboys by design of it’s scheme. It doesn’t mean they have to go out and sign a high-dollar backup, they just need to make sure they’re covered adequately. This position is one that should be filled by a veteran, not someone who is adjusting to the pro game.
Ideal: Re-sign Cameron Fleming
Fleming was underwhelming for most of the offseason program and preseason but he was much better when standing in for Tyron Smith in a few games. Fleming isn’t likely to break the free agency bank as he would have been better off going for the money last offseason. This is a guy the Cowboys have familiarity with and someone who they may be able to bring back on a bargain, plus he’s only 26.
One of the top tackles in this free agent class is Denver’s Jason Veldheer, he finished only six points ahead of Fleming in PFF’s grading system this season.
Runner-up: Jordan Mills
Mills is another tackle that has some experience in Dallas, albeit just offseason experience. After he was waived by the Cowboys in 2015, he went on to start 53 games in the last four seasons for the Bills. Buffalo runs an offense that is predicated on running the football, Mills has been a part of four-straight seasons with Top-10 rushing finishes. He’s got experience and if he isn’t re-signed, he makes perfect sense for Dallas.
Maybe Kris Richard has enough pull to convince Rod Marinelli that run-stuffing defensive tackles matter after it was a huge contributor to the divisional loss to the Rams. Antwaun Woods was pretty good in his first season as a starter, Maliek Collins continues to be a solid player as well but the Cowboys need to think about finding a dynamic addition inside. When the Cowboys were up against the better offensive lines in the game, they were often moved off their gaps and were ineffective at creating pressure. In a perfect world, David Irving would be that guy but the Cowboys patience has probably run out.
What that did was put more pressure on Lawrence, Gregory, and the linebackers by keeping them in chase mode. These players are all cornerstones for the defense but they need more of a presence in the middle. The Rams did them dirty but so did the Colts, Dallas needs to fortify the position with a free agent acquisition so the defensive line can take that next step.
Ideal: Sign Sheldon Richardson
Knowing how this team likes to approach free agency, it’s hard to think they’ll make a run at Ndamukong Suh. Richardson was a player that the Cowboys liked in the 2013 NFL Draft but he’s bounced around a little bit, spending three years with the Jets, followed by one-year stops in Seattle and Minnesota. Richardson hasn’t lived up to that first-round pick hype and continuously plays on “prove-it” deals. That’s what will be somewhat favorable to the Cowboys and he fits the M.O. for this front office.
He started all 16 games for the Vikings, recording 49 tackles, 16 QB hits, six TFL’s, and 4.5 sacks. Richardson is a combination defensive tackle that gives you pass rush and run stuffing ability.
Runner-up: Danny Shelton
Another former draft darling that spent time in Cleveland before winning a Super Bowl this year with the Patriots. Shelton will give you some push inside but he’s not much of a pass rusher, he’s the type of player to crash down and stop the run. He’s not the ideal tackle for Rod Marinelli but he’s also a guy who hasn’t lived up to a lofty draft status. Shelton could be worth a shot, he’s not likely to break the bank.
Let’s be honest here, the Cowboys special teams unit was pretty porous for most of the year. Whether it was having no threat in the return game, undisciplined blocking penalties on seemingly every possession, and a wildcard at kicker, this team couldn’t get right. Brett Maher kicked 15 straight and everyone forgot about their anger in the release of Dan Bailey. Though Bailey had an even worse year in Minnesota, Maher became wildly inconsistent, missing seven field goals, six between 30-49 yards. Maher has the distance but his accuracy is so off that, at times, it felt like every other kick was drifting left.
The Cowboys are already trying to build a more consistent offense and just can’t afford to roll the dice at the kicking position. There are several good kickers on the open market this year.
Ideal: Matt Bryant
The recently released 40+ year old veteran from Atlanta is still kicking strong, as Bryant finished third at 95.2% this season. The Falcons are moving on from a great kicker in a year where kickers struggled all around the league. The Cowboys should give this man a call because sign him and that’s one less area they have to worry about.
Runner-up: Robbie Gould
He went through a period a few seasons back where he had the yips but has recovered nicely, making 33 field goals for the 49ers this season. He may be harder to pry away but the Cowboys will have more competition trying to sign Matt Bryant than Gould.
The Cowboys are fortunate to be able to go about free agency and the draft where they don’t have any huge gaping holes to fill. Where some may want to see them sign as many superstars as possible, give me a veteran swing tackle, help inside on the defensive line, a kicker that doesn’t raise your blood pressure, and that’s a successful free agency for the Cowboys.