By now, with several years of evidence, it’s clear that the Cowboys are just not going to sign marquee free agents, it’s not the way they want to allocate their resources. The Cowboys three-headed brain trust of Stephen Jones, Will McClay, and Jason Garrett has lead this organization into becoming one of the best in the annual NFL Draft. The Cowboys prefer to draft talent, develop talent, and then extend that talent. If they are dabbling free agency at all, they are only looking for bargains, period. Well, bargain-bin prices are going to bring bargain-bin players. If you are lucky, some players may exceed expectations but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are good enough.
Congratulations to the Cowboys for winning the NFC East three out of the last five seasons. That’s pretty good for a homegrown football team and to an extent validates that the Cowboys are on an upward trajectory. However, it’s been over two decades since Dallas made it past the divisional round of the playoffs, so good is not good enough. Starting 3-5 to finish 10-6 is quite the feat but the last game this Cowboys team played, they were outclassed by the Rams in every metric of football. What are the Cowboys doing right now to get better as a football team?
The Cowboys have re-signed or picked up the option on depth players on the offensive line to ensure they remain a viable unit in worst-case scenarios, which deserves praise. They added a rotational defensive tackle, Christian Covington, on a one-year deal. They’re bringing back Tavon Austin in hopes to add some juice to the mix. Austin has speed, return abilities, and can make plays but Dallas will need a much better plan than they had last year to get him involved. Without question, the Cowboys are filling some holes but mostly on the back end of the roster.
Despite the fact that they made the playoffs, they still have plenty of areas in need of an upgrade. There is no issue taken with the Cowboys build-through-the-draft mantra, it’s the key essential to consistency for any NFL team. Still, it’s only one essential aspect of roster building, free agency is another and it is a necessary evil at times. It’s especially necessary to be more aggressive when you have a quarterback on a rookie contract. Sure, the Cowboys have several highly-compensated players on the books but it hasn’t handcuffed the team’s abilities to get a player or two if they wanted.
Remember last season that the Cowboys took away or lost offensive weapons for Dak Prescott before they realized how wrong they were mid-season and flipped their top pick in 2019. The Cowboys are happy they traded their first-round pick for Amari Cooper. Though he certainly proved that worth, it leaves the Cowboys with only two selections in the Top-100.
For a team that builds through the draft, they don’t have a lot of capital to work with. Even if they get a quality player, how long is the learning curve for that to take shape on the field? To just assume that they are going to find capable starters ready to go would be naive. The draft may be the best way to build your team, but it’s also the long way and some folks in the building don’t have time on their hands.
With their head coach on an expiring contract, it’s status quo at The Star. The Cowboys are reportedly no closer to extending their star pass rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence, who’s rumored to be waiting on his money before he takes care of his shoulder. Whatever recovery time there will be could potentially put the team in a bind after already losing his counterpart Randy Gregory for an indefinite amount of time. On top of that, the Cowboys have other extensions to think about with the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and cornerback.
The Cowboys really could use a few more playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Whether that’s a penetrating defensive tackle to wreak havoc and free up DeMarcus Lawrence or someone on the back end with ball skills to generate more turnovers, they need help. On offense, Tavon Austin may be part of the plan but he has injury concerns and hasn’t been able to come anywhere close to his draft status in six seasons. Dak Prescott needs consistent weapons in the passing game be it a slot receiver or perhaps a tight end. Dallas may pull off a nice draft haul in 2019 but that doesn’t help those with jobs to lose if they don’t get production right now.
The Cowboys get praised all the time for not falling into free agency traps of their past. They don’t fall into those traps because the Cowboys don’t pay anywhere near market value for any free agents, they’re even having a hard time placing a value on their own players. When you don’t pay competitive wages, you’re not going to be much of a draw for players or their agents.
Dallas is only interested in signing players to low-risk, prove-it deals laced with incentives. That’s a big limitation to what the club can achieve in free agency and it’s all handcrafted by the front office. When you browse the one-year deals that guys have signed recently, there is a big discrepancy in the quality of players that others have brought in vs. who the Cowboys signed. The Cowboys price themselves out of just about every conversation, which leads to them picking from the scrap heaps, and betting on potential.
Again, there are lots of reasons to feel good about the Cowboys roster while still pointing out the warts. The Cowboys may have a great track record for drafting quality players but the success of the franchise is marginal, at best. Nobody is saying that they have to go out and dump a whole lot of money into free agency but they should at least compete for some quality talent. If the plan is to basically roll the same squad out as last season and expect them to take a leap forward, it’s not well thought out. It shows a little bit of the blind arrogance by this Cowboys front office to believe there is only one way to operate. What a dangerous way to live in an ever-changing NFL.