NFL free agency is just entering its second week, and that is only if you count the “legal tampering” period. Already, we are being bombarded with grades of how teams have done, which frankly seem to be more about how big the names are than anything else. Some of the deals have been good, others have been real head-scratchers. And as is normal now, the Dallas Cowboys have been mostly quiet, adding only defensive tackle Christian Covington while re-signing some of their own, such as swing offensive tackle Cameron Fleming and fullback Jamize Olawale. Now, we enter the second week. Prices are falling as the most eager teams and those with the most cap space have taken a lot of players off the market. This is when Dallas rolls up its sleeves and starts bringing in new faces.
While there are certainly criticisms of how the Cowboys go about their business in free agency, they have been very consistent since the unsatisfactory big deal with Brandon Carr in 2012. Although they made a run at Sammy Watkins last year, they have not committed “first week” money to anyone in six years now. Instead, their often criticized desire to “bargain shop” has them wait to see who is around after the first wave of signings, and then bring in some players at lower prices.
This year, the Cowboys have few big needs, with most of the starting jobs pretty well locked up by returning players. The one big question left is getting a new contract done with DeMarcus Lawrence, which the team would consider their big free agency accomplishment. The recent signing of EDGE Dee Ford to a five-year, $87.5 million contract after he was franchise tagged and then traded to the San Francisco 49ers may help move things along, serving as a kind of floor for the EDGE market.
They may not be desperate to fill a starting job, but there are certainly some gaps in the roster to handle. Here is a rundown of the positions, in rough order of priority, and what is still out there to fill them.
Everyone is disappointed that they didn’t get you-know-who, but that was always a long shot. The Cowboys do not get into bidding wars in free agency, whether you like it or not, so going with the leftovers was always the most likely.
Fortunately, there were a ton of safeties hitting the market this year, and even after all the big deals handed out, talent is still out there to be found. The top five left (all rankings here are taken from Rotoworld; age in parenthesis):
Eric Berry (30)
Tre Boston (26)
Glover Quin (33)
George Iloka (29)
Jahleel Addae (29)
Although the Cowboys were reportedly not interested in him in the past, Boston would look like the best one here, especially given his age. Berry is coming off some real injury issues which may take him out of consideration for Dallas, and he may also get the last big offer given his reputation.
Another name to watch: Clayton Geathers (26). Youth is seen as a real advantage in Dallas.
The team has to get some depth behind Ezekiel Elliott, with only Darius Jackson currently on the roster to back up Zeke. The draft looks rich in RB talent this year, but with only six picks starting with 58 overall, the Cowboys should get someone in free agency here and at the other positions on this list just in case.
Marshawn Lynch (32)
Jay Ajayi (25)
T.J. Yeldon (25)
C.J. Anderson (28)
Spencer Ware (27)
Lynch seems very unlikely as someone the Cowboys would go after, and he probably wants to take one more run at being the starter, anyway. But the next three names on the list are very intriguing. Ajayi is coming off an ACL injury, and is reportedly visiting the Colts - but if he gets out of there without an offer, he might be a good option for Dallas. And the Colts have a decent group of RBs, so Ajayi seems to be open to filling a depth role.
The Lawrence situation makes this a bit complicated, but good insurance is worth having. And the market here might not have slowed down as much as Dallas wants yet, so they may take a little longer before they start trying to sign someone. Nonetheless, here are the top five:
Justin Houston (30)
Ezekiel Ansah (29)
Nick Perry (29)
Shane Ray (25)
Clay Matthews (32)
The Cowboys have an open question at slot receiver with the departure of Cole Beasley. They have numbers, but only Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup look to be locked in. They just brought Tavon Austin back, but he is more of a situational player who brings a lot to the return game. Any signing here would likely be one that would have a low cost for releasing the player.
Jordy Nelson (33)
Randall Cobb (28)
Michael Crabtree (31)
Dontrelle Inman (30)
Chris Hogan (30)
Not exactly a youthful bunch. The two former Packers might be interesting if they are willing to play for cheap.
Those are the positions that should be addressed first by the Cowboys. The rest are more luxury areas (at least to us outsiders), but the team may have other ideas.
The Covington signing likely (but not certainly) means Dallas will not be looking to add another before the draft. Still, the position remains a bit thin, and they could have someone they really like out there. Here are the top remaining ones.
Ndamukong Suh (32)
Darius Philon (25)
Timmy Jernigan (26)
Corey Liuget (29)
Muhammad Wilkerson (29)
Suh really doesn’t seem a viable option, and will probably still get a deal the Cowboys wouldn’t touch, anyway. This may be another area where some larger contracts can still come out - but DT is an underpaid position in the league, so patience might net them someone worth grabbing.
That leaves the offensive line, tight end, linebacker, cornerback, and quarterback, and given the players already on the roster, none of them seem really likely to be addressed in free agency. And specialists (like a kicker to compete with Brett Maher) will almost certainly come via the UDFA route, or be signed well after the draft. That doesn’t mean there is zero chance of adding someone in those positions if the right name is available at a great price, just that the team has other issues to address first.
Things will be picking up this week. There won’t be major splash signings, because that isn’t the way Dallas does it now. But talent will be added, and the idea is to upgrade. Stay tuned for the latest developments.