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The talent distribution of free agency and the draft, and what it should mean for the Cowboys defense

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How will the layout of talent in free agency and the draft impact the Cowboys offseason decisions?

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have some difficult decisions to make in the new few months when it comes to assembling what will become the 2020 roster. With free agency and a draft at their disposal, there will be plenty of opportunities to add players. In order to get a feel for what’s available, we took a look at the talent distribution from the top 100 free agents as well as the top 100 prospects in the draft. From that, we tallied how many players from each position group are available.

Yesterday, we looked at how those numbers may influence the decisions the front office has to make on offense. Today, we’ll check out the defense.

Each position group contains the number of players available in the top 100 for both the draft (green) and free agency (yellow), with the net surplus available to the right. This tells us which position groups are the deepest as well as which method of talent acquisition has more to offer.

What can we get from the talent distribution for the defensive position groups?

Byron Jones or Robert Quinn, but not both

With big money deals expected to go out to Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, the front office will have to be a little more selective as it pertains to their next two biggest free agents. It doesn’t seem probable that both Byron Jones and Robert Quinn will be re-signed, and it’s not inconceivable that both walk in free agency. Their respective asking price will loom large in that one.

Looking at the talent layout distribution for this year, both position groups are identical in terms of draft and free agent candidates. With so many good collegiate options available in this draft, the Cowboys could end up spending a premium pick on both of these position groups. When it comes to free agency, the front office is very conservative when pursing outside free agents, so while the pool of talent is large, they will likely wait out the first wave and look for a player they can get for relatively cheap.

So, what does that mean for Jones or Quinn? These decisions are mutually exclusive and how close the front office values these guys relative to their asking price will determine if they’re wearing the star next year. But because neither will be cheap, the Cowboys may have to choose just one.

Jones is younger and the clear top-tier free agent at his respective position, but Quinn should be cheaper and was as reliable of a fixture as anyone on the Cowboys defense last season.

Fork out a little bit of cash for a quality defensive tackle

The Cowboys have a big need at defensive tackle, and there are some really good options available this year. Now, they are not going to throw big money at the likes of Kansas City’s Chris Jones or Houston’s D.J. Reader, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take a serious look at the next tier of players. Pittsburgh’s Javon Hargrave and Seattle’s Quinton Jefferson are both stout run-stuffers who are also good at generating pressure on the quarterback. They are both 27 years old.

It’s likely that those guys will be too expensive, but hey - don’t give up. The next group has some good eats in it as well. Cincinnati’s Andrew Billings or even re-signing Maliek Collins could be options if their price falls. The surplus of talent may allow teams to land one of these guys for a discounted price and the Cowboys shouldn’t just sit back and be bystanders. There are good players to be had here and this position is a big need for the team.

A low-cost free agent safety should be available

The Cowboys want to be able to draft as pure as possible, but in order to do so, they need to enter the draft with all their major potholes filled. That means action is required at the safety position.

The good news is, there are some nice options available in free agency, ranging from top guys in Denver’s Justin Simmons or Minnesota’s Anthony Harris to some cheaper guys later. Usually, the more affordable guys are one-trick ponies. For example, Clayton Gathers is a great run defender, but is vulnerable in coverage, whereas someone like Tre Boston is excellent in coverage, but has tackling issues. The Cowboys aren’t going to find their complete safety in the bargain bin of free agency, but that doesn’t mean a solid depth guy can’t be found for a good price.

Tre Boston has been unable to find a long-term home as he’s had to settle for three-straight one-year deals:

While he’s in store for another raise in 2020, history indicates his cost won’t be too pricey.

The Cowboys haven’t been very cooperative when it comes to bringing in a viable free agent safety, but with things thinning out quite a bit, will this be the year they finally add someone?