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Looking back at the best and worst of recent free agent signings for the Cowboys

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Hopefully the Cowboys can get into the good category this free agency period.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It won’t be long now. 2020 NFL free agency is headed our way with the legal tampering period beginning on Monday the 16th, and official free agency beginning on Wednesday the 18th. The Cowboys aren’t generally major players in free agency, recent history has showed us that they will usually wait for the prices to come down before they add to the team.

This approach has helped to balance their books and is one reason they actually have the cap space to re-sign Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, among others, this offseason. But it also robs the team of the chance to add a true impact veteran from outside the organization.

ESPN recently took a look at each NFL team’s best and worst free agent signings over the last five years. Let’s check in on who were the picks for the Cowboys.

The best free agent signing over the last five years, according to Todd Archer, is Randall Cobb.

Best free-agent signing: WR Randall Cobb. He caught 55 passes for 828 yards and three touchdowns on a one-year deal that paid him about $5 million in 2019. The Cowboys have not made big splashes in unrestricted free agency in recent years by design. Backup offensive lineman Joe Looney might be their second-best signing, which is an indication of how they have shopped in the open market.

Cobb certainly didn’t disappoint in his first year with the Cowboys, especially under the bargain contract the Cowboys got. With Mike McCarthy as the new coach, it is expected that the Cowboys will make a serious run at retaining Cobb, who had many productive years playing for McCarthy in Green Bay. The only questions is how much will Cobb be asking and will it fit into their offseason budget plans.

Joe Looney was mentioned as another good pickup for Dallas, and you could add another name to the list. Darren McFadden signed a two-year, $3 million contact with the Cowboys back in 2015 and put together a 1,000-yard rushing season that year.

The worst free agent signing, again according to Archer, was a controversial move from the start.

Worst free-agent signing: DE Greg Hardy. It wasn’t that Hardy played poorly or that he cost a lot. He had six sacks in 12 games in 2015, and his deal had no guaranteed money. The signing went against the right-kind-of-guy mantra Jason Garrett was trying to have in the locker room. Hardy was suspended for the first four games of the season (reduced from 10 games on appeal) for violating the league’s personal conduct policy in an alleged incident involving a former girlfriend. He was not a hard worker and had a negative influence on younger players around him.

Hardy was kind of a desperation move for the Cowboys as they knew they needed pass-rush help that year. His production was okay, but the move did have ramifications in the locker room that hurt the chemistry. It was later revealed he was a problem for the whole organization.

Along the way, Hardy became a constant headache for Jason Garrett. The Cowboys coach met with him at least four times to address his conduct.

Hardy became such a worry over the last month of the season that the club increased its involvement, providing a more active support staff to check in on him, a source said.

A few teammates who had supported Hardy early began to sour on him late in the season, in part because his perpetual tardiness for team meetings never resulted in a reduction of playing time. Tardiness was also an issue for Hardy with his previous teams.

A couple of other contenders for the worst signings include Cedric Thornton and Nolan Carroll. Thornton got a four-year, $17 million deal in 2016 and lasted one non-descript season in Dallas and left them $6 million in dead money.

Nolan Carroll got a three-year, $10 million deal in 2017, he didn’t even last a season. After terrible play in the first two games, he was benched (and suffered concussion) and was eventually released in October of that year. At least the final two years of his deal were team options which obviously were not picked up.

And let’s add a special category of free agent signing that wasn’t one of the best on the field, but may turn into one of the best off the field, along the sidelines. In 2015, the Cowboys signed a backup quarterback by the name of Kellen Moore to their practice squad. He was re-signed to a deal in 2017. He retired in 2018, went into coaching for the Cowboys and is considered an up-and-coming offensive coordinator and a coach to keep an eye on for the future. None of that would have likely happened had the Cowboys not signed him in 2015

Who are your best and worst free agent signings for the Cowboys? Maybe you stretch the timeline through the Cowboys whole history.