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Cowboys 2020 free agent targets based on team need and spending patterns

What does last year tell us about who the team may target this season?

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It’s sort of time (legal tampering) to go shopping for new free agents as the Dallas Cowboys attempt to fill voids in their roster before next month’s draft. Typically, the Cowboys lay low during the first wave of free agency as it’s not their forte to be big spenders. Stephen Jones has been adamant about how teams inherently lose money when they go that route. As a result, the Cowboys are frugal spenders in free agency, so what will that mean for this year’s acquisitions?

In order to prepare for what’s to come, let’s go take a look at how the team operated last season in free agency. Here are the top 20 paid players at four of the position groups the Cowboys addressed last year.

Looking at this graph shows how the Cowboys allowed the price to drop significantly before they started dabbling. The most money they spent on an outside free agent was for Randall Cobb, but it was only $5 million. There were eight free agent receivers who cost more than Cobb, yet only the Jets’ Jamision Crowder ($9.5 M) and the BillsJohn Brown ($9 M) had more yards than Cobb last year.

Similar to what they did at wide receiver, the team waited for the first couple of big waves to pass before finding their guy. Covington had the talent they needed to give them depth, and he came at a great price. The signing came in handy too as Covington logged the fourth most snaps on the defensive line thanks to an injury to Antwaun Woods.

There was a lot of money thrown at edge rushers last year, but the Cowboys just looked for a low-cost depth guy. Former Detroit Lions pass rusher Kerry Hyder ended up being their man. The Cowboys ended up trading for Robert Quinn ten days after signing Hyder, so ultimately the veteran free agent wasn’t needed that much, but for a cost of $1 M, it’s hard to pass up.

Dallas went super cheap at the safety position last year. There was some initial excitement when the team signed George Iloka, but he ended up not even making the team. There were some better options if the team was willing to spend just a little bit more. If the Cowboys would’ve gone with the drop-off just after the 15 spot (blue arrow), they would’ve ended up with Tre Boston.

As the team enters free agency this year, there are three position groups with pressing needs: cornerback, safety, and defensive tackle. If you look at these spots, almost the entire position group will be wiped out soon. Here are the players who are free agents this year (dark blue) or next year (light blue).

Addressing these needs, who should the Cowboys target? Going with the philosophy of waiting for the heavy hitters to come off the board and sticking with their youth movement approach, here are some names that could be in play for Dallas in free agency.


Spend a little: Brian Poole (Jets)

The 27-year-old was the Jet’s top corner last year if that means anything, and he’s coming off his best season as a pro. He allowed just 7.4 yards per reception and is an experienced slot corner that would help any team.

Good value: Anthony Brown (Cowboys)

Byron Jones wasn’t the only Cowboys defensive back who was misused early in his career. Similar to Jones, he started shining in 2018 as he finished the season with the fourth highest percentage of tight window targets once he was moved to the slot. The Jourdan Lewis love tends to make people forget about how reliable Brown has been for this defense in recent years.

Bargain bin: Kevin Johnson (Bills)

Like Jones, Johnson was also a first-round pick in 2015; however, the Houston Texans didn’t pick up his fifth-year option. That allowed the Buffalo Bills to sign him to a one-year, $3 M prove it deal last offseason. Injuries have plagued him most of his career, but he still has the talent to challenge for a starting corner spot in the NFL.


Spend a little: Jimmie Ward (49ers)

Our original pick for this spot but he has signed a deal to return to the 49ers.

Good value: Tre Boston (Panthers)

Normally, you’d find Boston’s name in the bargain bin section because for some reason, teams keep passing up on him. But that should change this year as he’s proven that he’s one of them more reliable coverage safeties in the league.

Bargain bin: Jeff Heath (Cowboys)

Some may not want to hear this, but the veteran safety could very easily stick around. It’s not that appealing to think of him as a starter, but as a low-cost depth guy, he’s good to have on the roster. Heath will make some plays and can help out on special teams, and his services aren’t going to draw a lot of attention, so a return to Dallas is not unthinkable.


Spend a little: Quinton Jefferson (Seahawks)

Jefferson was a nice fifth-round find for the Seahawks in 2016, and after a slow start - he’s started putting things together. He’s been a real good fixture along Seattle’s defensive line these past two seasons, and still has room to grow. The success he had last year, will land him a nice contract, but with so many other quality free agent DTs, could his price fall enough to put him on the Cowboys radar?

Good value: Maliek Collins (Cowboys)

While Jefferson won’t be cheap, he did have one of the higher win rates in the league last year for defensive tackles. But do you know who was even higher? Good ol’ Maliek.

Collins is a guy who’s easily overlooked at times; however, in a recent poll - over 90% of the BTB community voted to bring him back in some capacity. It would be great to get him back, but it all will depend on what his market value ends up being.

Bargain bin: Vernon Butler (Panthers)

Butler was selected in the first-round of 2016, but did next to nothing his first three seasons in the league. He never started a game prior to this season, which is why Carolina had no interesting in picking up his fifth-year option. But Butler had a great season last year, starting nine games and recording six sacks. While he’s down the list of suitable DT free agents, he started playing well just in the nick of time to warrant getting signed somewhere.

If you could pick one player from each group, who would you choose?

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