It seems odd to realize that NFL free agency only started on Wednesday. There have already been a ton of signings. For once, the Dallas Cowboys have even been fairly active right out of the gate. Now, with things slowing down for them a bit, we can take a moment to step back and try to learn. This is not about whether a given player is the solution at their position. It is more about trying to understand the team and the thinking behind some things.
Hopefully, that will be interesting for you. Besides, what else do you have to go do?
It was different, but not too different
For years, the early days of free agency have been a source of frustration for Dallas fans. The team would just sit there and watch other teams make big name signings, content to go shopping for bargains among whoever was still available. Sometimes, that led to finding the shelves as picked over as the toilet paper section at Walmart right now.
But that is not the case, with the Cowboys already having signed three outside free agents, plus a bunch of their own. Courtesy of our resident workhorse, here is where things stand as this is being written:
Cowboys Free Agency— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) March 21, 2020
Dak, Jarwin, Amari, Darian, Lee, LP, Kai, Rush, AB, Looney, Joe T, March, Goodwin
Cam F, NYG
Three outside free agents may not seem like a lot, but that is approximately three more than we normally see at this stage of the process. And two of them are actually the kind of names that at least make you sit up and take notice.
And the ones they have brought back are worth noting, because this is a longer than normal list. Part of that is just because they had so many free agents this year, but it also shows a bit more aggressiveness in getting people locked back in before other teams started their own second or third wave shopping.
It has made for a much more active free agency than we are used to, and that has been kind of welcome in a time when any distraction has value.
While things have certainly been more active, there is also a sometimes irritating consistency in play. That is free agent parsimony. While the team ponied up for Amari Cooper and used the expensive exclusive tag on Dak Prescott out of necessity, the other deals are all, shall we say, economical. Gerald McCoy is the biggest acquisition, and his deal is really a bargain even in light of his age. According to Over the Cap, his 2020 cap cost slots between Sean Lee and Blake Jarwin this year, pending other contracts still to come. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix wasn’t listed as of yet, probably because he hasn’t signed at this point, but his cap number should be right behind McCoy’s. That makes them the twelfth and thirteenth most costly players on the roster, which is pretty far down the list compared to other first wave signings. The other new player, Maurice Canady, is way down at 23rd. And outside the big two of Prescott and Cooper, Lee is the most expensive re-signing so far.
The Cowboys may have moved early, but they hardly opened up the checkbook to do so. Not doing so is perceived to be costing them other players that the fans want, like wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, now going to the New Orleans Saints.
The McCarthy effect
Clinton-Dix’s projected acquisition brings up an interesting point pointed out by Patrik Walker.
This is a reunion for Clinton-Dix with Mike McCarthy, after the #Cowboys repeatedly opted against signing him under the Jason Garrett regime.— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) March 20, 2020
McCarthy’s power in Dallas continues to be evident.
It is worth noting that Clinton-Dix defended McCarthy on social media when the slings and arrows were flying in Green Bay. He is the first notable member of what someone (it’s me) dubbed the “McCarthy Mafia”, the new equivalent of the “Garrett Guys” Dez Bryant somewhat notoriously spoke out about.
More seriously, though, is that it illustrates just how much power and influence the head coach has with the Cowboys. That applies to how Garrett held veto power as much as it speaks to McCarthy and his staff getting who they want. This flies in the face of the old meme about Jerry Jones having too much control over things. McCarthy’s impact on things was observable from the beginning when the coaching staff was reworked, but with the key retention of Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator after McCarthy had praised his work before he was hired. Now we have even more evidence.
It is clear that McCarthy and his assistants have a lot of input in personnel acquisition. That is probably a very good thing.
Now the real bargain shopping is going to start
McCoy, Clinton-Dix, and Canady were all very reasonable signings from the team’s perspective, but now we can expect the more traditional signings to come as players find the market not as hot as hoped.
There is an additional, unique complication this year. The NFL has banned all visits by players to clubs seeking to hire them, and also doesn’t allow teams to send representatives to visit. That means that teams are unable to have their own medical staff examine players with injury histories, which is effectively almost everyone. It makes the decision process more uncertain, and could well lead to some deals being voided across the league if medicals are failed after things get back to normal, more or less.
Key needs remain
There are still some important positions the Cowboys need to fill before the draft, such as slot receiver and defensive end. They could also use another interior defensive linemen and more help in the secondary, and might want to shore up tight end.
Things have slowed quite a bit with Friday the first day we didn’t see any “Cowboys After Dark” action. That just means more developments are coming. We’ll work at keeping you informed whenever they happen. It looks like the weekend will be slow, but that might change, and we will stay vigilant.