The Dallas Cowboys have some serious holes to fill this offseason, primarily on defense. We are all looking forward to the NFL Draft, which is going to be a bit of a challenge with the cancellation of the NFL Combine and the severe restrictions on what teams can do in interacting with prospects. But before we have to worry about how that will turn out, we have free agency to anticipate.
There is a widely held perception that the Cowboys never find any help in free agency, but that is not entirely true. While there were somewhat spectacular failures last year, like Dontari Poe and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Dallas actually found three free agents that worked out.
- Aldon Smith was the most productive pass rusher they had early in the season. While his impact lessened as the season went on, the gamble on him still paid off, and he may be a target to re-sign.
- Andy Dalton led the team to a 4-5 record as a starter when he was thrust into the role after Dak Prescott’s injury. That is pretty much the best a team can hope for with their backup, someone who can keep them afloat. The team could have used more, of course, but Prescott also was having problems finding wins with the way the defense was melting down in a regular basis. Had the Cowboys just needed Dalton for three or four starts, instead of most of the year, he would probably have been seen as a really good investment.
- Greg Zuerlein may have been the best free agent signing of all, and he is still under contract. He missed some long field goals, but was generally reliable and will probably retain his job.
So they did have some success last year, but still struggle with the preference to be tighter than my old college sweater of 75 pounds ago. That is not likely to change, but this is going to be a strange offseason all around, and we don’t know how the market will go. There is also the remote chance that they will be a little more loose with cap space to try and fix the huge issues on defense.
Recently we took a look at the Cowboys’ own free agents on PFF’s top 100 list. That included predictions about the contracts that they would command. Now, we’ll go back to that list to examine some possible candidates at cornerback, because there are a lot of possibilities hitting the market. None that I consider at all realistic are top of the market, and only one falls in the top 35. It includes some that would require a bit more investment, but also has some very interesting bargains down the list. In a follow up post, we’ll come back and look at safeties and interior defensive linemen.
The overall rankings and figures here are PFF’s.
18. Richard Sherman
His name has been bandied around quite a bit since Dan Quinn was hired as the new defensive coordinator. That connection through the Legion of Boom days with the Seattle Seahawks makes him a possibility to be added for veteran leadership, especially if the Cowboys do not bring back Chidobe Awuzie for whatever reason. He is not the player he once was, but still is quite capable of contributing. Here is part of what PFF said about him.
Sherman’s intelligence and tape study gives him a mental edge over most offenses he faces, and that more than makes up for less than stellar straight-line speed. In the kind of defense he plays in San Francisco, he can remain a valuable player even at his age and could be an attractive short-term option for a number of teams in need of a quick fix.
The projection is that he will command a two year, $28 million deal. At first glance that seems a bit rich for Stephen Jones. But with Quinn to advocate, and the obvious issues the defense had last year, it may not be totally out of the question.
36. Shaquill Griffin
Sherman is a former Seahawks player, and Griffin is one of theirs entering free agency this offseason. They may seek to re-sign him, as he had his best year in 2019 before fighting injuries last season. But if Seattle does not make an offer that is too daunting, his recent injury actually seems to fit the way the Cowboys like to snap up players coming off injury, betting they will be able to overcome them. His price tag is lower than Sherman’s, estimated to be around $9.5 million a year for three years. That may be just enough savings to get some consideration from Dallas.
41. Troy Hill
Sherman and Griffin are both outside corners, but Hill could be a needed piece in the slot. He switched there last year after having been primarily an outside corner before, so he also brings some versatility to the table. He is seen by PFF as a number two or three CB, which would fit well with the apparent plan to make Trevon Diggs the number one.
He also would come with a lower price tag if they are correct, just $5.25 million a year. That is a very good price for a starter, and may be low enough to get Jones’ interest.
49. Brian Poole
He is strictly a slot corner, but that is something the Cowboys could still use. Their evaluation:
At 5-foot-9, Brian Poole very much fits the mold of a slot cornerback at the NFL level, and he has always been solid in that role. Since moving to the Jets, he has been better than solid, posting one of the highest PFF coverage grades from the slot over the past two seasons. He has allowed just one touchdown and a passer rating of under 70.0 when targeted over that stretch. There are more spectacular players around the NFL, but Poole has proven to be an impressively consistent and solid defender in one of the most undervalued positions in the league.
The Cowboys do have a strong preference for longer corners than that, but Quinn may want them to be more flexible. Poole also is more reasonable at $6 million per year in the projection.
61. Xavier Rhodes
Rhodes is another reclamation project after having really fallen off by the end of his tenure with the Minnesota Vikings. But the reclamation has already been done.
In his first season with the Colts, Rhodes bounced back to his best form and, if anything, had a career year. He allowed only 50% of passes thrown his way to be caught, down more than 30 percentage points from last season, and throwing into his coverage generated a 79.2 passer rating, down 50 points from last year.
His price tag may be a bit steep, though. He is seen as getting $8 million a year. He seems best fitted in a zone scheme.
76. Nickell Robey-Coleman
Now we are getting into real bargain-bin territory, as he is only expected to be offered a one year, $2 million contract by his current team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Which, of course, makes him just the kind of player the Cowboys have gone after in recent years. He is another slot candidate, and could be a fallback for Dallas if better options are not available.
80. Mackensie Alexander
One more slot option, and one that is seen as average to above average, which may be good enough given that his price tag looks to be in the $3 million range.
88. K’Waun Williams
There are a ton of slot options this year, and that may work to the Cowboys’ advantage. Williams is a bit more expensive, expected to get around $4 million per year, but still may be a good value per PFF’s analysis.
In a league where covering the slot has never been more important, K’Waun Williams is one of the NFL’s better slot defenders and has been consistently good at a position where it is hard to maintain a high standard. In six seasons, Williams doesn’t have an overall PFF grade below 66.2, and his best play has been genuinely elite.
Over the past two seasons, Williams has allowed just one touchdown on 99 targets. He would represent a significant upgrade for a lot of teams if he’s healthy.
89. Gareon Conley
If the Cowboys are leaning more to man coverage rather than zone, then Conley is someone they may go after. He is seen as another low-cost rental, with the prediction that he will get one year at $2.5 million.
91. Cameron Sutton
Also in the very affordable range with $2.75 million for a one year deal seen as his likely value, he offers the advantage of flexibility.
Sutton didn’t see much of the field over his first three seasons since being drafted in the third round in 2017, but he was solid in 2020 with an expanded role. He could be an interesting chess piece for a team to take a flier on, as he logged snaps at slot corner, out wide and down in the box as a strong safety.
That’s a lot of cornerback options for the Cowboys, and with their holes in the secondary, this may be a time when they really can’t afford to not go shopping for one. The group this year offers both high and low cost candidates, and this left off some that just seem too rich for Dallas to pursue or otherwise did not seem to fit, which may not be how it actually works out. It was an attempt to look at what seemed realistic among the better players on the market, not what we might prefer.
But it is good to have multiple ways to go. Let us know in the comments who your favorites might be, from this group or others you like.