Free agents who make a difference? Yes, please.
Who is the most impactful free agent the Cowboys could realistically add this offseason?
Michael Gehlken: I believe the spirit of this question refers to free agents not currently on the Cowboys’ roster. So, let’s agree to set aside Dak Prescott and focus on the external market. As a preface, I am not connecting anyone to the Cowboys based on reporting. It’s too early for that. The team is still firming up its approach to free agency, deciding whom to pursue and at what cost. Per usual, the Cowboys are unlikely to be big spenders.
If Sean Lee retires, Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman would be an impactful replacement. He is extremely physical in his run gap fits, attacking downhill to level ball carriers. That skill set would be a welcome addition in Dallas. Unfortunately, Perryman and Lee are similar in a couple of areas: Perryman doesn’t help much on special teams, and he has struggled to stay healthy. Maybe that keeps his price tag reasonable.
Any available defensive back (such as Keanu Neal, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Damontae Kazee) who recently played for the Atlanta Falcons bears monitoring, given defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and secondary coach/defensive pass game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. coached there in 2020. It wouldn’t shock me if Quinn and Whitt vouched for one of those names. Elsewhere, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Jason Verrett is excellent when healthy, and he is healthy now. The Cowboys’ interior line must be upgraded in some form. There are no easy answers; even at age 34, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh likely would cost too much.
Mickey tries to validate the Cowboys not signing Dak yet, but the arguments seem flimsy.
Teams can’t just cavalierly sign these quarterbacks to whatever they might be demanding. These are delicate, highly intricate financial transactions. Divorce becomes expensive, further complicated this upcoming season by 2020 COVID-19 precautions greatly reducing NFL revenue, thus causing a salary cap reduction this coming season. This will be only the second time that has occurred since the cap was instituted in 1994. The first came in the 2011 lockout season and greatly affected team salary caps since base salaries already constructed assume yearly salary cap increases.
Now, you should better understand why the Cowboys wanted to – need to – sign Dak to a five-year deal. That would spread, say, the $54 million signing bonus over five years, prorating out to $10.8 million a year. That also would allow a much-needed lower base salary for 2021 and push back the untenable ones to like 2024-25 when, and they hope, the cap resumes its yearly rise.
A long-term deal also prevents having to franchise Dak again, this time at $37.7 million to retain his rights for one more year. That also benefits Dak, putting money in the bank the next day, especially after what could have been a catastrophic chancy decision this past season had his injury been career-threatening without any contract security, choosing to play on that one-year deal.
Does he really want to gamble on another one-year deal?
Do the Cowboys really want to incur such a huge cap hit?
You’d think not on both sides.
The Cowboys have missed the boat on exploiting Dak on a cheap deal.
Kansas City is a poignant reminder of what the Cowboys haven’t done. The defending champions are playing in their second consecutive Super Bowl. The Chiefs have a 38-10 regular-season record and are 6-1 in the postseason since Patrick Mahomes became the starter.
The Los Angeles Rams went 24-8 and lost to New England in Super Bowl LIII in Jared Goff’s first two seasons as a starter with running back Todd Gurley.
Remember when Seattle won a title and was seconds away from another the following year? That all came in Russell Wilson’s first three seasons as the Seahawks’ quarterback.
Carpe diem? Sorry, the Cowboys’ Latin is a little rusty these days.
Dallas squandered its opportunity. A showdown with the NFL it was doomed to lose, the immediate aftermath of Dez Bryant’s release and a defensive decline that was inadequately addressed then compounded with personnel errors played roles. Throw in contract disputes that bubbled under the surface, one that still hasn’t been resolved, and it’s easy to explain how 13-3 unraveled.
The Cowboys’ moment has passed.
What could have been. The best chances in recent history for the Cowboys to reach the big game.
2014 Cowboys (12-4) under coach Jason Garrett
Why it should have happened: The Cowboys closed the regular season with four straight wins, scoring at least 38 points in each of the victories. They needed some good fortune in the wild-card win against the Detroit Lions — a non-pass interference call and a fourth-down conversion from quarterback Tony Romo to tight end Jason Witten — but this was a team that found a way to win games with big plays, even with a defense that did not have a Pro Bowler.
Why it didn’t happen: NFL officials Gene Steratore and Dean Blandino. Dez Bryant’s fourth-down catch at the Packers’ 1-yard line was overturned by replay late in the fourth quarter. Bryant took three steps and lunged for the goal line after making the catch — and it was a catch. But the ref, Steratore, and the NFL’s director of officiating, Blandino, ruled Bryant did not maintain possession as he went to the ground. The Packers took over and ran the clock out with two third-down conversions. Ultimately, the play led the NFL to rewrite its rules, but that did not heal any ill feelings. If the catch had been upheld and the Cowboys scored the go-ahead touchdown, who knows if the Dallas defense could have stopped Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the final four minutes. But this was a defense that did make some key stops throughout the season.
Biggest what-if: The turning point of the Cowboys’ season came in Week 6 with a 30-23 win against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Had the Cowboys beaten Green Bay, they would have returned to Seattle for the chance to go to Super Bowl XLIX. Comforted by the knowledge they already won there, the Cowboys would have carried a ton of confidence into the conference championship game.
Playing the keep, cut, trade game.
Cut One: Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
The Dallas Cowboys need to get better, faster, and more athletic at linebacker in 2021. Jaylon Smith, though he’s certainly made some plays for the Cowboys in his three years on the field, isn’t any of those things. He’s a liability in coverage and has had a hard time with misdirection in the run and pass game. His difficulty changing directions leaves him hung out to dry at times and slow to recover.
Now, this isn’t to say he’s a terrible player. He’s not. He’s just not worth the $9.8 million cap hit he’ll receive in 2021. The Cowboys can get out from under his contract by designating him a post-June 1st cut and save $7.2 million with just $2.6 million in dead money on this year’s cap.
It certainly wouldn’t be an easy move to make as the Cowboys have question marks at their other linebacker spot with Leighton Vander Esch’s injury situation. However, the Cowboys have to get better play from the second level of their defense.
It could improve if the Cowboys bring in a bonafide run-stopping defensive tackle in free agency, but knowing what we know about this team’s free-agent spending patterns, that doesn’t seem very likely. If Jaylon Smith can’t run free and attack downhill, he becomes a liability in both the run and pass game.
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