Over the last few years the Dallas Cowboys plan of attack in free agency has come under fire by fans and the media. Retaining their own talent and picking at the free agency scraps has been their method, and at times it has worked like the signings of Greg Zuerlein and Aldon Smith, and sometimes it was a big swing and a miss like Dontari Poe and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. They've also made some head scratching decisions when it comes to retaining talent, re-signing Jaylon Smith and Ezekiel Elliott over working contracts with Dak Prescott and Byron Jones, causing the latter to leave for the Dolphins.
Teams have to walk the delicate balance of keeping quality players, spending money in free agency to get talented players, and drafting players they believe they can be their future. The Cowboys have a strong offense, but need to sign Prescott to keep that engine running. On defense, it’s a different story. They have a lot of holes to fill.
Which brings us to this year’s free agency. Already there is some news out there on free agency as the Houston Texans have released J.J. Watt. That seems exactly like a player that could help the Cowboys, but also exactly like the kind of player the Cowboys won’t even bother with. Our own Tom Ryle lamented the Cowboys approach to free agency. The Cowboys simply ignore the bigger names in free agency.
The media always tries to connect the Cowboys to big-name free agents, and it’s not just for click-bait reasons although that is part of it. It also sometimes makes sense for the Cowboys in the need department. Take this blurb from a recent Bleacher Report article detailing potential destinations for Bucs’ free agent Shaq Barrett.
The Dallas Cowboys don’t rank among the league leaders in cap space, but after fielding a historically inept defense for the better part of last year’s campaign, the front office could figure out a way to make things work.
Dallas has $27.8 million in projected space but must wrap up Dak Prescott in some fashion. Some contract restructures and creativity in the form of releases or trades could lead to plenty of room.
And a player who creates pressure like Barrett should always be an interest. The Cowboys managed just 31 sacks last year with DeMarcus Lawrence tallying 6.5. He was one of two players with more than 3.5. (Aldon Smith had five.)
A Barrett-Lawrence combo on the edges would be costly, yet it would be the sort of defense-altering pairing that makes whomever lines up behind them look better.
If the Cowboys fancy themselves contenders, as they should with Prescott and in a weak NFC East, offering a contract to one of the best free agents should be a priority. For Barrett, jumping from one contender to another certainly wouldn’t be as bad as joining a rebuilder.
Putting aside the failure to mention Randy Gregory at defensive end, the article illuminates the fact that if the Cowboys think of themselves as contenders, then they should make a splash in free agency. Whether it’s J.J. Watt, Shaq Barrett, or some other first wave free agent, the argument is the Cowboys should make a move.
Then there is the counter-argument. Brandon Carr’s contract has been the example used to mark the line when the Cowboys decided to get out of the big-contract free agency game. But you can just look at last year, too. Across the NFL there were plenty of big contracts handed out that were busts, including a player we are familiar with. Robert Quinn’s contract with the Bears is among a list of terrible free agency contracts based on the 2020 season. In some cases, teams are tied to these player for the next four years.
The Cowboys tried to expand their free agency this past offseason by going after some “name” players, but that ended up a bust. Of course, it could be argued that they went after “name” players who were well past their prime or never really living up to their “name.”
So that brings us to the question of the day. How should the Cowboys approach free agency this year?
How should the Cowboys approach free agency?
This poll is closed
Business as usual and wait for prices to drop
Go out and spend early
Rely on the draft and retain their players only