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Cowboys linked to two former Pro Bowl defenders in free agency

Could one of these veterans end up in Dallas?

NFL: Super Bowl LIV-San Francisco 49ers vs Kansas City Chiefs Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the Dak Prescott deal in their rearview mirror, the Cowboys will shift their focus to free agency. When the free agency signing period officially opens on March 17th, the Cowboys likely won’t be one of the more aggressive teams. Even with extra cap room via the Prescott extension, Dallas still likely won’t be in a position to throw a big, long-term contract at any free agent. However, one thing they can do is explore short-term contracts with some veteran players.

In an article by Bleacher Report, Alex Ballentine detailed three players that the Cowboys should prioritize in free agency. His list included re-signing defensive end Aldon Smith, and reuniting defensive coordinator Dan Quinn with two of his former players, cornerback Richard Sherman, and safety Keanu Neal.

Ballentine noted that Sherman specifically could give the Cowboys outstanding value on a short-term investment.

This is another example of the Cowboys finding short-term value to give them the best chance at competing next season. There’s risk involved, though. Richard Sherman only played five games in 2020 and will be 33 next season. However, four of those give games were late in the season so he showed he has moved on from the calf injury that claimed most of his campaign.

Bringing in the cornerback would offer the Cowboys a player who clearly believes in new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who worked with Sherman in Seattle before becoming head coach with the Atlanta Falcons.

“He’s a great leader of men—that’s why he got the job as a head coach—and as the coordinator, he’s going to do a great job of bringing the best out of these guys,” Sherman told Vaughn McClure of ESPN in 2019. “He’s a great motivator. He’s obviously very technical.”

As he mentioned, the deal would not come without risk. Sherman will be 33 on March 30th and hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2016. Sherman’s age also may be taking a toll on the field. Pro Football Focus graded him out very poorly in 2020. A 67.7 defensive grade and a 67.2 coverage grade were both the worst marks of his career. Still, if the price is right and not a long-term commitment, Sherman’s experience and veteran leadership would be a perfect fit in the struggling Cowboys’ secondary.

Keanu Neal, 25, is much younger than Sherman but also has had his fair share of issues staying on the field in recent years. In 2018 and 2019 combined, Neal played in just four games, tearing his ACL and Achilles in back-to-back seasons. Despite this, Neal still posted some solid production in 2020. His PFF defensive grade for the year was 68.2 and his coverage grade of 66.2 was the second-best of his career.

In his article, Ballentine mentioned how Neal’s familiarity with Quinn’s defensive scheme could make him a perfect fit in the Dallas defense.

The Florida product is at his best playing a traditional strong safety role. He’s familiar with Quinn and has proved to be productive in his system, and it would allow the Cowboys to move Donovan Wilson into a free safety role while Xavier Woods walks.

As always is the case, money will likely determine if any of these three end up in Dallas. They all make tons of sense on short-term deals, but we’ll just have to wait and see if they price themselves out of the Cowboys’ market.