Let’s go ahead and prepare ourselves for the annual tradition of the Dallas Cowboys disappointing us in free agency. They have long preferred to sit out the first couple of waves of signings to find some bargains. Or, to make a culinary metaphor, they prefer the cheap buffet to a quality restaurant, despite the bad food and heartburn they always seem to get.
It really should not be this way. Especially this year. Due to the lowered salary cap, there just seems to be a true glut of free agents hitting the market this year. Between sheer volume and the fact that so many teams are going to have to shed even more contracts to meet the artificial but still relevant cap number by March 15th, the Cowboys should be able to find some good players to address their most crying needs even without ordering from a Michelin starred establishment.
That cap pressure also means that the bidding this year will likely be less intense, further lowering the cost to get some needed help. With less than two weeks to get under the still undetermined actual cap number. there are still eleven teams estimated to be in the red, based on the best guess of how that final figure will turn out.
While their will still be some big dollars handed out to a few well-known names, like the unexpectedly lucrative deal JJ Watt got from the (sarcasm font) obvious contender Arizona Cardinals, those are likely to be more the exception than the rule this year. If the Cowboys get their house in order, particularly regarding a deal with Dak Prescott, they should have more than sufficient space with a few restructures to get the needed work done in free agency.
Dallas has a few positions that they need to address. Because of the unique nature of this offseason, they may be able to actually find those coveted “affordable” players to fill them. Conveniently, PFF has a list of their 200 top graded free agents. It includes estimated deals, and while they were low on what they predicted for Watt, it at least provides a starting point for finding some intriguing names to consider.
Here are some I ferreted out that merit some consideration. It’s worth noting that PFF, like everyone else, has Prescott as the number one free agent of all, and they predict that the Cowboys will get a deal done with him.
We will not look at the players that Dallas could re-sign. This is focused on fresh names for the roster.
CB Richard Sherman
At first glance, the $14 million per year he is predicted to get would seem to price him outside of Stephen Jones’ acceptable range. But the Dan Quinn connection and the big holes they have, assuming they don’t re-sign Chidobe Awuzie and/or Jourdan Lewis, make him perhaps one possible exception that the team might make. It may be asking too much, but he is one name that will be brought up until he is signed elsewhere.
S Malik Hooker
Now we are getting into something that might really appeal to the
tightwad cautious ways of Stephen Jones. Hooker is coming off an injury and has not produced the way you might prefer, but this bit of analysis makes him really interesting for what Dallas needs.
Hooker still may be a better fit in a true single-high safety role where he takes good angles on downfield throws. He’s looked out of place when forced into one-on-ones with receivers or when needing to react quickly from two-high alignments. His best season saw him grade at 81.6 in coverage in 2018, though the other 1200 or so snaps have him graded in the mid-60s. He’s worth a look in a new system that could get the most out of his downfield playmaking skill set.
PFF sees him being available for just $2 million on a one year deal. If Quinn likes the idea of getting a centerfielder, he might be just what Jones likes.
CB Mackensie Alexander
He is projected to get $3 million a year, which is cheap for the position and his performance was considered solid over the past three years. He’s best as a slot corner, which is still a valid need for Dallas.
CB Cameron Sutton
After a slow start, he had the best year of his career in 2020. And he’s seen as even cheaper than Alexander, while bringing some versatility that would be valuable.
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.
DT Jurrell Casey
At $5 million per year, his list price may be a bit high for a team that just doesn’t seem to value the position. But he could fill a true need that 2020 brought home.
He should have a handful of suitors and can provide good value as a run-stuffing 3-technique that can generate the occasional pressure on the quarterback.
S Jaquiski Tartt
Again, he seems like a great fit to help solve some real problems.
With so many safeties available, Tartt may get lost in the shuffle and end up as a great value signing in the second or third wave of free agency after missing the 49ers’ final seven games. Tartt has a high floor both in coverage and against the run and is a perfect guy to pair next to just about anyone.
DT Ndamukong Suh
OK, he’s a bit of a pipe dream for me, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to sign him back. But if they don’t, his expected price tag of $6.75 million just seems a great deal, even if some whose opinion actually count don’t agree. If the Cowboys unbend, he would be a fantastic add.
DT Tyson Alualu
Think of him as a very slightly less expensive, nearly as capable version of Suh.
DT Kawann Short
Another player with some risk due to injury history, but that unfortunately seems to be something the Cowboys are drawn to. Still, if healthy, he is very strong against the run while still bringing something as a pass rusher.
CB Kevin King
He never lived up to his elite pre-draft measurables, but that could be what piques some interest from the Dallas brain trust.
CB Jason McCourty
What makes him a possibility for Dallas is that his possible future as an aging player is to switch full time to safety.
S Tre Boston
A move back to full-time free safety is seen as a key to him getting back on track. And the $2.25 million projection should fit the affordability requirement. The Cowboys have not signaled any interest in him, and that seems a mistake.
LB Kevin Pierre-Louis
He’s not a great run stopper, but has some value in coverage, as well as being a special teams piece. With the ongoing concerns about Jaylon Smith, he might be great insurance for passing downs.
QB Joe Flacco
OK, stop with the sarcastic responses. At a possible $2 million cost, he is a cheaper version of Andy Dalton, and we would of course hope he never sees the field in meaningful situations. Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys take a look at him for a veteran QB2 option if he is game to suit up for another season.
S Tashaun Gipson
His situation last year was seen as analogous to that of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with Dallas, but unlike Clinton-Dix, Gipson actually worked out. He was in a better situation with the talent around him on the Chicago Bears, but with a cost expected to be under $3 million, he might tempt the Cowboys to try once again. And he can play any safety role.
S Earl Thomas
Will the long flirtation finally lead to something? He had off field issues and missed all of last season, but that may actually make him more attractive at his age. And the Cowboys have not shied away from taking a risk on players with baggage if the talent is there. It seems to be.
CB Corn Elder
If you are looking for a low-price, capable slot corner, he fits the bill.
DT Steve McClendon
Another player who might hang it up after winning a ring with the Buccaneers, he would be a possible solution for the woeful run defense up the middle if he does want to come back.
DT Corey Peters
Also coming off injury, he is one more possible run-stuffing option that may warrant a bit of a gamble.
DT Brent Urban
If you notice, there are a lot of run-stuffing options out there, and Urban would be one of the cheapest. That seems right up Jones’ alley.
That’s a lot of names, but all of them have some elements that could make them possibilities for Dallas to sign. The right combination would go a long way to shoring up the roster before the draft rolls around.