In recent years, the Cowboys have drawn the ire of many fans for their ultra-conservative approach to free agency. In many ways it’s course correction to the days when Jerry Jones would freely spend big money on prized free agents, many of whom rarely panned out. The duo of Stephen Jones and Will McClay are determined to avoid those pitfalls and build through the draft, with free agency serving as a supplement to their homegrown talent.
While this approach has cost the Cowboys some really great players - Byron Jones comes to mind - it has also prevented them from overpaying to keep some guys, like DeMarco Murray, as well as dodging some high-priced bullets in free agency, such as Nnamdi Asomugha. And that fact is evident again, as Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report compiled a list of every NFL team’s most overpaid player heading into the 2021 season.
It’s worth noting that the most overpaid player for the Cowboys, according to Knox, wasn’t really a surprising pick: Ezekiel Elliott. Knox’s reasoning was that second contracts for running backs rarely pan out, and Elliott’s worst statistical season of his career did indeed come in the first year of his second contract, which was this past season.
But after perusing through the rest of the list, there were three names that stood out as players whose current overpaid contracts were earned as a direct result of their time in Dallas. The first example is the most recent example, and it’s Cameron Erving. After spending 2020 with the Cowboys, Erving signed a two year deal with the Panthers worth $10 million, which doesn’t seem like very much. But $8 million of that is guaranteed, and it came after a season in which Erving appeared in just six games and ended the year on injured reserve. Relative to his recent play, the Panthers gave Erving much more than Dallas or any other team was willing to hand out.
Next on the list was Texans wide receiver Randall Cobb, who enjoyed a bit of a career resurgence with the Cowboys in 2019, tallying 828 yards and three touchdowns as the team’s slot receiver in Kellen Moore’s first year as the offensive coordinator. The subsequent hiring of Mike McCarthy, the only head coach Cobb had known before coming to Dallas, made it seem likely that the Cowboys would bring Cobb back on a team-friendly deal, especially after Cobb spoke highly of McCarthy’s hire in Dallas.
But Houston offered the soon-to-be 30-year-old a three-year deal worth a total of $27 million with $18 million of it guaranteed, and Cobb smartly took it without hesitation. The Cowboys ended up drafting CeeDee Lamb to fill Cobb’s slot receiver role, and he outperformed Cobb’s 2019 numbers at a fraction of the cost. Cobb, by contrast, couldn’t recapture the magic in Houston. Appearing in 10 games, Cobb totaled just 441 yards and three touchdowns. He now enters year two with the Texans facing a new coaching staff and a very precarious situation under center, but at least he’s getting paid well.
The final former Cowboy on the list is Robert Quinn, arguably the best bargain-bin hit of the Stephen Jones era. The Cowboys traded a sixth-round pick to get Quinn from the Dolphins, who also ate a chunk of his salary to sweeten the deal. At 29 years old, Quinn didn’t appear to have much left in the tank, and it had been a long time since his 19 sack season in 2013. Then, Quinn broke his hand in training camp and got suspended for the first two games of the season.
That didn’t stop him. Quinn finished with 11.5 sacks, good for ninth-most in the league, and he also led the NFL in pass rush win rate for an EDGE defender while being double-teamed at an above average rate. Naturally, Quinn cashed in on his career resurgence, and Dallas opted not to sign that check. Instead it was the Chicago Bears, whose signing of Quinn was deemed as a home run for pairing him with Khalil Mack, even though they gave him a five year, $70 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. Needless to say, Quinn’s 2020 season fell well below expectations as he finished with just two sacks. Now, it seems like Chicago plans to use him less in order to get more out of him:
“I also think it’s going to be balancing out the reps and the timeliness of getting him into games in the right situations where he can be at his best,” outside linebackers coach Bill Shuey said, per Gene Chamberlain of Bear Digest. “There is some work to be done there and Rob knows that.”
Of the three, Quinn may have been the biggest disappointment, but each player represents an instance where the Cowboys’ restraint in not overpaying, even for productive players, has prevented them from getting themselves into a bad situation. Obviously it hasn’t made them immune to handing out bad contracts, but their most overpaid player on this list is much more productive than some of the others that were on here. That has to count for something.