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Cowboys may have avoided any free agent failures in 2021

Dallas not only kept all their draft picks, but found a role for each of the outside free agents they brought in.

Dallas Cowboys v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have had what certainly appears to be a successful draft in 2021. That is not a rare thing, as they have had several good ones over the last several years. What has not gone nearly so well has been free agency. For several offseasons they have used a very cautious, and at times, parsimonious approach to bringing in outside talent. It has not gone well, with frequent outright misses like last year’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Dontari Poe.

So far, things look much better for 2021. While we still await the real data from the regular season, all indications from training camp and preseason point to the eleven free agents signed this year (not counting recently claimed QB Will Grier or just signed RB Corey Clement) all having significant roles to play.

Check out the latest episode of Ryled Up where Tom Ryle and Roy White discussed this idea and more. Make sure to subscribe to the Blogging The Boys podcast network so you don’t miss any of our episodes. Apple devices can subscribe right here and Spotify users can subscribe right here.

Only one, TE Jeremy Sprinkle, did not make the initial 53-man roster. (LS Jake McQuaide was released in a purely administrative move and will be re-signed, as will P Bryan Anger, who was the move to free up the roster spot for Grier.) Sprinkle was signed to the practice squad, and may be called up to the 53 before the regular season with Sean McKeon a candidate to go on IR.

The rest fill the following roles.

LB Keanu Neal

He is a starter in the nickel defense, alongside first-round draft pick Micah Parsons. Despite being limited in his usage as the team protected him, he was effective and had a forced fumble/recovery. Dan Quinn seems to have a clear plan for him and it is entirely reasonable to think that we will not see the confusion and bad decisions that plagued the linebackers last year.

S Demontae Kazee

Now that he has come out of the COVID protocols, he will be one of the starting safeties. More exciting, he is a true free safety, something Dallas has not had in years. His recovery from his serious injury last season seems complete. If he stays healthy, coverage should be much better deep.

OT Ty Nsekhe

Like it or not, he is the apparent swing tackle. His play was not as impressive as many hoped in preseason, but the staff has decided to go with him. We will hope he is not called on much, or not at all. If he is, we will find out just how well he can fill in. And after what happened last year, he also offers at least a good chance they are in better shape here.

DL Brent Urban

His position flexibility makes him able to play 1T, 3T, and DE. His main value is as a run-stopper, and that is a quality the team was sorely lacking last year. As he revealed in his recent interview with our Talking the Star podcast, he is bringing leadership and a true team-first attitude to the defensive line group. With Neville Gallimore not back from injury, Urban may be starting at the beginning of the season, and perhaps longer.

DT Carlos Watkins

Assuming rookie Osa Odighizuwa has earned one of the starting jobs in the middle of the defensive line pending Gallimore’s return, Watkins is another option to start alongside him. When he was first signed, he was not seen as likely to stick, but he has claimed his roster spot. He is now clearing the COVID protocols, and will be on the field.

DE Tarell Basham

He looks to be a key rotational player behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Dorance Armstrong will likely be vying for playing time with him, but expect the staff to find plenty of opportunities for both to be on the field. Basham may be the first choice for running downs, with Gregory coming in to counter the pass.

S Malik Hooker

He was signed during camp after convincing the team he was recovered from his own injury during 2020. He has ability to fill in at both free and strong safety, which could get him some significant snaps in a relief role for both Kazee and Donovan Wilson. He gives the team more viable depth than they have had at the position in a while.

S Jayron Kearse

Like Hooker, Kearse is a good depth piece, with strong veteran presence. He is more a pure box safety, but shows some value in coverage. He might also be a candidate for special teams.

As mentioned, Sprinkle may see the 53-man roster soon, and at least is a ready resource if the Cowboys need another tight end. McQuaide and Anger will be out there on special teams when the regular season starts.

There is still a chance for one or more of these players to come up short, but the prospects for success from many or even most of them seem good. It may be the start of a trend, or just a flash in the pan. But after so many missed opportunities in free agency, this is one of the most encouraging hauls we have seen in years.