There is a difference between free agents that fans want and players that just fit. For example, trading for Stefon Diggs would be a move that everyone in Dallas wants to see, but it might not fill the biggest need.
A more relevant example is that Von Miller was talked about non-stop until he signed with the Bills, but no one even considered the possibility of Laken Tomlinson (guard) joining the Dallas Cowboys. Even though guard is a more pressing need at the moment than EDGE. It is often more fun to discuss the players that we want, even if it might not be the best fit.
But, of the free agents available, who fits best in Dallas?
3.) Duane Brown (T)
Of the three on this list, Brown is the biggest question mark with respect to his price tag. The former Seahawk is coming off a 2021 Pro Bowl season and in 2020 he was the fifth-ranked tackle in the league by PFF grading. However, at 37-years-old he is no spring chicken.
But since 2008, he has been one of the most consistent tackles in the league. He hasn't finished below the league average by PFF grading since his sophomore season. And Brown has been remarkably consistent, only missing four games over the last four years. The three-time All-Pro player and five-time Pro Bowler is reaching the end of his career, but he still has it.
What makes him confusing is what type of contract he will demand. If he still wants a contract that will pay out more than $10 million annually, then he isn’t a realistic signing. But if Brown wants a two-year, cheaper deal to end his career, it is worth it.
We discussed this idea in great detail on the latest episode of 1st and 10 on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Because the reason that Brown is a perfect fit is that he is the ideal bridge tackle. Terence Steele might not be the answer at RT and the injuries are starting to pile up with Tyron Smith. Meaning that the Smith, La’el Collins era is officially over and they have to start figuring out who the next two long-term tackles are going to be.
But that issue is not going to be solved in one year. Thus, if Dallas signs Brown to a cheaper deal given his age, he would fit the timetable. He would provide starter-quality depth to the roster while also giving the Cowboys flexibility to figure out the future of tackle. Additionally, they could move Steele back to swing tackle for the time being.
Now, Brown is not a good fit if he still demands an All-Pro salary or if he is looking for any deal longer than two years. But if Dallas can pick him up at the price that a 37 year old tackle should be, it would give them the perfect bridge player while they find the right and left tackle of the future.
2.) Akiem Hicks (DT)
Safety and defensive tackle will forever remain two completely ignored positions on the Cowboys roster, both by free agency spending and draft capital. Every fan knows these are positions that have been neglected for far too long but need to be addressed.
Well, Akiem Hicks at least provides a veteran, outside presence in a defensive interior locker room that is primarily composed of young, internally developed players. And this is not the Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe experiment, Hicks still has it.
Because after six weeks of recovering from injury in 2021, Hicks returned in week 15 to the tune of four QB pressures, two sacks, four-run defense stops, and zero missed tackles. But the fact that he is 32 years old, his 2021 injury, and the reality that he hasn't looked particularly dominant since 2018 should keep Hicks within the Cowboys' price range.
If Dallas is going to focus on one area of the defense, it should be on stopping the run. And Hicks has been a valuable asset for the Bears' run defense since he joined the team in 2016. Now that he is a free agent, he would immediately boost a relatively mediocre Dallas-run defense. It was only two years ago that he finished his second consecutive season ranked as a top-ten DT against the run. Hicks might not be as unstoppable as he once was, but he would still upgrade the Dallas run defense.
And what might be even more valuable for the Cowboys is the experience he would bring to the roster. For years now, Dallas has adopted a strategy of replenishing their DT depth with later-round draft picks and thus they always have a young defensive interior. The average age of the DTs currently on the Cowboys roster is 24.3 and that includes 28-year-old Carlos Watkins who is technically listed as a DE.
Hicks would help in the development of players like Osa Odighizuwa, Quinton Bohanna, and Trysten Hill. This would be the first defensive tackle Dallas has added in a while that not only has the ability to make an impact on the field but also add a veteran voice for the young DT rotation. These two factors make him a great fit in Dallas.
1.) Daryl Williams (G/T)
This name might be the least exciting for Cowboys fans, but it is the best fit. Because while Daryl Williams is less talented than Duane Brown or Akiem Hicks, he is the cheapest and he can fill two needs. Plus he is only 29 years old and has an All-Pro selection under his belt.
Williams is better in pass protection than in run blocking, but he is decent at both. Barring a complete turnaround, he likely won’t become a staple on the Cowboys' offensive line, but he has still started 74 out of the 89 games he has played. For the past three years, he has been reliable for both the Bills and Panthers, not turning heads but he does his job.
However, with Connor Williams leaving for Miami, and the issues at tackle discussed in the Duane Brown section, there are multiple needs the Cowboys need to fill upfront. And it is unclear how these needs will progress after the draft. The most likely outcome is Dallas uses pick number 24 to select a guard but circumstances change.
So, if you have multiple needs upfront and it is unclear what you will fill them during the draft, wouldn't it stand to reason that the perfect fit right now would be a lineman that can do anything? Enter Daryl Williams.
Over the past three seasons, Williams has played 1,343 snaps at guard and 2,022 snaps at tackle. And it is not as if the Bills moved him from tackle to guard over this stretch and realized he was better at guard, or vice versa. He frequently moved positions for the Bills based on need. In 2019, he played both tackle and guard at an even rate, in 2020 he only played tackle, and then in 2021 it was once again a somewhat even split.
Over the last three years, Williams has more than 170 snaps at left guard, right guard, left tackle, and right tackle. He can fill in at any position on the offensive line outside of center.
Which is the perfect fit for what Dallas needs right now. Because say the Cowboys surprisingly sign Duane Brown, who almost exclusively plays tackle, but during the draft, the guards are unexpectedly drafted early. In this case, Dallas might have to reach on a guard when a tackle would be the better pick.
Thus, the reason that Williams fits right now is because he provides the Cowboys with draft flexibility. He will be a low-cost replacement for either tackle or guard, whichever Dallas needs more after the draft. They would be able to use pick 24 based on the best player available instead of pigeonholing themselves into one position on the line.
With Stephen Jones apparently interested in adding more free agents, there are plenty of players that can still be signed. Whether that be based on talent or need, the pool of starter-quality players has shrunk but it still exists. However, every day there are fewer options to choose from.
That means Jerry and Stephen Jones have to decide whether they want to sign based on fit or talent and start now. Because these are two entirely different notions, but there are options at each. As long as they are willing to do something about it.