Just like the buzzards returning to Hinckley, ennui and dissatisfaction have settled across the fan base of the Dallas Cowboys in a perennial tradition. It is an odd thing. The team tells us every year what they are going to do, they do it almost to a fault, and we somehow feel betrayed. It feels worse this year, somehow, because they have only signed three outside free agents this year. The latest acquisition, RB and ST asset Ryan Nall, is a real poster child for how Stephen Jones loves him some unknown bargain signings.
It is hard for us to accept that in Dallas, this is the way. It just seems extreme this year because they started the offseason with a huge number of decisions to make about their own free agents. As the hoary phrase goes, they like their own guys. That is clearly evident when you look at the big list of what they have done so far.
Cowboys’ offseason roster moves: pic.twitter.com/b3GQnB71bq— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) April 8, 2022
They re-signed eleven of their own this year, plus put the tag on Dalton Schultz. They almost brought back Greg Zuerlein, but the New York Jets saved them from themselves. That large number is why they have only signed three rather nondescript free agents, far fewer than last season.
There are certainly still some holes they could look to fill, but they may be taking a wait and see approach until after the draft. One reason that is attractive to the Cowboys is that players signed after the Monday following the conclusion of the draft no longer count under the formula for awarding compensatory picks. They become free additions in effect. Since Dallas voluntarily excludes itself from any big signings for the most part, they also expect there to still be a sufficient pool of players available to fill any roster holes not sufficiently addressed during the draft. We may disagree with that reasoning, but it is clearly the approach taken. With nearly three weeks still to go before the draft there could still be a signing or two in the remaining time. Still, do not expect much.
While a lot of excitement grows every time a well-known name like Bobby Wagner, Von Miller, or Brandin Cooks is linked to the Cowboys, almost every time it is nothing. Due diligence is very much a watchword for the team. Part of that is staying on the lookout for a possible bargain deal. In most cases, it is nothing more than a phone call to see what the player or his agent is looking for. And the reports of the “interest” from Dallas usually originate from the agents themselves. It is a puzzling bit of leverage. The perception is that it helps with getting a better deal for the player. The fact is the Cowboys almost invariably check out of the process over cost. Yet the same thing happens every offseason.
This was all quite predictable. The unusually high number of free agents from last season’s roster pointed towards the large number of re-signings. While we were all terribly disappointed in the way things ended, it must be remembered that they had a 12-5 regular-season record. That argued strongly for bringing back a lot of the old band. The biggest failure of the offseason was not getting the desired deal done with Randy Gregory. That in turn drove a couple of moves, re-signing Dorance Armstrong and adding Dante Fowler, that may have not happened had Gregory been retained. The rest of things were strictly according to the Stephen Jones playbook, which has long been open for anyone to view. And if you haven’t been paying attention in the past, he is continually reciting from it just to drive things home. That includes the outdated view of the salary cap as a serious limitation on what can be done in free agency.
It makes for an unexciting time before the draft rivets us and we have some shiny new players to get the blood pumping. Assuming Will McClay does his usual excellent job, we will start to convince ourselves that the team is ready to make some noise this year. We will also start convincing ourselves that players like Kelvin Joseph and Jabril Cox are more assured to step up than we really have evidence for. They both have a lot of potential, but that needs to be proven on the field.
What is likely to carry the team to double-digit wins again is the core of talent they have in players like Dak Prescott, Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Micah Parsons, just to hit a few highlights. Dan Quinn certainly gave us reason to hope the defense will be strong again, but we should have some concern about Kellen Moore overcoming some of the late season blahs of 2021. Still, there is no reason to look at the rest of the NFC East and think the Cowboys have a major hurdle to overcome in getting back to the playoffs.
Only time will tell if they are able to do more than just make it to the postseason. Tempering the enthusiasm may not be fun. But it keeps your heart from breaking quite as badly.