The Dallas Cowboys are known to be frugal when it comes to signing big-name outside free agents over the last decade. The last two notable large free agent contracts were given to Brandon Carr and Greg Hardy. Both of which were serviceable performers, however, their on the field play didn’t justify the money the Cowboys were paying them.
The frugal nature in free agency, especially lately, is a complete turnaround from Jerry Jones’ aggressiveness, primarily during the 1990’s when signing players like Deion Sanders.
The Sanders signing at the time, in 1995, featured then a record signing bonus of $12.999 million dollars. After the contract was signed, it instantly paid off as the Cowboys returned to the Super Bowl and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in what would be the last time the Cowboys sniffed the Lombardi Trophy.
Signing Deion Sanders was a no-brainer for Jones after he not only won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1994, but Sanders’ San Francisco 49ers team upended the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game and prevented Dallas from winning three Super Bowls in a row.
Not all of the Cowboys outside free agent signings are slam dunks like Deion Sanders, in fact, many of them have backfired. Signings like Eddie George who was at very end of his career was a fail after it was apparent that George had lost a step. Another signing that didn’t exactly go as planned was when Dallas signed Bryant Westbrook to a deal, and he was cut after just one game after a poor performance against a then expansion, Houston Texans squad.
Some of Dallas’ best free agency signings have been ones that were essentially shopping at your local thrift shop. -George Selvie, back in 2013, signed a two-year deal for $1.36 million and in that 2013 season produced seven sacks.
A seven-sack season at an average annual salary of $680,000 is great production that all NFL teams would love to have because a smaller contract like Selvie’s can create more cap space to add better pieces to fill out the roster. Team’s will always look to get quality production on a lower end contract before a perspective player’s financial demands increase, sometimes significantly.
Another current example of shopping at discount prices in hopes of quality production is the 2021 free agent signing of Jayron Kearse.
Kearse, prior to signing with Dallas, was primarily a special teams player his first five seasons in the league as a member of the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions. When he signed for a modest $1.1 million for the 2021 campaign, many believed it was a good signing to help out the Cowboys special teams unit. However, the 2021 season for Kearse was a breakout one where he tallied 101 tackles which led the team, along with two picks, and one sack. Kearse turned an essentially one-year prove-it deal into a new two-year contract worth up to $10 million.
Kearse is a great example of a player who came to Dallas as an afterthought and cashed in after a career season. Although he cashed in at an average annual salary of $5 million, he is only the 27th highest paid safety in the league. That is still quite a bargain.
Many media pundits and fans alike seem to look for Jerry Jones and company to go on a free agent shopping spree whenever big-name players become available. However, the organization takes a much different approach where they have long believed in building through the draft and typically paying the big money contracts to players whom were initially drafted by the team. While this may not be the most popular way to conduct business, it has been effective enough to keep Dallas in the conversation as a contender.
With how rookie contracts are structured, primarily for the quarterback position, it is essentially a race to win a Super Bowl before the first contract concludes. Once a team’s starting quarterback is past his rookie deal, the money doled out to that player is much higher which means less money can be spread out to the other members of the franchise. Big splash signings look good on paper when the deal is finalized, however, building through the draft and retaining players for a second contract is a very successful formula. And a formula that will sooner rather than later payoff in a huge way when the Cowboys end the drought and bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Dallas.