NFL free agency is an exciting time for many teams. However, for the Dallas Cowboys it is usually not. The team is notoriously hesitant to spend anything on outside free agents. The salary cap is taken much more seriously than in many other franchises. Frequently, their biggest cap commitments are for their own free agents rather than outside talent.
This year, they have an unusual number of players going into free agency. That creates holes to fill with the cap space at hand. While most look at who they would like the team to spend some cap pie on, my Ryled Up podcast partner Roy White considered the situation in a different way. Even if Dallas does loosen up the cap purse strings and spend more aggressively, it would almost certainly have to skimp on some positions. So what would they be?
We discussed this idea on the latest episode of Ryled Up 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.
Roy suggested that the positions of most concern are wide receiver, cornerback, offensive line, and defensive end. I think linebacker is a fifth. Here is a look at which ones are most likely to be given a short shrift this year.
This is the one they cannot neglect. Finding more wide receiver talent is the biggest need this year. If the team does anything meaningful in free agency, this should be it.
The reason they might not is CeeDee Lamb. Not because he is a legitimate WR1 (he absolutely is) or because he can carry the whole receiving corps (yeah, that didn’t work out so well last year.) It is because they snagged him in the first round of the draft. It is very much in the realm of possibility that they commit to going all in to try and replicate that success this year. This would be a case of overestimating how smart they are.
This is dependent on a couple of things. First is health. Terence Steele and Tyron Smith are both coming off injuries. If both are able to recover, the tackle room looks to be in good shape with Tyler Smith as the starting left tackle. They also may be able to re-sign Jason Peters on a veteran minimum deal for additional depth.
The second thing is the left guard position. Connor McGovern is a free agent. He may have a good market for his services as an experienced starter. If he attracts a good offer, the team may well scrimp here and let him go. But if they can get a deal done with him that they find affordable, they could bring him back. They also might think Matt Farniok could be able to step up, and look for C/G depth in the draft.
This is one they will probably be cheap with.
Anthony Brown is another player entering free agency, plus he is coming off an injury. If he is healthy, they would be wise to spend some cap space to get him back. The team has a good track record of making the right call with their own players who have been hurt, but that is always a calculated risk. Jourdan Lewis is still under contract, but also was on IR last year.
If Lewis is healthy, the emergence of DaRon Bland last year could make them willing to let Brown walk. They would then be relying on Nahshon Wright and Kelvin Joseph plus the draft to prove depth. It is not the most encouraging situation, but seems fairly likely. They will likely not use free agency to do anything here unless they can get Brown back on a very team-friendly deal.
To be honest, we disagreed on the podcast about this one. The only free agent they stand to lose is Dante Fowler. They still have DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Sam Williams, and Chauncey Golston under contract, plus Micah Parsons is used to rush the passer on obvious passing downs. Not too many teams that can field a better pass rush than that. Expect them to do little or nothing here in free agency while using one of their draft picks to add a prospect to the mix.
This one is not getting talked about a lot. It should be. Leighton Vander Esch was the defensive quarterback and had arguably his best season last year. He is a free agent, as is Anthony Barr, who had a solid year. The Cowboys have high hopes for Damone Clark, who contributed far more than expected last year. He was coming off injury, got on the field earlier than was anticipated, and was a pleasant surprise. But outside of him, they only have Jabril Cox, Devin Harper, and Devante Bond.
This all comes down to Vander Esch. He is the most important player to bring back because his contributions to the team go far beyond his individual play. His leadership and getting the defense lined up were huge for Dan Quinn. During the games Vander Esch missed late in the season, the defense just didn’t look the same. They need to meet whatever the price is for him. Linebacker is not a position that usually demands a high price, so maybe that will help make him more affordable.
If they don’t, this would clearly be a case of being too cheap. It also is an area where there is a very good chance the Joneses get too cute. It is hard to say how likely it is, but if they don’t find a way to bring back Vander Esch, they will clearly be scrimping here. And they got away with low-balling him last season. We have to be braced for them to think they can do so again.
There is a very real chance the Cowboys just fall back on their disdain for free agent spending and scrimp on all these needs. Here is hoping they don’t.