This is the time of year writers and fans eagerly refresh their feeds waiting for the latest free agency news. While fans of the Dallas Cowboys usually are disappointed as the team has not done anything of note dealing with the outside free agent market in a decade, we still look for the “wow” signings, to either pine for what could have been or wonder how another team could have spent that much money.
But this year, there just doesn’t seem to be much “wow” going on. Not only have there been very few signings that make you sit up and take note, there aren’t even a bunch of rumors swirling. There seems to be a supply problem.
We're all giving the Cowboys grief because this isn't the reason they aren't going to be aggressive and I by no means want to interrupt the piling on...— KD Drummond (@KDDrummondNFL) March 14, 2023
but this seems like a lackluster free agency class if we're being honest.
As our old friend KD pointed out in another tweet, David Carr was the biggest QB name to go to another team. Lamar Jackson was tagged by the Baltimore Ravens, and he is seen as a player that will only succeed in a certain, atypical offensive structure. (That may not be a fair judgment, but it is a general perception that is often mentioned.) Neither of them are names that had a lot of people salivating.
If you want a wider view of things, one place to get it is the CBS Sports top 100 free agent tracker. (Note: The data in this article reflects the information available at the time it is being written. Some things may change by the time it is published.) In past years, it seems there were always several highly-coveted free agents who were playing the market, letting demand drive up the value of the contract they eventually signed. But this year, only one of the top twelve free agents on CBS’ list is still on the market, Kansas City offensive tackle Orlando Brown. And it is also telling that the next two names on their list after Jackson and Carr are Javon Hargrave and Daron Payne - both defensive tackles. That is not normally a position you see heavily represented in these lists. And coming in at number five is RB Saquon Barkley (who was tagged). The shelves of the free agent market, particularly at the high impact positions, just don’t appear to have been well stocked this year.
Another way to view this is what is widely seen as one of the biggest needs the Cowboys have, wide receiver. The highest ranked WR on this list is Jakobi Meyers, who is all the way down at 29. He is now off the market, signing with the Las Vegas Raiders on a three-year, $33 million contract. That is more than Dallas would ever have paid, of course, but it is still a nice testament to how thin this year is. Next in the WR group are JuJu Smith-Schuster and D.J. Chark, at 58 and 59. Odell Beckham, who is the free agent WR most frequently linked to the Cowboys, sits at 63. It must be a weak class when a player coming off a very serious injury who has not played in over a season is rated as the fourth most valuable WR. And given the way contracts are going, Beckham’s reported demand of $20 million a year seems very unlikely to be met. Just as a side note, former Cowboy Noah Brown, who is going to the Houston Texans on a one-year deal, did not make the list. For those interested in compensatory picks, that is a pretty sure sign he won’t bring one.
We have long complained about the way Dallas tends to sit out the first days of free agency, outside signing some of their own, like they have done with safety Donovan Wilson. He is 47 on CBS’ list, so he seems like a very good retention. But this year, the team’s approach may make a lot of sense. There just isn’t a lot out there that would be of great help. Additionally, under Stephen Jones, there has been a general rule to not pay more than $6 million per year to outside free agents. While in the past that has meant they missed out on most players they were reportedly interested in, there are a lot of deals at or below that number already. That could make more that would fit in the Dallas budget available. Further, there just does not seem to be much upward pressure on contracts. The philosophy of waiting out the first couple of waves of free agency could lead to someone that could help the team being there for a reasonable price. It also may help them keep some of their other players from last season, like Dante Fowler and Leighton Vander Esch.
The approach used by the team is not always the most effective. But circumstances may be creating a very good environment for them. When the available players just aren’t that impressive, it makes all the sense in the world to go slowly and see what might fall into your lap. This year, the longer players remain on the market, the lower their eventual cost may become. Jones likes to shop in the bargain bin. This year that may be where a lot of decent but not great players wind up.