The Dallas Cowboys and the NFL are about a month away from the start of the NFL Free Agency. This offseason, with the salary cap projected to regress due to decreased revenue related to COVID-19, there will be a nice list of free agents for the Cowboys to scour through to try and get their roster right for the 2021 season. As exciting as some of those names are, it’s also important to remember a few simple truths about the Dallas Cowboys and their spending patterns.
Let’s take a look at three sobering truths about how the Dallas Cowboys approach roster building and free agency.
1. Storage Wars – America’s Team
As much as I like to scour the list of pending free agents at OverTheCap.com, I have to continually remind myself not to look at the top guys or the players expected to earn significant contracts when free agency opens March 18th. The Cowboys are incredibly unlikely to chase a big-time free agent. It’s just not who they are.
Like how I said, “unlikely.”
Sure, they could act out of character and target an Anthony Harris in free agency, and as much as I would like them to find a deal that would work for Harris, it seems like a stretch and I won’t get my hopes up.
The way the Dallas Cowboys approach free agency is the same way those guys on American Pickers and Storage Wars approach their buys. Attempt to unearth diamonds from some rough-looking situations. Stephen Jones watches too much A&E.
And while that has worked for them at times — the Robert Quinn trade, Aldon Smith, Joe Thomas –more often than not, the reality is, you get what you pay for.
It’s easy to not want to spend after Brandon Carr’s time in Dallas didn’t live up to the hype, but as the saying goes, “scared money, don’t make money.” Time for Jerry Jones to do a little wildcatting and take advantage of a deep defensive tackle and safety market and find guys that can improve this defense.
2. The Cowboys Don’t Value the Safety Position
As much as I’d like to see the Dallas Cowboys spend some cap space or a premium pick on a safety — ahem, Richie Grant, ahem — I have my doubts that they’ll pull the trigger to upgrade the free safety position. Given the opportunity to do so in years past (Tre Boston), the Cowboys opted to go with players that could play dual roles in the secondary like Xavier Woods.
Xavier Woods and Donovan Wilson were both sixth-round draft picks. And while they got a lot of snaps out of those players, there’s certainly an opportunity to upgrade from Xavier Woods in particular. With Donovan Wilson, he’s still early in his career and has shown enough of a penchant for creating turnovers and making splash plays that you want to see if he can take another step forward in 2021.
With Wilson, Woods, and Jeff Heath before them, the Cowboys have been able to find adequate safety play on the back end. Unfortunately, the front office has appeared satisfied with the adequacy of their safety play at the relative cost of the players playing those snaps. And even though the coaching staff has changed and the defensive coordinator has changed twice in the last year, the front office remains the same.
Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay haven’t placed much of an emphasis or value on the safety position over the last decade, opting to prioritize other areas. And that’s fine, you need to have edge rushers and offensive linemen. However, look at some of the best defenses in the NFL over the last 20 years and you’ll find great safety play was a part of it. The Baltimore Ravens had Ed Reed. The Pittsburgh Steelers had Troy Polamalu. The Seattle Seahawks had Earl Thomas.
The Cowboys need to prioritize the position and find someone that can patrol the deep middle of the field. Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic they will.
3. They’ll Re-Sign One of Their Own in the Secondary
The Cowboys like to make sure that they have some sort of veteran insurance at positions of need when they head into the NFL Draft. It’s why they signed Anthony Brown to a three-year deal last March. With Byron Jones on his way to Miami, the Cowboys wanted to have a player they knew could be there for them in 2020, but also bridge the gap with potential turnover in 2021.
Now the Cowboys have Xavier Woods, Jourdan Lewis, and Chidobe Awuzie heading to free agency next month. Though cornerback and safety remain high priorities in the draft, I fully anticipate the Cowboys bringing back either Xavier Woods or Chidobe Awuzie or both if the market is right for these players. Neither player would preclude the Cowboys from utilizing a top 50 pick for a cornerback or safety, but they would provide insurance if they’re unable to land one of their draft targets and a veteran presence while the rookie transitioned into the NFL.
Of the two, I think there’s a greater likelihood that Awuzie is back instead of Woods. Someone will value Woods experience and durability and he might be a better scheme fit somewhere else. After a down year that saw him struggle with some injuries, Awuzie may be open to a one-year prove-it deal. He can start opposite Trevon Diggs until Patrick Surtain, Caleb Farley, or Jaycee Horn are ready to take over. Then you can use Awuzie as a versatile matchup piece with tight ends or bigger slot wide receivers.
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It’s going to be an interesting offseason and one where the Cowboys have a lot of work to do to improve upon one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2020. All the while reaching an agreement with their franchise quarterback (yes, they can do both). But it’s unlikely that the Cowboys will be big spenders this offseason, simply because it’s not in their nature. They’re afraid of swinging for the fences and whiffing on the pitch. This is why any veteran they target will be on a one or two-year deal to give them outs if it doesn’t work out. And given their history of bargain hunting in free agency, there’s a pretty strong likelihood that it won’t work out.