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3 Truths About the Dallas Cowboys Offseason Habits

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.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

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.

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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  1. Boys are simply not good at choosing free agents. But, most free agents signing wind up disappointing. Teams release players or choose not to resign them for a reason. There are exceptions, but they are exceptions. Tampa Bay signed a bunch of free agents and got a SB. That is to be considered in the same category as buying lottery tickets…there are winners but it is not really a plan.

  2. Another truth we seem to forget is their choices in coaches. The Chris Richard experiment didn’t work so they went Nolan, which was even worse. How do they correct it? Quinn and Whitt?? Richard was a Quinn disciple who failed!! With no Sherman, Thomas, Chancellor type talent why Quinn?? Did we not see Falcons defense for last 2-4 years with Quinn the head coach while also running the defense!! Is Whitt that much better than Richard to make a difference with less talent. Say what you will but Byron Jones was a really good corner who just didn’t intercept the ball. Seems like they choose coaches like they choose free agents and that’ll never pan out. Proof is in front of us. Every year same results. But Forbes #1 so really, how is Jerry losing? He’s not, it’s me, a die hard fan (from Philly!!) and the other’s worldwide who take the hit year after year while Jerry keeps winning. My heartache is real but the dollars make sense so Jerry doesn’t care about our emotions. Don’t think we’ll ever win with the Jones’ as leadership of player’s personnel it’s obviously about saving money, getting bottom-basement retreads. Poe and McCoy were just bad fits from the outset. Anyone ever see their stats with Carolina before we got them last year; Panthers run defense was horrible yet they tried selling those same guys. Same with Quin, his defenses were great with talent but how long ago was that and who were the talent compared to our roster today. C’mon wake up Reply

  3. The defensive hangover goes back to when they tried the “Tampa 2” system…which was nothing but a prevent defense every single play.
    2020 was without any scheme whatsoever.
    Things are looking up!

  4. I wouldnt be shocked if this is the off season we finally get Earl Thomas. After being out of the league for a year he could probably be had for cheap. I also think were going to go back and sign Gerald Mccoy to a similar deal we had before with the injury clause

  5. First, “the Cowboys don’t value the safety position.” I was hoping to never ever hear that statement again but, it creeps up all the time. SMH. Guess they don’t value turnovers, something they get very few of, or solidifying the middle and back end of the defense. It is mind boggling and I don’t have the vocabulary to describe how asinine it is to not value that position. You want to devalue a position? Devalue the punter if you have to devalue something. He kicks a ball 4-6 plays a game. Your safety plays 70 snaps a game and he helps to stop the run, covers receivers and is many times the last person that is in position to stop a touchdown.

    Second, STOP THE DUMPSTER DIVING! Those few times you uncover a decent player, he is gone after his one year of service because you signed him to a one year cheap deal. Or, you sign these guys to multiple year deals but they come in out of shape and playing on two flat tires. Earl Thomas was great in Seattle because he was in his prime. He wasn’t performing at that level with the Ravens and was such a problem child that his talent wasn’t worth the trouble to keep him because he was a declining player. Stop wasting valuable resources on these players that are declining. Stop saying they can be mentors to the younger players because that’s what you have coaches on staff to do. Here’s a scenario, if Tyron Smith was a free agent this year and you are a team in need of a left tackle, do you run out and get him? Not only NO but HELL NO! Yeah, he’s got a bunch of Pro Bowls to his name but he hasn’t played a full season in years. He’s last is prime. He’s not what he was in his prime. He is declining. He is physically breaking down and his injuries are getting worse. What should you expect him to do on a new team? Same thing, be a declining player. Please, Lord, no more declining players.

    Off my soap box. You guys have a great rest of your day. Go Cowboys!

  6. The Cowboys don’t play free-agency to necessarily acquire starters. And when they do, they are still viewed as just stop-gap starters and typically get no more than a cheap 2-yr contract. They play the free-agency game perfectly IMO. The only reason a team should even get involved in the 1st wave of free-agency is when they are 1-2 players away from a championship, and the free-agent being targeted has special skills.

    There are essentially 3 waves of free-agency.
    Wave-1: The players who have “name” value (usually about 5-10 of these guys). And the players who once had “name” value (usually about 5-10 of these guys). All will be extremely overpaid and for too long a contract.

    Wave-2: The remaining player, usually on the downside of their careers (in terms of age). These players tend to get overpaid a bit as well, but for much shorter, non-hindering contracts.

    Wave-3: Post draft free-agency where the remaining player pool is picked clean to fill holes where the draft didn’t.

    Dallas plays in the 2nd wave a little bit. But they are looking for guys who can (a) fill roster holes so that they are not bound to “need” decisions in the draft that follows. And (b) either start at a position for a year or two until said draft choices are ready.

    Last year is considered a free agency failure by most because Dix, McCoy and Poe failed to live up to expectations/hopes. But them not making the team, getting injured, and getting cut didn’t impact this team or change the season’s outcome. More importantly, it didn’t hurt their cap situation at all! They were very reasonable acquisitions that undoubtedly didn’t turn out as hoped, but still were prudent moves. They were insignificant acquisitions from an on-the-field standpoint, but they were significant acquisitions in that it allowed the team to capitalize on the ability to draft a CeeDee Lamb instead of reaching for a Chaisson-type of player.

    Though the 2020 free agency class didn’t pan out, they’ve done well in this phase of free-agency over the course of time (J.Looney, J,Thomas, Goodwin, etc).

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