The frustration of Cowboys Nation has been obvious over the first few days of free agency. The Cowboys are taking a conservative approach that fans aren't happy with after a 4-12 season. Unfortunately, I think the negativity has been exacerbated by guys like me.
In the time leading up to free agency you saw a lot of articles and blog posts from both mainstream media and “fanalysts” like me and my colleagues, most of us telling you how the Cowboys could finally go on the attack again with their cap spending. You heard how Dallas was down to less than $1 million in dead money, carrying over funds from last year, and could open up significantly more money by restructuring some deals and cutting others.
Your expectations were not managed well by the writers you follow. But, to be fair, we are no less surprised by the Cowboys' approach to free agency so far. We only wrote our own predictions and assumptions and are scratching our heads a bit just like you are.
If there was one thing we expected Dallas to do it was that they'd add one of the premiere pass rushing defensive ends. In just a few days, gone are Olivier Vernon, Mario Williams, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Charles Johnson. Dallas has not scheduled visits with Robert Ayers or Chris Long, the last of the name-value options. Scarily, Greg Hardy is probably the best talent still unsigned.
So far Dallas has signed just one mid-tier defensive lineman in Cedric Thornton. They are only officially linked to two other free agents; quarterback Matt Moore and cornerback Nolan Carroll. Moore would obviously be a backup and Carroll has been an on-and-off starter for the Eagles for the last few years. None of these moves leap off the page.
The best thing I can tell you about understanding Dallas' approach is to think about someone who's lived for years with massive debt. They finally pay off the last of their credit cards and breathe a huge sigh of relief. Ideally, that person would be very careful about how they manage their finances going forward.
The Cowboys had over $19 million in dead money (per Spotrac.com) last season. It was $27 million in 2014, $17 million in 2013, and $22 million the year before that. Heading into 2016 that number is down to just around $900K; comparatively debt-free to what they've dealt with previously.
When Dallas has had cap space in the past it's been on a line of credit; borrowed money from future seasons. They've renegotiated some deals and cut others to free up the room, deferring those costs to the future.
The Cowboys are adopting the philosophy of the New England Patriots, not overspending and focusing on the draft and bargain free agents to build. That sounds great when you hear it but can be frustrating to watch. In practice, that approach doesn't have the “win now” urgency that gets fans excited.
Try and think long term about this. We want a future without having to say goodbye to our favorite players, such as DeMarcus Ware two years ago. We want to keep this great offensive line together for a decade. We want for as many cap dollars as possible to be going toward helping this year's team, and not paying the ghosts of the past.
Dallas' current strategy is how we get to, and stay in, that happy financial place. The Cowboys are the guy who finally paid off his credit cards and they are loathe to return.
We, as in anyone who writes about the Cowboys, should've known better. Sorry for getting your hopes up about the last few days.
Try and redirect that hope to the future.