There's a lot of time left in free agency for the Dallas Cowboys to add pieces to their team and obviously the NFL Draft will be their next biggest opportunity to add quality impact players. But with COVID-19 and some downtime from the first week for free agency, publications are beginning to hand out — in my opinion, way too early — free agency grades.
Earlier this week, Pro Football Focus gave the Dallas Cowboys a grade of “above average.”
Here's what they had to say about the Cowboys free agency thus far.
If it weren't for the Cowboys paying Ezekiel Elliott a ridiculous six-year, $90 million contract with $50 million guaranteed prior to the season that caused them to lose one of the NFL's best outside man-to-man corners in Byron Jones, they would have had a near-perfect free agency. Amari Cooper was a must to lock up long-term — he is easily one of the best route-runners in the league. Since coming to Dallas, Cooper has seen 58% of his 20-plus yard targets come with a step or more of separation, which leads the NFL and is nearly 20 percentage points above the average. He's been a game-changer for the Dallas offense.
Getting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for just $4 million in 2020 is one of the biggest steals of free agency. In his career, Clinton-Dix has totaled 38 combined interceptions and pass breakups and will rarely give up multiple big plays in a single game. In fact, out of his 96 games played, he allowed more than 45 yards in coverage in just six outings and has surrendered only six touchdowns and 23 explosive plays of 15-plus yards on 3,936 coverage snaps. Clinton-Dix will reunite with his former head coach Mike McCarthy in Green Bay and be a huge addition to the Dallas defense. Getting Gerald McCoy for the price the Cowboys did is sneaky good, too. He's not nearly as disruptive as in past years, but McCoy was still one of the 10 most valuable interior defensive linemen in 2019.
Anthony Treash – Pro Football Focus
The Dallas Cowboys were one of just 10 teams to receive an “Above Average” grade or better. Only one team, the Los Angeles Chargers received a grade of “Excellent,” which likely stems from their discount signing of Austin Ekeler and allowing Melvin Gordon to walk in free agency. They also reinforced their offensive and defensive lines and added Chris Harris Jr. to their already pretty formidable secondary.
Most of the criticism the Cowboys received from Pro Football Focus surrounds the extension they handed out to Ezekiel Elliott prior to the 2019 season. Their argument is that had they not extended Elliott, they would have been able to hold onto Cornerback Byron Jones. That's not entirely accurate.
As has been discussed at length, the Dallas Cowboys could have found a way to pay Byron Jones elite cornerback money if they wanted to bring him back. Jones was allowed to leave for Miami not because he was too expensive because they could have paid him, but because they didn't value him as a top cornerback in the NFL.
Ezekiel Elliott's contract is a big one, but it didn't prohibit the Dallas Cowboys from re-signing Byron Jones. Had they really wanted him back, they could have made it work.
Bringing in Gerald McCoy and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for a total of $10 million on the 2020 salary cap were huge additions for the Dallas Cowboys. They found two starter level players who can make an impact this season for very inexpensive. That was excellent value.
They called Amari Cooper a “must lock up long-term” and I wholeheartedly agree. You'd only have to go back to the first half of the 2018 season to see what a difference there was in the offense after Cooper came aboard. His presence helps take the pressure off of the entire offense. Even with Michael Gallup emerging last year, he hasn't reached the level where he can fill a WR1 role just yet.
Cooper and Quarterback Dak Prescott have such excellent chemistry, keeping them together was vital to their future success. As the Cowboys get ready to pay Dak Prescott potentially the riches quarterback contract in the NFL, having his number one wide receiver on the payroll will ensure that Prescott continues to progress and put up the eye-popping numbers we saw from him in 2019.
The Cowboys also have done an excellent job at fortifying their depth with Sean Lee, Joe Thomas, Maurice Canady, Joe Looney (who will now compete to start at center), Anthony Brown, Darian Thompson, and Kai Forbath. Admittedly, they haven't been the splashiest team in free agency, but they've once again set themselves to draft free of having to force a need at any point in the draft.
It's still early in the free agency period and there are still a lot of quality free agents that could fill a Dallas Cowboys need. However, the direction they go from here on out will likely focus on the 2020 NFL Draft to fill out their roster.
It may not be an excellent free agency for the Cowboys just yet, but it's been solid. We won't know how it all plays out until they play games in the fall, but for now, it all looks pretty good on paper. Let's hope paper translates into wins this year.