In recent years, the first week of free agency comes and goes with little activity when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys. As Stephen Jones and Will McClay have taken more central roles in the team-building aspect, the Cowboys have notoriously been passive observers of the first phase of the NFL's free agency period.
Well, they've certainly bucked a trend this week, not only dipping their toes into the free-agent waters but making moves that will significantly help their team, especially the defense, heading into 2020.
After extending Blake Jarwin and re-signing Amari Cooper on Monday, the Cowboys made a splash late Tuesday night and signed former Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy to a three-year deal. On Wednesday, the Cowboys then signed cornerback Maurice Canaday. Again, late into the evening Thursday, the announcement came down that the Cowboys signed Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Though most of the moves they've made were to re-sign their own players, they brought in three outside free agents. That's way more activity than I can remember in recent years, which sets them up well as free agency moves forward and the NFL Draft comes at the end of April.
While they've been uncharacteristically active in the first week of free agency and have helped their team significantly, there's still a lot of work to be done to solidify this roster for the 2020 season and beyond. Let's take a look at a few things the Dallas Cowboys need to do next.
1. Sign Emmanuel Sanders or Another Veteran Wide Receiver
On Tuesday, it was reported by Jane Slater of the NFL Network that the Dallas Cowboys and Wide Receiver Emmanuel Sanders have a mutual interest in joining forces. It's unknown at this time just where those talks have landed in the initial stages of free agency, but he'd be an excellent option for the Cowboys to pursue to replace Randall Cobb as the team's primary slot receiver.
Even at 33 years old, Sanders has the ability to be a dynamic weapon for a team. In 2019 with both the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers, Sanders played in 17 regular-season games and then three playoff games. He was a big factor in the 49ers run to the Super Bowl.
Last season, Sanders lined up in the slot on just 35.4% of his snaps and was targeted 21% of the time when lined up in the slot. He didn't have a single drop from the slot per Pro Football Focus. Sanders also showed in the playoff run that he's still a player that can win down the field as well. Despite his age, Sanders would make an excellent addition to the Cowboys.
If they didn't go in that direction, the Cowboys should still look to add a veteran playmaker to the roster. They could look in the direction of Dez Bryant to be a big slot receiver and someone who could back up at both outside positions. They could go after Robby Anderson of the New York Jets to add a legit deep threat to the passing game. Or they could target a slot specific wide receiver like Taylor Gabriel of the Chicago Bears to provide that role to the offense.
Adding another veteran receiver to the Cowboys offense would give it a huge boost.
2. Pick Up Snacks in Free Agent Shopping Spree
Though there haven't been any reports of the Dallas Cowboys' interest in free agent Defensive Tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison, through in a back and forth on Twitter with Patrik Walker of CBS Sports, it seems Harrison has some interest in the Dallas Cowboys.
I live in Dallas already 🤠
Though the Dallas Cowboys have exclusive rights to free-agent 1-technique defensive tackle Antwaun Woods, signing Harrison would upgrade the position and provide the Dallas Cowboys with an excellent two-deep depth chart at the nose tackle position.
Antwaun Woods has been good for the Cowboys since coming over from the Tennessee Titans practice squad. However, the Cowboys have a serious opportunity to improve that spot and Harrison — combined with Gerald McCoy — would immediately solidify the Dallas Cowboys run defense, which has struggled at times over the last couple of seasons.
Damon Harrison is one of the best, if not the best, run defenders the NFL has seen in the last decade. In run stop percentage, stops, and Pro Football Focus run defense grades, for several years he was the best or one of the best at playing the run from 2013-2018. Injuries slowed him down a bit in 2019 and teams generally ran away from him, limiting his overall impact. However, he's still one of the best in the game and would make a ton of sense for the Dallas Cowboys.
3. Take a Run at a Veteran Defensive End
It's looking very likely that Randy Gregory will be back for the Dallas Cowboys this summer and in 2020. That being said, after spending the 2019 season out of football-related to his indefinite suspension under the old collective bargaining agreement's policy on marijuana, there's no telling what kind of football shape he'll be in moving forward.
The Boys and Girl Podcast Co-host Bobby Belt, who has remained close to Gregory's situation as well as Patrik Walker who recently spoke with Gregory are optimistic about Gregory's ability to hit the ground running once reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. However, the Cowboys should prepare themselves for the possibility that the former second-round pick isn't ready to take on 70% or more of the defensive snaps.
Jadeveon Clowney remains the big name in the free-agent market, but for whatever reason, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of interest. After the Seattle Seahawks allowed him to go into free agency, few teams have been connected with the edge rusher, and though the Dallas Cowboys were mentioned as a possible landing spot by former All-Pro Left Tackle Joe Thomas, it's unlikely they'd be willing to spend the money it would take to land him. He's reportedly asking for $20 million a year on a new contract, which would put him in an elite tier of NFL pass rushers.
The problem is he's never had a double-digit sack season. While sacks aren't the only thing that makes a defensive end great, usually, it helps to have had at least one season with double-digit production. Clowney's injury history is also an issue and teams might be scared off by the fact that neither the Houston Texans or the Seattle Seahawks were interested in shelling out big money to keep him.
As I've mentioned in a previous post, Markus Golden, most recently of the New York Giants is an edge defender, I'd seriously consider acquiring. Last season for the Giants, he totaled 10 sacks and has the versatility to play 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end. With Mike Nolan hoping to play out of multiple defensive fronts, having an edge defender that can rush standing up or with his hand on the ground would be a huge plus.
Another player that the Cowboys should look into is former Minnesota Vikings Defensive End Everson Griffen. Griffen is 32, but like Gerald McCoy has a long history of production and in 2019 had eight sacks for the Vikings in 15 games. Combined with DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, Griffen could be an excellent compliment. If for some reason Gregory isn't ready to take on a full complement of snaps, a rotation between he and Griffen would be dynamic for the Dallas Cowboys pass rush.
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The Dallas Cowboys have had a good first week of free agency, improving several areas that needed improvement or stability. However, there's still a lot of work to be done moving forward. There are still a lot of very interesting pieces available to them in free agency they could add that could free them up to draft the best player available at a position that will be a need in the next year or two.
Nothing they've done so far will preclude them from drafting a player at a position that was a perceived need before free agency, but they also won't be locked into drafting a particular position because they have a significant hole at that spot.
The Cowboys need to stay active and make moves in these three areas to have their roster stabilized before heading into the draft. You also don't want to be in a position where you have to rely on rookies to fill sizable holes on the roster. If they play their way into a starting role or becoming a significant contributor, that's great. However, you don't want to overexpose a rookie because you don't have any other options.
The Cowboys are in great shape through the first week of free agency and things are looking up. They can really have themselves in a good position though if they continue to attack areas of need in free agency.