It’s a little over five weeks until the first night of the 2017 NFL Draft. You may be wondering what else to expect from the Cowboys between now and then. Is Dallas done in free agency for now? If not, will any other contracts need to be restructured?
And of course, will something ever happen with Tony Romo?
Today we’ll do a general overview of where the Cowboys are right now in putting together a roster for 2017 and what they have left to accomplish. To begin, here’s a quick recap of free agents from our 2016 roster who’ve been re-signed:
- QB Kellen Moore (READ MORE)
- RB Darren McFadden (READ MORE)
- WR Terrance Williams (READ MORE)
- WR Brice Butler (READ MORE)
- G Jonathan Cooper (READ MORE)
- DL David Irving (READ MORE)
With these moves, Dallas has kept to their new tradition of covering roster holes before they get to the draft. They now have a backup quarterback and full depth charts at running back and receiver. This allows the Cowboys to focus on defense in the draft and only take offensive skill players if a truly great opportunity presents itself.
While they’ve re-signed these six players, the Cowboys had 21 free agents to start this offseason. Several of those have signed with new teams, but Dallas has also brought in some fresh faces to replace them. The following table shows our roster comings and goings, and I’ve lined up our new players with the guy they’re replacing.
|CB Brandon Carr||CB Nolan Carroll|
|DT Terrell McClain||DT Stephen Paea|
|DE Ryan Davis||DE Damontre Moore|
|CB Morris Claiborne||n/a|
|S Barry Church||n/a|
|S JJ Wilcox||n/a|
|G Ronald Leary||n/a|
|OT Doug Free (retired)||n/a|
|DL Jack Crawford||n/a|
|QB Mark Sanchez||n/a|
|RB Lance Dunbar||n/a|
|TE Gavin Escobar||n/a|
|LB Justin Durant||n/a|
|LB Andrew Gachkar||n/a|
|LB Rolando McClain||n/a|
|CB Josh Thomas||n/a|
|DT Richard Ash||n/a|
At first glance, that long list of unmatched players may be a little scary. It’s especially bad from Claiborne down to Crawford; all starters or key roleplayers from last year’s team who are now gone. However, things aren’t nearly as dire as you might think.
For example, at left guard, Ronald Leary’s replacement is already on the roster. La’el Collins was the starter before getting injured early last season. With Collins coming back and Jonathan Cooper re-signed as a backup, Dallas will preserve the same basic dynamic of a quality starter and veteran reserve. Leary’s talent will be missed, but there’s no hole on the roster.
The secondary is another area where young guys are expected to step up. While cornerback Morris Claiborne had a great start to 2016, he missed nine games and cemented his unreliability. Sixth-round rookie Anthony Brown played remarkably well in Claiborne’s place and is expected to step into a much greater role this season.
At safety, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are both headed to Florida after signing with the Jaguars and Bucs. Right now, Dallas appears content to allow Jeff Heath to move into the starting role and use Kavon Frazier as a backup and special teams player. Given that Frazier barely played last season, it’s almost like adding a new body to the depth chart.
The downside to this strategy is the chance that these players won’t be able to handle greater responsibility. However, how do you really know until you they get the opportunity? Signing a slew of veterans to replace the ones you’ve lost is like throwing a big “progress stopper” blanket over your entire team. You can’t have homegrown talent if you don’t let it grow.
Free Agent Market Still Open
That being said, there is no reason to assume is Dallas is done courting free agents. Just yesterday they visited with veteran safety Robert Blanton and we can expect more action to come in the next few weeks.
During the 2016 offseason, from March 18th through the start of the draft, Dallas brought in Benson Mayowa, Alfred Morris, and Joe Looney while also re-signing Lance Dunbar and Jack Crawford. Clearly, there is still plenty that can happen in free agency this year.
Like any salary cap-strapped team should, the Cowboys are looking for bargains. That generally means waiting for the early waves of free agency to end and for unsigned talent to start getting desperate. That veteran pass rusher you want may still be coming.
The guy that I can’t take my eyes off of is Jacquies Smith (pictured above) from the Bucs. He’s still just 27-years-old and has proven pass-rush skills. Smith is a restricted free agent but was given the lowest tender amount, meaning the Bucs only have the ability to match a contract offer and won’t get any draft pick compensation if Smith leaves.
After missing all of last year with a knee injury, Jacquies Smith is going to be fighting for snaps with the emerging Noah Spence and veteran Robert Ayers. Dallas could offer him a modest deal of about $2-$3 million per year and perhaps still put him outside of what the Bucs want to match. With no draft pick on the line, why not?
This Whole Tony Romo Thing
Before we go, we have to address the ongoing question of Tony Romo’s future. For a while it seemed that the Romo stalemate was keeping the entire quarterback market frozen, but we’ve seen some movement in the last few days as Dallas re-signed Kellen Moore and Josh McCown signed with the Jets.
The Denver Broncos and Houston Texans remain the teams to watch. Houston is especially interesting after they dumped Brock Osweiler onto the Cleveland Browns. They claim to be content with Tom Savage for next year, but is that really how you want to try to build on last year’s playoff appearance?
Personally, I have no issue with the way the Cowboys are handling this. If there was only one clear place for Romo to land then maybe you go ahead and let him go. But with at least two teams in play, that is an opportunity to get something back on Tony’s departure.
These three teams are basically playing Chicken with each other. The Cowboys already have a Pro Bowl quarterback for 2017, so why should they back down?
This isn’t about being unappreciative of Tony Romo’s time in Dallas. He’ll get a spot on the Ring of Honor one day for that. This is about the business of winning and getting back to the Super Bowl. You can’t cry about the Cowboys lack of postseason success and then fault them for not trying to maximize their assets and leverage when they have it.
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Whether it’s with Tony Romo or most other situations, the Cowboys are operating with a much more conservative approach to team management. They are focusing on developing existing talent and using the draft to obtain more, rather than spending big in free agency.
It may not make for offseason excitement. but these tenants have resulted in a lot of Super Bowl wins over the last 20 years. After these decades of futility, how can we not be encouraged by a change of direction?