No Ticket for the Cowboys on Free Agency Bus


One of the most exciting and on occasions shocking times of the NFL off-season is only a couple weeks away.  Of course I’m talking about Free Agency, or the NFL pre-draft social mixer.  For nearly 20 years the “modern-day” Free Agency period has brought hope to many teams, but lately seems to bring ex-Cowboys to the Giants.  With everyone getting ready to punch their “dance cards”, the Dallas Cowboys will probably be sitting this one out.

So why no Free Agent hustle for the Cowboys?  Well, that depends on who you ask and there’s some truth in each reason; I can think of three off the top of my head, Doug Free, Miles Austin, and Jay Ratliff.  None mentioned have lived up to the large contracts they signed (Ratliff included, who sat out most of the 2012 season).  These large “back-ended” contracts; and other circumstances throughout 2012, have basically busted the bank on an already reduced salary cap.

In short, the Cowboys can’t afford a ticket to Free Agency.

December 9, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones walks on the field before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys limped into the off season with; according to ESPN Dallas’ Todd Archer, “$20 million over the projected 2013 salary cap, with just 44 players signed.”  So even after a lot of contract restructuring, it’d be pretty tough for The Boys to have the cash roll to make any kind of Free Agency splash.

That’s a shame considering this year’s list of projected Free Agents offers more talent than usual and the Cowboys have serious need in several skill positions.  But considering the lack of cap room, there’s limitations to what the Cowboys can offer.

So when Jerry gave the “closing window” speech, he could have been foreshadowing the looming cap issues.  What’s the answer?

The answer might have been given at the beginning of this off season period.  It appears the Cowboys are choosing to rely primarily on the draft as well as the talent left after the Free Agency exodus.  In other words, the GM believes there are high caliber players returning next season and they’ll need to squeeze every ounce of ability out of them.  Hence the number changes to the coaching staff, in an effort to gear more toward a “coach ‘em up” attitude rather than just expecting players to self motivate.

January 25, 2013; Ko Olina, HI, USA; NFC outside linebacker Anthony Spencer of the Dallas Cowboys (93) looks on during practice at NFC media day for the 2013 Pro Bowl at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

So what does this all mean?  Well, it means more pressure on the coaches to prepare each player for game day as well as more emphasis on overall execution.  That’s a pretty exciting concept that’s not really been utilized since Bill Parcells left.

It’ also means there’s obviously more pressure on the talent scouts.  The players drafted over the next two seasons must be talented enough to plug holes created by lost players from cap issues.  Those scouts will determine the long-term health of the franchise.  But is this really such a bad thing?

It’s very possible the Cowboys are weeks away from seeing the exit of former first round picks like Anthony Spencer, Mike Jenkins, and Felix Jones while never even kicking the tires on prospects such as Greg Jennings, Ryan Clady, or Dashon Goldson.  But by not “seriously” dipping their toes into the Free Agency market; and hopefully trimming some contract fat over the off season, they stand to “right the ship” when it comes to the cap.  That’s a pretty good reason to not buy that bus ticket.