Well, Dallas Cowboys Nation, we’re just over a month away from the annual NFL free agent frenzy. If the NFL Draft in April/May is considered the Christmas of the offseason, then the start of free agency in March has to at least be considered Thanksgiving for the majority of NFL loyalists.
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Every member of Cowboys Nation across the globe is wondering, amongst the 23 Dallas free agents, whom are going to stay and whom are going to leave. We live for this stuff. What offseason, right?
With that said, I thought you might already be tuned up for another edition of my gut feelings and bold predictions on just who all might, or might not be on this roster next season.
We’ll kick things off with one of the headliners of the bunch…
Dez Bryant – Wide Receiver (Unrestricted Free Agent) – Either by signing him to a long-term deal or using the franchise tag, he’s coming back. No ifs. No ands. No butts. He’s not going anywhere.
Bruce Carter – Linebacker (UFA) – Carter came on strong in the second half of the season, and largely redeemed himself from a disappointing 2013 campaign. He also added a career high five interceptions in 2014. But with the money that will be invested in the position next season and the emergence of rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens, I just don’t see him coming back. He will be starting in 2015, just not in Dallas.
Rolando McClain – Linebacker (UFA) – Dallas gambled on McClain and that gamble paid off, and then some. He brought a level of toughness and physicality to this defense that was simply not present in 2013. He showed this Dallas Cowboys’ front office, and the NFL for that matter, why he was a top-10 pick in the draft in 2010. He comes back and is likely your starting middle linebacker next season, moving Sean Lee out to WILL linebacker.
Justin Durant – Linebacker (UFA) – Coaches love him. Durant was having a career year before he was sent to injured reserve. If not for Anthony Hitchens filling in so admirably, the linebacking corps would have likely suffered a bigger blow than it would have otherwise. Due to the injury issues the last two seasons, he comes back relatively cheap. He’ll just have to fight off Hitchens for a starting spot.
Henry Melton – Defensive Tackle (UFA) – The decision to pick up Melton’s three-year option is lurking right around the corner. The front office has until Feb. 15 to either exercise his option, renegotiate his option, or simply let him hit the open market. My gut says they let him test the market. The theme of this defensive front next season will be youth, and Melton will not be a part of it. The main reason? Tyrone Crawford is ready.
Nick Hayden – Defensive Tackle (UFA) – Again here, coaches love the guy. He’s that high motor dude that never stops working. Never flashy, just a solid all-around player. My gut says they let him gage what his value on the open market will be after two productive but quiet years in Dallas. If he’s still around after a few weeks, they bring him back in the fold.
Jermey Parnell – Offensive Tackle (UFA) – He’s younger and likely cheaper than Doug Free, but I think they ultimately decide to bring back the more polished veteran that is still very much in his prime. Parnell finds a starting right tackle job elsewhere in 2015.
C.J. Spillman – Safety (UFA) – Brought on to be a back-up safety and special teams ace, Spillman was just that. With the starters in place (Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox) and a younger, cheaper back-up safety/special teams ace already on hand (Jeff Heath), I think they move on with too many other pressing needs weighing in.
Ronald Leary – Offensive Guard (Exclusive Rights Free Agent) – In this kind of free agent situation, Leary has almost zero leverage. His best option is to sign his tender and return to his starting left guard duties in 2015 and beyond, which the Cowboys will be happy to do. No chance they let a proven starter on this offensive line get away.
Tony Hills – Offensive Tackle (UFA) – Dallas thanks him for his services and moves on. With Parnell gone, and Free coming back, I think Dallas looks to either free agency and/or the draft to bring in depth behind starters Tyron Smith and Free.
James Anderson – Linebacker (UFA) – Ditto. Dallas thanks him for his services and moves on.
Doug Free – Offensive Tackle (UFA) – As mentioned previously, I think they keep Free over Jeremy Parnell. Nothing against Parnell, but I think these coaches know that the offensive line was stronger and more fluid with Free in the starting lineup. Make no mistake, if Free wanted to leave Dallas, he could have before taking his pay cut before the 2013 season. He wants to be here. Free knows this o-line is on the brink of being a truly special unit, and he’s the leader and elder statesman.
Stay tuned next week for my gut feelings and bold predictions on the remaining 11 Dallas Cowboys free agents including; running back DeMarco Murray, wide receivers Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley, defensive ends George Selvie and Anthony Spencer, and key role players such as running back Lance Dunbar and cornerback Sterling Moore.