Dallas Cowboys: Jermey Parnell, DeMarco Murray Huge Free Agency Wins


There was no press conference in October 2010 when the Dallas Cowboys plucked a raw player off the New Orleans Saints practice squad and added him to their 53-man roster. At the time, if you recall, the Cowboys were 1-3 and looking for answers. Jermey Parnell didn’t impress anyone as having them.

The former basketball star at Ole Miss hadn’t really settled on a position in the NFL. He’d played only one season of college football – six games on the defensive line his senior year. The Saints signed him as an undrafted free agent project following the 2009 draft, and the Cowboys were his third team in less than two years.

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The Saints and Miami Dolphins had tried the 6’6″, 290-pound novice at various spots along the offensive and defensive lines, and even at tight end, but nowhere had he been able to crack any team’s 53.

The Cowboys would acquire Parnell with the idea of making him an offensive tackle. The coaching staff went to work on him. Head coach Jason Garrett spoke generally about that process in addressing the team prior to the start of the 2013 training camp in Oxnard, Calif.:

"“Coach all players to do it the right way, Pro Bowler or college free agent, OK? You’ve been to the Pro Bowl eight times? You’re getting your ass coached. You’re getting your ass coached. You can get better. You just got here 15 minutes ago? You’re getting your ass coached. I don’t care where you came from: First-round pick, free agent who signed for nothing – everybody’s getting coached. If you’re not getting coached, tell us. That’s our job to do that, and you can expect that from us.”"

So the kid who quit football after the eighth grade and went to college on a basketball scholarship, who didn’t don a set of shoulder pads again until his senior year at Ole Miss, who was cut three times and didn’t have a set NFL position, came to Dallas and got his ass coached.

The true strength of the Cowboys organization showed this week when Parnell agreed to a reported $32-million free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Parnell’s success is a gleaming testament to the depth of the Cowboys’ new and sustainable model for winning, the key of which is to identify, accumulate, and develop talent.

In 2014 Parnell made seven starts, including two playoff games, after a late-season injury to starter Doug Free. To that point in his career Parnell had little starting experience, but the Cowboys offense plugged him in at right tackle and proceeded to execute their game plans as if nothing had changed.

In a way, Parnell saved the Cowboys season. Without a dominant offensive line, the Cowboys’ formula for winning would have been severely compromised. It made the offensive skill position players better and kept a defense that lacked impact star power off the field.

When Parnell’s number was called, he delivered starter-quality snaps down the stretch. Attrition is inevitable; depth wins in December. Depth is achieved by identifying, accumulating and developing talent. The lion’s share of credit goes to the player, but Garrett’s coaching staff and organizational philosophy made it possible.

As an added benefit, the loss of their backup right tackle may result in a compensatory 2016 draft pick for the Cowboys. Garrett’s staff took a thrice-cut undrafted free agent, molded him into a key contributor for a playoff run, and now could pocket a mid-round pick for waving him goodbye.

The NFL’s formula for determining compensatory picks is not public, but the folks at overthecap.com have examined how previous picks were allocated. They’ve concluded the most significant factor is the per-year average value of the departing player’s new contract. Parnell’s new deal averages about $6.5 million per year, which could land the Cowboys an extra fourth-round pick. Read more about how compensatory picks are allocated here.

Consider the elegant symmetry of DeMarco Murray‘s departure. The Cowboys spent a third-round draft pick on a running back, developed him into an All Pro, absolutely ran his legs off, then let him walk in free agency. Overthecap.com’s formula estimates Murray’s 5-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles averaging more than $8.2 million a year will net the Cowboys a third-round compensatory pick in the 2016 draft. Waste not, want not.

Too many around the NFL have yet to see the Cowboys for what they are – one of the best-run organizations in the league. It all works together: The player personnel department identifies talent, the front office acquires it, and the coaching staff develops the player. Come free agency time, the organization wins no matter what happens.

Here it should be noted: The player wins, too. They put in the work, they got their asses coached, and now it’s time to get paid. They’re better for the time the spent with the Cowboys, and the Cowboys are better whether those players stay or go.

To this year’s departing free agents: Get paid, fellas. You earned it. This franchise is already busy coaching up another crop just like you.

Next: Has The Cowboys Interest In Adrian Peterson Changed?