Dallas Cowboys Copy Patriots’ Successful Free Agency Blueprint


The start of the NFL’s free agency period was probably not ideal for fans of the Dallas Cowboys. After standing pat for the first two days, the Cowboys lost the league’s leading rusher, running back DeMarco Murray, to their divisional foe, the Philadelphia Eagles. The next day, Dallas signs injury-plagued running back Darren McFadden in his place.

"“We had to re-sign him, and we just let him go! What are we thinking?!”“This free agency absolutely sucks. It’s going to come back to bite us.”“Great, we signed another nobody with injury concerns. Why don’t we sign some big names for a change?”"

If you thought the above quotes are reactions from some fellow Dallas Cowboys fans, well, you’d be wrong. This is actually just a small sampling of some fan reaction over several years of free agency activity by… the New England Patriots!

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Over the years the Patriots have built a reputation for making little to no splash in the market for free agents. There have been exceptions, of course, but often New England gets more attention for inactivity and for who they have allowed to walk than for who they actually sign.

The Cowboys have been following a similar blueprint the last few years. The norm in Valley Ranch has shifted from cap-straining signings, like cornerback Brandon Carr in 2012, to a more fiscally responsible approach.

For some fans this leads to a perception of sitting idly by while players are cherry picked from our roster. It is upsetting to watch players like running back DeMarco Murray, fresh off leading the league in rushing and setting a franchise record for most rushing yards in a season, walk away to another team.

But the Patriots have shown that a team does not have to throw money at past performance to get good future returns. And, just like the Cowboys in the last few off seasons, New England has shown tremendous success over many seasons scooping up and plugging in low value cast-offs from other teams or players viewed as risky.

One example of their savvy free agency dealing includes the signing of linebacker Mike Vrabel, a mostly unknown role player for the Pittsburgh Steelers who became a star under the tutelage of head coach Bill Belichick.

Other moves that seemed lackluster or questionable at the time include the signing of aging linebacker Junior Seau, and the pickup of troubled running back Corey Dillon. Both contributed significantly for at least one season.

At the same time, the Patriots have made some calculating decisions to let big contributors go who had played their way to big paychecks. In order to save room in the salary cap, New England has cut ties to some big name talent like wide receiver Wes Welker and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Now you can add cornerback Darrelle Revis and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork to that growing list.

In shifting their free agency strategy from splashy to restrained, Dallas is only taking the next step in adopting the style of the perennial contender and defending Super Bowl champs.

In 2013, DallasCowboys.com staff writer David Helman blogged that the Cowboys brass were specifically referencing the Patriots as a model they were looking to for their approach to offense. As the years since can attest, it has become more and more obvious that they are making New England a model for other facets of the overall team picture.

Dallas has built the best offensive line through the draft, much the same way the Patriots did midway through the first decade of the 21st century. And now they are allowing productive stars to walk away in order to save cap space and build a team of “right kind of guys,” players who are undervalued but who are hungry to prove something.

Exactly like the Patriots have done. Every year New England fans get less and less upset with Belichick and his seemingly baffling free agency strategy. But it has taken years of success.

Hopefully that is something else Dallas will be copying, too.

What do you think? Are the Cowboys making painful but necessary moves, or are they being too timid? Tell us in the comments below!

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