Armed with the dollars to spend and a need for upgrades, the Dallas Cowboys need to be wise when dipping into the free agent pool.
For the next couple of months, two topics are going to be dominating the conversation.
You have all things related to the NFL Draft, including next week’s scouting combine and you have free agency.
The fun that comes with debating the topic of the draft usually surrounds being right about which prospect can provide the biggest impact. On the flip side, it’s the unknown that comes with spending big dollars that makes it anyone’s best guess at the end of the day.
The same can also be said about free agency.
Looking back at the free agent class of last year, everyone who’s in the business of handing out grades and report cards couldn’t wait to put the Miami Dolphins at the head of the class. Acquiring the biggest fish (pun intended) in the pool in Ndamukong Suh, most propelled the Dolphins into playoff contention.
Suh, Thomas and Murray traded a total of 35 wins in 2014 for just 18 in 2015. Thomas lost out on the chance of a lifetime as his former team hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.
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All three also saw a noticeable drop in production moving on from the former places of employment. Thomas had less yards and touchdowns. Suh produced less sacks and Murray’s numbers and play were so bad, there are rumors the Eagles may try to move away from after just one season.
The lesson in free agency? Proceed with caution.
This year, the Dallas Cowboys may be in the best salary cap situation they have been in at least a decade. On top of that, the cap is set to move up pretty significantly, further arming Dallas with more ammo to go after some big names.
CBS Sports Pete Prisco released his rankings of the top 50 free agents headed into this year and there are lots of intriguing names, especially on the defensive side.
Twelve of the top fourteen players listed reside on the defensive side of the ball.
If you’re the Cowboys, it almost feels imperative that you net at least one of these players. As I mentioned in my previous column, the Cowboys historically have been at their best when their defense was something to be feared.
The offense, with a healthy quarterback and wide receiver, will be more than sufficient to do what it needs to do. The offense has also been adequately addressed in recent drafts. It’s time to build on the other side now.
Let’s narrow down the options a bit.
Prisco’s list includes six defensive lineman (ends Olivier Vernon, Malik Jackson, Jason Pierre-Paul and Bruce Irvin), tackles Damon Harrison and Ian Williams. There are also five defensive backs (corners Trumaine Johnson, Sean Smith, Janoris Jenkins and Prince Amukamara) and safety Eric Weddle. Lastly, there is linebacker Danny Trevathan.
As much as I would love for Vernon to wear the Star on his helmet, all signs are pointing to Miami using their franchise tag on him. Ironically, there is also a list compiled by ESPN’s Sam Monson (Insider access required) indicating he’s the biggest “buyer-beware” name on the market.
Pierre-Paul and Irvin may also be ill fits for the Cowboys given that Irvin is more of a 3-4 OLB prototype and someone will likely throw JPP more money than Dallas should be comfortable to do so, given his medical issues and uncertainty moving forward.
That leaves Jackson as the main man the Cowboys should target out of this group.
Although he’s listed as an end, he has the flexibility to play inside or outside, lining up anywhere across the front four. He’s also young (26) which fits the mold the Cowboys seem to be going towards. Lastly, the Broncos are going to have a lot of players lining up to get paid, not the least of which would be Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and the next man up at franchise quarterback in Brock Osweiler.
At linebacker, Dallas would be wise to address this position early in the draft or even bring incumbent Rolando McClain back on a similar type deal as last season given that Trevathan heads a list of only three linebackers to even be mentioned. That equates to a hefty price tag the Cowboys should let pass them by.
As for the secondary options, literally any of the five listed would be huge upgrades over what the Cowboys are working with currently. Going after Amukamara seems extra juicy given that it would weaken a division rival, not to mention, he’d probably the cheapest of the quintet.
Adding Jackson and Amukamara, along with utilizing the first two picks in the draft to bolster the defense could provide the blueprint for a return to dominance.
So, who do you think the Cowboys should aim for?
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