Cowboys free agency signings narrowing draft focus

Oct 5, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Cedric Thornton (72) walks off the field after win over the St. Louis Rams at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Rams, 34-28. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 5, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Cedric Thornton (72) walks off the field after win over the St. Louis Rams at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Rams, 34-28. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

The choices the Dallas Cowboys have made in the first week of free agency have revealed more of the team’s draft intentions.

Outside of retaining some of their own players, the Dallas Cowboys have been relatively quiet during the first week of NFL free agency. Yet, the limited moves that they have made, and the free agents they visited with, are revealing more and more of the Cowboys intentions in the upcoming NFL Draft.

First, let’s cover the actual signings the Cowboys have made through the first three days of free agency. On Wednesday, the day to market officially opened, the only move Dallas made was re-signing middle linebacker Rolando McClain.

The following day, the Cowboys retained practice squad cornerback Josh Thomas. Then, Dallas signed their first new free agent in former Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Cedric Thornton.

On Friday, the Cowboys re-signed four of their own free agents in cornerback Morris Claiborne, linebacker Kyle Wilber, tight end James Hanna and offensive tackle Charles Brown.

During this time Dallas also lost two of their own players to free agency. Quarterback Matt Cassel signed a one-year deal with the Tennessee Titans. And center/guard Mackenzy Bernadeau agreed to a two-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In trying to determine the Cowboys draft strategy and how it might be changing, we also need to look at the types of players the team is considering in free agency. So far, officials have met with a total of three free agents.

Those names include the aforementioned and signed Thornton, Miami quarterback Matt Moore and Philly cornerback Nolan Carroll. The latter was rumored to still be negotiating with the team late on Friday but it now appears both sides are holding off. While Moore has now moved on and is reportedly scheduled to meet with the Indianapolis Colts. The Cowboys have apparently also scheduled a visit with free agent defensive end Chris Long for next week.

Turning our focus to the draft, these recent moves by the Cowboys have certainly cleared up their possible draft strategy somewhat. The fact they signed Hanna to a three-year deal solidifies their tight end position. I wouldn’t expect the Cowboys to add anything but undrafted rookies in that area this offseason.

The Claiborne signing doesn’t mean Dallas will not take a cornerback high in April’s draft. It’s only a one-year deal, and his past performance lends to the fact it will likely be his last. The Cowboys are simply not ready to give up on the former first round pick quite yet. But Claiborne’s signing plus the interest in Carroll could mean the team is finally ready to move on from veteran cornerback Brandon Carr.

The re-signing of McClain seems to have have placed any speculation about the Cowboys drafting UCLA linebacker Myles Jack with the fourth overall pick on the back-burner. Although David Helman on doesn’t believe the team would not sign a player as talented as Jack just because Rolando has been retained. The injury history of Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee also needs to be considered here.

The McClain signing might make adding a player like Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, who is tumbling down draft boards due to injury concerns and the fact he could be sidelined for the entire 2016 season, is now more plausible in later rounds simply because the Cowboys have McClain in-place for another year.

I believe the signing of Thornton means it’s less likely the Cowboys will select a defensive tackle high in this draft. Since it’s probably the most talented and stocked position in this draft class anyway, Dallas could still find a hidden gem late on Day Two or possibly even on Day Three.

The loss of Bernadeau to the Jags instantly makes a back-up center/guard essential in this draft. Although he’s a restricted free agent, the Cowboys could choose to retain guard Ronald Leary due to the void left by Bernie.

But the team needs a back-up center. Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin has taken some snaps at the position. There have been some unconfirmed rumblings about second-year lineman Chaz Green also possibly filling in at center. I personally think it raises the possibility Dallas looks for a versatile lineman in this draft class.

Which could put Zack’s younger brother, Notre Dame center Nick Martin, firmly in the Cowboys headlights. Dallas coached him in the Senior Bowl in January. And Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett even caught himself referring to Nick as Zack during their practices. The younger Martin is projected to be a second selection in April. But I honestly can’t see the Cowboys taking him unless he falls further down.

Finally, the fact the Cowboys are looking at quarterbacks, cornerbacks and defensive ends in free agency might give the indication that Dallas is still wildly unsettled about who they are going to take fourth overall. All three positions happen to be exactly the type of player the Cowboys will likely have to choose from in the first round of the upcoming draft. Players like Ohio State’s defensive end Joey Bosa, Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey and quarterbacks in California’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.

If the Cowboys sign any free agents at these positions in the coming weeks, it should give us a solid indication of  where the team might go when their number is called in April’s Draft.

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