Why aren’t the Cowboys attracting top tier free agents?

Dec 20, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers free safety Eric Weddle (32) reacts to fans after the Chargers beat the Miami Dolphins 30-14 at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 20, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers free safety Eric Weddle (32) reacts to fans after the Chargers beat the Miami Dolphins 30-14 at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

We discuss why the Dallas Cowboys no longer appear to be a desirable landing spot for potential free agents.

The Dallas Cowboys are the league’s most popular team. They’re America’s Team. Although the Cowboys are likely the number one TV show in the nation whenever they play in prime time, there is one area where that doesn’t seem to matter anymore. That’s during free agency.

The Cowboys seemingly have a plethora of desirable traits for prospective free agents. There’s obviously the legacy and history of the franchise to consider. Many a free agent has claimed that Dallas was their favorite team as a child and how they dreamed about wearing the Star one day.

Being in Texas, Cowboys player aren’t subject to a state tax. Which certainly makes a difference when it comes to the financials. And let’s not forget Dallas plays in the NFC East, which is considered by many to be the most winnable division in football.

The team’s popularity, national spotlight and massive fan base have to be considered as positives as well. Lastly, the Cowboys young and talented offensive line surely have potential free agent running backs drooling over the possibilities.

With all that being said, why are so many players saying no to Dallas in free agency? Since the market opened last Wednesday, free agents like safety Eric Weddle, running back Matt Forte, quarterback Matt Moore, running back Lamar Miller, cornerback Nolan Carroll, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, quarterback Colt McCoy and cornerback Casey Hayward have all been linked to the Cowboys in one way or another. But they have all opted to sign elsewhere or left Valley Ranch without a contract. And those are just the ones we know about!

Obviously, a large part of the reason these free agents didn’t sign with Dallas is money. This cocksure Cowboys front office is likely low-balling offers to top-tier free agents hoping all the positives listed above can bridge the gap where their financials lack.

Within this renewed, almost self-righteous sense of fiscal responsibility in Dallas, let’s not forget that some free agents are actually worth the hefty price tag. Just ask the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Key free agent acquisitions, like former Cowboys defensive great DeMarcus Ware, have paid off for the Broncos with a ring.

Obviously for every success story there are several free agency failures. Cowboys fans have to look no further than  cornerback Brandon Carr to know that.

In the case of free agent cornerback Nolan Carroll, the decision not to sign with Dallas is rumored to have actually nothing to do with money. Instead, his hesitancy to agree to terms is likely more about whether he actually wants to play for the Cowboys or not. Carroll meet with Dallas last week and left Valley Ranch without a deal in place. Both sides appear to be in a holding pattern.

And this appears to be a disturbing trend for many free agents when it comes to the prospect of playing for America’s Team. Although some fans can’t seem to get their head around the reasons why, I think the answer is pretty simple.

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The Cowboys have been a mediocre franchise for a very long time. And that fact, maybe even more than the money in some cases, is hurting the team’s ability to sign veteran players in free agency. Especially those who actually want to win a championship before they retire.

Although fans of the Cowboys have Super Bowl expectations every single season, outsiders do not. They instead see a team undeservedly placed on a pedestal every year, who haven’t hoisted a Lombardi Trophy in over 20 years. Throw in a salary that likely has to last you a lifetime, a small window to make said money, and the desire to win a Super Bowl during that constantly closing window; and you have a sense of why free agents might look elsewhere.

When potential players consider the roller-coaster of mediocrity that Dallas has been part of in the past five years, some go heading for the hills. And I’m not sure I can blame them.

Three straight 8-8 seasons without a playoff appearance under new Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett were followed by a glimpse of success in 2014. After recording a 12-4 record that year, Dallas opted not to pay the league’s leading rusher in free agent running back DeMarco Murray at seasons’ end thus sending the team spiraling to 4-12 record in 2015. It’s obviously an oversimplified version of the much more complicated truth, but it is still one way to look at it.

It’s possible the Cowboys are relying much too heavily on their legacy to win over potential players in free agency. And the fact is, they’re likely betting on the wrong legacy.

Where Cowboy fans and officials see America’s Team as the gold standard, with visions of Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Emmitt Smith and various other legends dancing in their heads; potential free agents probably see a legacy of mediocre play, three playoff victories since 1996 and a head coach who’s one bad season away from the unemployment line.

Combine that with a Cowboys front office who could be low-balling offers to players because of a false sense of team worth and you start to get a sense why free agents may opt for other, more promising opportunities rather than signing with Dallas.

Next: Cowboys 2016 Free Agency - 15 potential new targets

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