Dallas Cowboys: The right free agent at the right time can make all the difference

Aug 9, 2015; Canton, OH, USA; Charles Haley is introduced at the 2015 Hall of Fame game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2015; Canton, OH, USA; Charles Haley is introduced at the 2015 Hall of Fame game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports /

With every veteran release in the weeks and months to come, the Dallas Cowboys will continue due diligence on players that might fit their needs.

Throughout the years of the Tony Romo-era Dallas Cowboys, there were not a lot of impactful free agent signings. I can think of only two, but more on that in a bit.

In recent years, it seemed like every other team had money to spend except the Cowboys. It seemed that reports would state that my favorite team was up against the cap; and it seemed rival teams like the Washington Redskins were signing eight-to-ten impactful veterans every year.

As a fan of the Cowboys, this was how it felt. It’s an exaggeration, but that’s kinda what we fans do.

This year Dallas has money to spend but no glaring areas of need on which to spend it. That’s great! The Cowboys front office has done a wonderful job building the team in the last several drafts.

But what if a key (or role) player gets hurt this year? When is the right time to bring in a free agent? A look to the past can teach us a few things.

Team owner and general manager Jerry Jones’ inclination to gamble on character issue players is well-known. This has often backfired. So why is he so bold in this area?

In 1992, the Cowboys signed free agent defensive end Charles Haley away from the playoff rival San Francisco 49’er. Haley was not free of baggage. Reports stated that he “feuded openly with management” in San Francisco, and was vocal about his desire to leave the team.

Gamblin’ Jerry won this round, as Haley prospered as a pass rusher in a season that would see Dallas win a Super Bowl, the first of three during Haley’s tenure with the team.

Dallas barely missed the Super Bowl in 1994; so once again, the team took a chance on another big name free agent. This time it was the showboating yet freakishly talented cornerback Deion Sanders. The result would be another Cowboys Super Bowl win in 1995.

From that point on, the stage was set for Jones to take his future chances in free agency. The results were mixed at best.

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By the time Romo took over at quarterback for the Cowboys, it had been many years since the team had any post-season success. It was time to take another big chance, this time on the media prominent wide receiver Terrell Owens.

The receiver came with so much attention that then head coach Bill Parcells would attempt to play it down by usually referring to Owens in press conferences as the player.

The Romo/Owens connection would prove productive, but in the end, pundits and fans alike would forever question this signing.

2012 would see Dallas pay a huge contract to cornerback Brandon Carr. Though Carr never missed a game for the Cowboys, the size of his contract versus his on-field production would eventually come into question. (Big contract fail honorable mention: receiver Roy Williams).

The more recent gambles in free agency continued to be on players with character questions, albeit on smaller contracts. Safe gambles? The signings of linebacker Rolando McClain in 2014 and pass rusher Greg Hardy in 2015 both ended poorly and were seen by most to be big mistakes. (Taking a chance/ fail honorable mention: defensive back Pac Man Jones).

I’ve come to this point to reveal my favorite free agent signing in the Romo-era Cowboys. The right free agent at the right time. Wide receiver Laurent Robinson signed in September of 2011 on a one year contract worth a reported $685,000.

Robinson would only start four games for the Cowboys. However, in limited action, the receiver would see his career high stats as he developed a quick chemistry with Romo. Also worth noting here; Romo would go on to have one of his best statistical seasons with the late addition of Robinson.

To me, this was the epitome of the perfect free agent signing. An in-season need, exceptionally scouted, and almost the lowest contract possible.

Free agency is obviously a hit and miss affair. A review of the names included here shows a mixed bag of results. Dallas may currently have its best team comprised of its own draftees and rookie free agent signings ever (here’s hoping). But a team can be one injury away from disaster (see 2015).

Next: Dallas Cowboys: Minicamp to training camp, Notes to ponder

If Dallas needs one, let’s hope they find that guy in September, get a good deal, get lucky, and stay away from shiny things that cost too much.