Free agency killed the last Dallas Cowboys dynasty

Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys Dynasty and the ridiculous amount of depth the front office acquired.

Before we get into the free agency debate, I want to take it old school and talk about the Dallas Cowboys 1990s dynasty that was cut short by the NFL’s decision to allow free agency. Owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jimmy Johnson revolutionized the way teams were constructed and how drafts were approached.

The defensive line was stacked and was the foundation of the defense. The rotation of defensive tackles included Russell Maryland, Leon Lett, Tony Casillas, Jimmie Jones, Chad Hennings, and sometimes Jim Jeffcoat. Separately they were just role players but collectively they statistically would be atop the league in most defensive categories.

The linebacker crew was a bit weaker with Ken Norton Jr. leading the charge and was one of my favorite players until he departed via free agency to the hated San Francisco 49ers. Defensive end and Hall of Famer Charles Haley was added in a trade that paired him with defensive end Tony Tolbert that pushed this young team over the hump.

The secondary was better at safety than at corner but the rotational players that constructed the secondary kept them fresh. Cornerbacks Kevin Smith and Larry Brown benefited from the pressure the defensive line created but safeties Darren Woodson, James Washington, Kenny Gant, Bill Bates, Brock Marion, and Thomas Everett added special teams value on top of their defensive duties.

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We all know the star power of the team started with the triplets but players that came up clutch in big moments departing via free agency are the reason they ultimately fell short. Players like wide receiver Alvin Harper were guys that made huge plays were paid as such but could not deliver with their new teams.

The “Great Wall of Dallas” would have only gotten better with the acquisition of lineman Larry Allen but draft selection like Kavika Pittman and Shante Carver would have been seldom used rotational players instead of counted on starters. The drafts led by Jerry Jones would have been more about talent acquisition instead of need.

Who knows, maybe the Dallas Cowboys would have given up the draft capital to jump up in the 1997 draft and select tight end Tony Gonzales like Troy Aikman wanted instead of trading up for Tight end David Lafluer. There are too many “what if’s” but the Dallas Cowboys were never the same once free agency began.

 How much did free agency kill the 1990s Dallas Cowboys dynasty and was free agency the correct thing for the NFL to do?

Most of us cannot fathom an offseason without free-agency. Hoping a team will sign a great player from another team is so much fun but comes with heartbreak if your team is usually dormant when the window opens.

Unfortunately for the early Dallas Cowboys teams, free-agency just happened to begin in the middle of our last dynasty and I often wonder how many titles those teams would have won if free agents weren’t allowed to leave their team.

Wide receiver Michael Irvin often talks about how many titles those teams would have won if-then head coach Jimmy Johnson never left the team. I think that head coach Barry Switzer would have won more championships if free agency did not gut what Johnson built.

Dallas would never have signed Deion Sanders and Ken Norton but neither would the 49ers making the case that Dallas would have at least three-peated. Packers defensive end Reggie White would have stayed in the NFC East but it would have kept Green Bay from getting over the hump just like Haley did for us.

Free agency was necessary but has evolved into more of a battle between two sides instead of helping the player get paid fairly rather than having the team holding the player hostage. It is often talked about how underpaid the Dallas Cowboy players were before free agency and how frugal general manager Tex Schramm was when it came to negotiations.

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Free agency was and is still necessary but I just wish it would have come a little later than it did. It robbed what could have been one of the greatest dynasties this league would have ever seen. That title currently resides in New England.