Random thoughts on free agency after the first day
Looking at the upside, the team has shown an ability to get production from players on lower cost contracts and from the draft, and the signings of former Cowboys by other teams will likely contribute to compensatory draft picks in the 2016 draft.
Compensatory Pick Status. Over the Cap estimates that the Cowboys will likely earn a 4th round compensatory pick for Jermey Parnell and a 6th round compensatory pick for Dwayne Harris if the Cowboys don’t sign similarly priced unrestricted free agents prior to June 1. The financial details for Justin Durant are not yet available. If Murray signs elsewhere, there is a good chance that the Cowboys will also earn a 3rd round compensatory pick.
All of those compensatory picks are nice to have, but the team still needs to stock the roster to make a run in the upcoming season, especially considering the closing window on Tony Romo’s career.
The positions of greatest need are arguably cornerback, defensive end, linebacker, and, if Murray signs elsewhere, running back. The team should be looking at potential additions at these positions. I would tend to favor getting a cornerback and defensive end in free agency and getting at least one linebacker and a running back in the draft. Running back and linebacker tend to be more plug and play positions that rookies can contribute in their first season. Cornerbacks and defensive ends tend to need some seasoning before being productive.
Cornerbacks. Some cornerbacks that have been reported as drawing interest from the Cowboys are Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Robinson. Both are talented players with good athletic ability that were rated as average by Pro Football Focus (PFF) last season. Ian Rapaport is now reporting that Cromartie is likely to sign with the Jets and not the Cowboys. Some more under the radar prospects include Kyle Wilson and Tarell Brown. Both had below average seasons, but played for really bad defenses, and that may have affected their play and their PFF ratings. Wilson was a first round draft pick in 2010 and likely won’t return to the Jets after the Jets signed Darrelle Revis to a huge contract. At 27 years old, he should be in his prime, although the most that could be reasonably be expected is that he could be a serviceable third corner. Brown had several good seasons with the Forty Niners, played for the Raiders last season. He is 30 years old and a foot injury ended his season early. Playing for a better team could lead to a bounce back season for Brown, and he could be a decent starting corner. Looking for a real under the radar signing? How about Charles Tillman. He is almost 34 years old and is still rehabbing a triceps injury that ended his season last September. However, he was a very good corner who excelled in creating turnovers just a few years ago while playing for Rod Marinelli in Chicago. He could be a low cost signing that could pay off if his tricep fully heals.
Defensive End. An ideal signing at defensive end would be Jabaal Sheard, who at age 26 is entering his prime. While playing for the Browns, the team switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense that wasn’t a good fit for Sheard. Sheard will draw several suitors, however, and will not come cheap.
Other Teams Cuts. One way to avoid negating the compensatory picks that would be earned is to sign players cut by other teams rather than signing unrestricted free agents whose contracts have expired. Some targets that could interest the Cowboys are:
- Pierre Thomas – PFF’s #9 running back last season who excels as a pass catcher. However, the Cowboys will likely focus on the draft for a running back if Murray is not re-signed.
- Tyvon Branch – A talented safety that is a high ceiling player who could be signed for an amount below his talent level due to having two consecutive seasons with injury issues.
- Barry Cofield – A starting caliber defensive tackle who could contribute as a 1-Technique and provide an upgrade over Nick Hayden and Josh Brent.
Next, I’ll review the running backs available in the draft, including one sleeper that almost no one is talking about.