With free agency on the horizon, we take a look at the Cowboys needs in the upcoming season, and which ones they should address with free agents.
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Nov 1, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive guard La’el Collins (71) and center Travis Frederick (72) and guard Zack Martin (70) during the game against the Seattle Seahawks at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The Dallas Cowboys will lose seventeen players to unrestricted free agency when the new league year rolls around.
That number becomes sixteen when you factor that linebacker Rolando McClain essentially wasn’t on the team this season.
On top of that, seven of those players were starters in the 2016 campaign.
With all of those departures, the Cowboys are left with some pretty large holes to fill.
Let’s break them down, and figure out where the ‘Boys should focus come March.
The Cowboys are only set to lose one offensive lineman from their 2016 squad, Ronald Leary.
While he started in 2016, the Cowboys have a succession plan in place for him.
They still have La’el Collins under contract for another year, and he is the favorite to take the spot.
The Cowboys probably don’t need to spend any money on lineman this year.
Jan 1, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) looks to pass against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s start with the quarterbacks. With Tony Romo likely not on the roster next season, the Cowboys will need a backup to starter Dak Prescott. That definitely means one of those players will need to be retained, unless the Cowboys grab a free agent.
There are two players I like from the free agency group. Jet’s quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and Bear’s quarterback Brian Hoyer. Both players would be excellent in a back-up capacity, and would provide Dallas the insurance they need should something happen to Prescott. If the front office can’t secure on of those players for a reasonable price, the best option is likely Kellen Moore on a cheap deal.
There will also be two running backs packing their bags this offseason. I believe Dallas should let both of them move on. Dunbar is extremely injury prone and McFadden is getting up there in age. My favorite free agents at this position are Andre Ellington of the Cardinals and Orleans Darkwa of the Giants.
Ellington hasn’t played much since 2014, being stuck behind David Johnson on the depth chart. Darkwa has shown flashes of solid running with the Giants. I think both could serve as solid back-ups and change of pace backs to Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Nov 20, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys receiver Brice Butler (19) makes a catch in the second quarter against Baltimore Ravens cornerback Shareece Wright (24) at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Receivers, Tight Ends
Now, we’ll look at the receivers on their way out. Terrance Williams, Brice Butler and tight end Gavin Escobar. Personally, I believe Williams will cost too much to retain. I like Butler coming back at the right price, as he has had his moments. I also think it is time for Dallas to move on from Escobar.
The Cowboys will return plenty of depth at tight end to cover the loss of Escobar, with Geoff Swaim, Jason Witten, and Rico Gathers all on the roster. However, there aren’t any intriguing receivers to me to cover the loss of Williams and/or Butler. So for this category, Dallas must re-sign one of their receivers, or else draft a young guy in April.
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The only losses here come in the form of Terrell McClain and Jack Crawford. McClain was excellent this season and deserves to be resigned, but only to a team friendly deal. His injury history gives me concern with respect to a larger contract. Crawford was good in his reserve role, but with 2016 rookie Charles Tapper returning next year, the Cowboys can offset his loss.
Not to mention it is almost a guarantee that Dallas will draft one or two defensive lineman. If I were the general manager, I wouldn’t spend a dime on the defensive line this offseason. Best to build it through the draft.
Oct 4, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; St. Louis Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson (22) reacts after a defensive stand against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Rams won 24-22. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Three of the Cowboys losses this offseason come from the linebacking corps. Thankfully, none of their core players will be off the roster. The departing players are Justin Durant, Andrew Gachkar, and Rolando McClain.
Obviously McClain played no role in 2016 and likely isn’t a part of this teams future plans. Justin Durant was serviceable to pretty good during his time on the field. However, with the emergence of Damien Wilson, I don’t believe any of these linebackers need to be retained.
If Dallas adds anything to this group, I would expect the player to come from the draft. They already have a young core of guys, and of course, All-Pro Sean Lee.
From this group, I would say re-signing Church is a priority. He is a leader to this defense and one of the Cowboys best players at generating takeaways. Wilcox should be brought back on a team friendly deal if the Cowboys can’t retain Church.
As for the corners, I would guess the front office would like Carr back on a team friendly deal, and is prepared to let Claiborne walk. If the Cowboys were to spend money, I could see them pursuing Trumaine Johnson from the Rams. He has the length and instincts to be an elite corner. I’m a big fan of his play. Besides him, there aren’t any free agent corners that excite me.