National Football League
Why Cowboys' search for UFL diamonds is a smart but incomplete strategy
National Football League

Why Cowboys' search for UFL diamonds is a smart but incomplete strategy

Updated Jun. 20, 2024 3:05 p.m. ET

If we're looking for signs of the benefit of spring football, the Dallas Cowboys are pointing us the way.

The Birmingham Stallions' UFL championship isn't yet a week old, and the Cowboys are already blitzing the spring league for its top available talent.

On Tuesday, they signed All-UFL linebacker Willie Harvey Jr. as well as cornerback Gareon Conley. Reports on Wednesday indicated they're also working out defensive end Jonathan Garvin, who managed 3.5 sacks for the Stallions this spring.

This tracks for multiple reasons.


For starters, the Cowboys have had recent success signing spring standouts. Over the past two years, they plucked KaVontae Turpin and Brandon Aubrey out of what was then still called the USFL. Turpin has been Dallas' primary return man for two years, reaching the 2022 Pro Bowl in the process. Aubrey was named an All-Pro as a rookie in 2023 after connecting on 36-of-38 field goals and famously making 35 in a row.

Of course, the Cowboys' love for a low-risk, high-reward gamble extends beyond the spring leagues. From the signing of linebacker Rolando McClain way back in 2014, to the mid-season addition of receiver Martavis Bryant last year, this team is not afraid to buy low on a player with proven pedigree.

Conley stands out in this regard. The former Ohio State star had the talent to be drafted No. 24 overall by the Raiders in 2017, and he put together a strong sophomore season with three interceptions and 15 pass breakups in 2018.

Injuries derailed his career by 2020, however, as Conley didn't play high-level football again until this spring, when he tallied 25 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups with the UFL's D.C. Defenders.

Worst-case scenario, Conley is a summer addition to the training camp roster who won't cost the Cowboys if he is let go. Best-case scenario, he taps into the talent that made him a first-round pick and bolsters an already strong cornerback room. The same can be said for Harvey, who played sparingly with the Cleveland Browns before starring in the UFL, and who now joins a Cowboys linebacker room in need of depth.

In a vacuum, this is a great approach to team building. Who doesn't want to take a few pulls at the slot machine and potentially hit it rich?

The issue, as we've discussed several times over, is that this feels more and more like the Cowboys' only method of team building aside from the NFL Draft.

To this point, the Cowboys have spent roughly $17 million on free agents in 2024, easily dead last in the NFL. Next-best New Orleans, which entered the year $42 million over the projected salary cap, has spent roughly $20 million more on veteran help. The Cowboys' only new additions in that regard remain Eric Kendricks and Ezekiel Elliott, both of whom signed one-year deals.

Cowboys to prioritize Prescott's deal before Parsons', Lamb's

The point of this isn't to rehash the unending debate about "all-in," as that ship has clearly sailed in the months since Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones made his infamous proclamation. This is mainly just a reminder that the Cowboys' typical methods — even the smart ones, haven't been enough.

To be fair to them, the season is still a long way off. Plenty of meaningful additions can still be made before — or during — training camp. If the Cowboys are serious about improving on 2023, they should at least consider it.

Because as fun as it is to bet on the long shot, it's hardly proven to be the most efficient strategy. 

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports and hosts the NFL on FOX podcast. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team's official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing "Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion" about the quarterback's time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.

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