The Dallas Cowboys haven’t been big spenders in free agency for years. Ever since they dropped big money on Brandon Carr in 2012, they’ve remained relatively quiet – both because they haven’t had much cap space, and Jerry Jones has learned from past free-agent mistakes like Ken Hamlin and Akin Ayodele.
The same has been true this off-season as Dallas has sat back a bit and watched the high-priced free agents fly off the board, remaining relatively idle. J.J. Wilcox left for the Buccaneers, Barry Church signed with the Jaguars, and Ronald Leary bolted for a big pay day in Denver.
That’s three starters the Cowboys have lost, but it won’t hurt them as dramatically as it would have handicapped most other teams. Dallas has the depth and draft capital to overcome those losses, as well as the overall talent at other positions to make their impact minimal.
Here are the key departures, as well as the moves Dallas has made this offseason.
G Ronald Leary, Broncos: Leary was a starter at left guard for most of the season, but there was no chance Dallas could have matched the money he got from Denver (four years, $35 million). La’el Collins will step in and take back his starting role at a much cheaper cost.
SS Barry Church, Jaguars: Church led the team in interceptions last season and was a good complement to Byron Jones. His departure hurts more than any other, but the draft class is strong at safety.
SS J.J. Wilcox, Buccaneers: Wilcox had an up-and-down tenure with the Cowboys, and while he was more consistent in 2016, Dallas has Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier on the roster as viable replacements.
DT Terrell McClain, Redskins: Just as Jason Hatcher did a few years ago, McClain bolted from Dallas to join the rival Redskins. He had 40 tackles and 2.5 sacks from his interior lineman position, a presence that will be difficult to replace.
DL Jack Crawford, Falcons: Crawford was a role player for Dallas in 2016, spending time at both defensive tackle and defensive end. He had 27 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2016.
Re-sign WR Terrance Williams
Williams has been Dallas’ No. 2 receiver ever since he was drafted in 2013. He’s not only a consistent deep threat with good speed, but he’s a solid run blocker – a key trait in Dallas’ run-heavy offense. He was believed to get similar money to that of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones a year ago, but Dallas got a bargain by signing him to a four-year, $17 million deal. For a guy who will play 700 snaps in 2017, that’s a terrific signing.
Re-sign WR Brice Butler
Butler has yet to play a big role for the Cowboys, but with Dez Bryant, Williams, Cole Beasley and Jason Witten in the mix, he doesn’t need to. He’s a speedy receiver with prototypical size, which is exactly what the Cowboys look for in a receiver. He has had drop issues, but if he can overcome that inconsistency, he’ll be a decent No. 4 option.
Sign CB Nolan Carroll
Carroll spent much of the last three seasons getting picked on by guys like Bryant and Williams, but he’s leaving the Eagles to join those two receivers. Carroll provides insurance in the event that Dallas can’t retain Brandon Carr or Morris Claiborne. Both are free agents, and if neither return, Carroll has proved he can be a starter. At $10 million over three years, it’s a bit much, but considering Dallas’ depth issues, it was a necessary signing.
Sign DE Damontre Moore
Moore has been a disappointment in the NFL after being a third-round pick in 2013. He’s bounced from the Giants to the Dolphins to the Raiders, partly due to his off-field issues, namely his previous altercation with teammates in New York. Injuries have also played a role in his lack of success, but with Dallas needing help at defensive end and Moore being a force at Texas A&M, he’s a low-risk, high-reward addition.
Sign DT Stephen Paea
With McClain and Crawford both leaving Dallas, the Cowboys sought out a potential replacement. Paea is a freakishly strong defensive tackle, putting up 49 reps on the bench press at the 2011 Combine, which was the most since Justin Ernest’s 51 in 1999. He’s a big-bodied run-stuffer who can step in right away and play 1-technique for Dallas next to Maliek Collins. And his contract ($2 million for one year) is more than manageable.
Cause for concern?
Absolutely not. Dallas has kept its core intact and will have many of the same starters both on offense and defense next season. Signing Carroll protects them in the event that Claiborne and Carr walk, while Paea will be a nice replacement for McClain. With the draft still to come, Dallas has plenty of time to plug its few holes on the roste