Whoever invented the game of Musical Chairs for children was diabolical. No one wants to be “that guy.” The one left standing when the music stops and all the other kids point and laugh cruelly. It’s a horrible feeling but an incredibly important lesson for everyone to learn. Or as grandpa used to put it … “50% of something is better than 100% of nothing.” Ultimately those are the the harsh realities of NFL Free Agency and it took the current Cowboys brain-trust 20 years to learn them. But they did.

Everything in life has nuance. NFL Free Agency is no different. You want to sign your guy early, you pay a premium. Premium in this instance is defined as paying a player more than his production is worth. You pay enough “premiums” and in very short order your team’s salary cap structure is blown up and all of a sudden you can’t afford to resign your own players any more, let alone take shots at other team’s cast offs.

Fan’s generally look at Free Agency from a team perspective. However the rules also affect players. A good agent knows he wants to get his player signed early as there are only so many chairs to go around. If he want’s to get his player signed early he may need to give a discount in order to entice a team to make the offer now instead of later when better deals abound. If his player is left standing at the end of the music, the agent is certainly is going to have some explaining to do yet if an agent negotiates enough discounts, pretty soon he’s not an agent any more. The rules work both ways.

You mash this all up together and some realities pop out. Namely that out of all the free agents a team loses each offseason, most will not fare better with their new clubs.  The players made free agency because they were not good/productive enough for their own teams to invest enough to preclude this from happening. In better organizations there are (often) young, cheaper (sometimes) better players waiting for their chance in the sun and the exiting players are fully aware of this. Why stick with the current club when there is a very good chance your chair will be pulled out from under you?

So yes, the Cowboys are in the process of losing quite a few free agents this off season. At this moment last year instead of lamenting losing Terrell McClain after a solid year Cowboys Nation was wondering if the talented 1-Tech was going to be able to play more than a game or two in the regular season. It would be a minor miracle if Washington gets 16 games out of McClain this year. Lance Dunbar most likely won’t suit up for the Rams 16 times in 2017 either. Hoping to see Morris Claiborne 16 times next year in a Jet’s uni? Get prepared to live with disappointment. In truth Dallas only had part time rental agreements with these guys when they were here. Lastly, you don’t replace an elite (backup) QB like Tony Romo. You move on.

Carr, Leary & Church were the only full time players that walked and Church had the rep but in reality missed quite a few games over his Cowboys career. None were “plus” players that determine the fate of a ball club. Though Carr was paid like one. To be frank, Carr and Church played positions pundits pointed to as needing upgrades while they were here.

I fully understand the angst some feel watching the offseason turnover. In reality (most of) these moves had to be made in order for the team to progress. For disparate reasons McClain, Dunbar, Church, Claiborne, Carr, Escobar, Durant and Rolando McClain were all talented players that were unable to deliver the cheese come game time in a reliable fashion. They needed to go.

The real question is can Dallas replace them? Can the players they get deliver on game day versus either sitting in the training room or counting their Free Agency dollars instead of working out?

Losing Ronald Leary and J.J. Wilcox hurt. Both players are on the upside of their careers and obviously were improving. Dallas should receive compensation picks for them next  season. In the mean time they have to find ways to replace what they’ve lost. Pieces are available in both cases (Collins at OG and Frazier at Safety), confidence in their abilities however has yet to be earned.

Successful organizations draft well in the modern NFL. The salary cap demands it. Are the Dallas Cowboys as talented now as they were at the beginning of last season? No. They are not. Other than the New England Patriots, no team is. Ask me again after the draft. Then ask again after preseason has revealed even more. As Jason Garrett is fond of saying, it’s a process.

In 2015 it was fairly obvious Dallas needed someone to tote the rock and “the process” failed to deliver the correct RB in time. The team suffered. This season the club is staring at a deficiency in their defensive backfield. Sophomore Brown will be looked upon to step up and I’m fine with that. He produced last season so I can see the logic. Free agent signee Nolan Carroll seems to be an excellent Carr clone. Jaylon Smith is seemingly ready to step in and play LB. Frazier is chomping at the bit to show what he can do inside the box. It takes a rotation to fill a roster however and that’s what the draft will hopefully deliver (again) this season.

I understand the hue and cry for someone to put pressure on the QB. Between Tapper, Mayowa, Collins and Lawrence however I see that issue being addressed to some degree. However be it a starter or backup Dallas has to hit in the draft (which is deep in secondary talent) to fill out it’s defensive back seven. They do that and it’s game-on in 2017 for the Cowboys. They don’t and look for the Cowboys D to lead the league in passing yards given up.

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over

Steven Van Over

Steven Van Over

Analyst, Editor, Photographer, Writer at SportsTalkLine
Editor, Writer, Podcaster & Photographer for @SportsTalkLine Network. I watch sports, I talk about sports then I write about sports. Catch me on Twitter @StevenVanOver
Steven Van Over
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  1. In the context of your article SVO it reminds me of a debate I once or 100 times had with other Cowboys fans in years past. We lost a number of players which chips away at the depth of the team , BUT , I have always been a fan of “1 stud is better than 3 jags”. Usually this requires trading up in the draft. If the draft affords you one great player you have had a successful draft. If you get two , you’ve knocked it out of the park. The problem with this is Jerry has traded up for guys like Carter, Lee and Claiborne and hasn’t gotten the roi expected.

    This draft is not a great top end draft. Offensive linemen are lacking as well as qb though they will be over drafted like every year. The strength in this draft lies in the 15-25 range then again in the second round. I think Dallas needs to package later picks and move up incrementally in the third and second rounds if possible. We need three significant contributors on d this season.

    The Cowboys are chocked full of jags on defense. They litter the starting lineup as well as the backups. This is not the year to draft a red shirt. Three immediate big time contributors. We don’t need special teams guys who get 3 snaps a game. The fear ? Te or wr in the first three rounds.

    • Could not disagree more with your idea on how to build a team. It is necessary to have quality at the key positions (QB, LT, now Guard, DT, DE, DB depending on scheme) but otherwise depth wins in the NFL. The season is a battle of attrition and the deepest teams usually go the furthest (See Patriots, New England). The salary cap precludes building a team around star players these days.

      I am still looking for quality at DT and DE for this draft but otherwise I think they need depth across the board. What they don’t need to do is trade up for some great hope of a player. The trade down is the smart move in the NFL today.

      • Trade down and get more mediocre talent begats more mediocrity. Who are the studs at de , cb and safety ? Who is that dominant dt that demands double teams and makes the other players better ? Who do we have that makes that play in crunch time ? NO ONE !! So we trade down and get more no one’s ? Nah , I’ll take some true playmakers over more and more Anthony Hitchens.

        Notice I didn’t say trade up in the first. I am talking about using later picks to move up and get better players in the second and third. How many 4th through 6th round players do we have that make a big difference ? See the o line before we started using first round picks. Jerry always tried to supplement the o line with late round picks that put the UCK in SUCKED. Same goes for the remainder of the team.

        We don’t have the greatest qb in history like New England does. Brady does more with less better than any qb ever. JG is not in the top half of the league as a head coach. We aren’t the Pats and never will be. Jerry got us Escobar trying to emulate the Pats two te offense and well, Escobar is Escobar.

        • I have two thoughts.

          First, I think the savvy way to build a team is to trade down and stockpile picks. There is talent through the draft if your scouting staff is up to the task, and I think there is some evidence over the last few years that Dallas’ staff is up to the task.The Dallas OL has a spine of first round picks but neither Free nor Leary nor Collins went anywhere near the first round.

          Second, any coordinator can scheme a guy on or off the field. The converse of this fact is that a coordinator can scheme your weakest link onto the field as well. In my opinion, when building a team that can go the distance the link to pay attention to is the weakest one not the strongest one.

          NE regularly survives the loss of talented cogs in their machine. They won games with 3 different QBs last season and survived the loss of Gronkowski.

          • Pats don’t sniff a superbowl without Brady much less win the game. Falcons coach got all starry eyed instead of sticking with what was working. Sound familiar ? A certain hc in Dallas did the same thing. Who on Dallas do you see making plays like the Pats role players making plays ? We aren’t the Pats. What they do works for them. Our way hasn’t worked since the 90’s. Trying to copy the Pats hasn’t worked either.

            “any coordinator can scheme a guy on or off the field” Here we disagree. There just isn’t anyone good enough on the Dallas defense that needs scheming. Opponents tried in vain to scheme Emmitt. No dice. Same for Irvin and Novacek. Opponents tried scheming Haley. No dice. He was the ultimate difference maker for those defenses. I don’t see Charles Haley and Randy White in this draft. If I did I would want to trade up for both. We have all the role players we need. We don’t need to draft more role payers. We need studs just like the o line which already had the role player in Free.

            BTW , Collins would have been a first round pick if it wasn’t for Goodell. Luck for us got us Collins.

            We need a stud at every level of of the defense. That one cb that can shut down your best wr. That one lb that can take away the screen game or your te post patterns. That one d lineman that can snap a qb in half when needed.

          • You can’t assemble a team of individual talents anymore because you cannot pay them all. It is one thing to say that the team should have more talent but a different thing to work out which players and positions are worth paying for and which should be rented. No team can afford studs at every level, a team has to prioritize and fill in the rest with schematic flexibility.

            Today, nobody plays the game today like they did in the 90’s. Everyone is running some kind of option game. The same forces that saw small HS’s and college’s adopt the Air Raid in the early 90’s are forcing NFL teams to adopt similar strategies in the salary cap era. You can’t stockpile talent like in the pre-cap days.

          • And you can keep drafting mediocre talent and get mediocre results. Until Dallas gets a coach who get a lot out of a little we aren’t going to be the Pats. The Steelers and the Pats have two things in common. A great qb and superior coaching. Dallas has neither.

            Windows in the NFL are small and close quickly. So you can’t pay all the stars when the bill is due. That’s why it’s imperative to keep drafting studs instead of mediocrity.

          • Talent isn’t the problem so much as the Cowboys manage their cap poorly, pay the wrong players at the wrong positions, and keep players past their best by dates. The unique way the Cowboys manage the cap, through restructured bonuses, makes it hard to walk away from players whose performance drops off, and this has been the anchor around their neck in the salary cap era.

            For example, during the period 2005-2014 the Cowboys drafted more Pro Bowl players than any other franchise in the NFL: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000498924/article/dallas-cowboys-have-drafted-most-pro-bowlers-in-last-decade

            Talent isn’t the problem.

          • Marion Barber should have never been in the pro bowl. He is the epitome of what’s wrong with the pro bowl. He just wasn’t very good. He symbolized the Cowboys when he was playing. Jerry fell in love with his try hard attitude and went way overboard with a new contract which is what you’re alluding to. Bennett went as a Bear. Hatcher had one great season as did Spencer. Spencer for the most part was disappointing. Jenkins was pretty good but he too had one really good season.

            Lack of talent is not the only problem. Coaching is a big part of it. And we don’t have a real good one.

          • Barber makes my point. Jones gave Barber a 7 year, 45 million dollar contract that wedded the Cowboys to him even after his performance on the field fell off. Barber had plenty of talent on the field for those couple of seasons, the problem was in how the Cowboys used their cap dollars on his contract.

            The flip side of the Barber contract is that the Cowboys often have to let talent walk out the door because of their cap issues. They have retention problems as well as problems with underperforming contracts. But bringing talent in the door has not been an issue for the Cowboys. They bring in plenty of it.

            Coaching is a different issue. Suffice to say, with a couple exceptions, I am not a big fan of the current staff. But over the same 2005-2014 period the Cowboys have had some quality coaches on the staff and have fielded teams that had the potential to go the distance. But, overall, I think Jones has managed his coaching talent as poorly as he has managed his cap space.

          • Agree Barber makes your point about over signing. Talent wise Barber makes my point. Jag who wasn’t really gonna help you win anything of significance. Nothing special about him. Defensive co-ordinators weren’t in fear of Barber. They didn’t have to implement a special defense to try and stop him.

            Barber’s are spread all across the defense as it’s currently constructed. I don’t see all this talent that we bring in on defense. Talent is very much a problem. Tell me the playmakers on defense that are changing games in critical moments.

            We agree on Jones as well.

          • The tale is told in the contracts Barber and Maroney received. They were both useful players with enough talent to be a three down RB in the NFL. They not were transcendent talents but they were above average for a period of time.

            On the defense, Sean Lee is a guy you have to game plan against. Byron Jones is developing into that kind of player and I think Maliek Collins might develop into that kind of player as well. For a while I thought Lawrence might develop into a difference maker but I think back injuries are going to get him.

            From my perspective, given the way the Cowboys want to play defense, the biggest areas of need are 3-T DT, WLB, and Strongside DE. This style of defense needs studs in those three positions to rise above average.They might have caught a break with Collins last year, but I wouldn’t hesitate to draft another.

            The contract problem is a problem on defense as well. Carr is the easy example, but Hardy fits the mold, as does Crawford, who is a quality 5-T in a 3-4 playing out of position (and paid like) a 3-T DT in a 4-3. To many square pegs in too many round holes.

      • The Patriots are the Patriots and nobody else is. Same with Brady and Belichick. The way the Cowboys are built they need a stud RB and OLine to run the ball, everybody needs a QB, they need a stud WR1, and on D they need a stud pass rusher and stud CB and stud FS. The rest can be as good a jags as you can get. The Cowboys have all jags on D except Sean Lee. That’s too many jags.

    • Agreed on this one Mensa. The Cowboys D is all jags except Sean Lee. Decent jags, yes, but still jags. Need studs at DE/CB/FS. We have none at those positions. There will be a difference maker at #28. Only place I differ is with packaging to move up. Giving up picks to move up hasn’t worked out well and leaves your team short on players. Plus the draft is a crap shoot and you need as many picks as you can get. Cowboys can find players staying right where they are in first 4 rounds. One thing for sure is no flyers on the handicapped, crippled, maimed, stoned, blitzed, or mentally unstable. Been there done that.

      • Hard here is my theory on picks 4-6. I agree we need all the players we can get. However if you’re drafting players who say, rank at 5 on a scale of 1-10. I would rather have one guy who ranks 8 on that scale than two guys who rank 5.

        Totally agree moving up hasn’t worked for us. Jerry’s infatuation with linebackers is puzzling. ” One thing for sure is no flyers on the handicapped, crippled, maimed, stoned, blitzed, or mentally unstable.” Hard I couldn’t have said it better myself. I would like to add te to your list for this draft.

        • Yes, absolutely add TE to the list and keep it there until the day we hear from the great Jason Witten himself that he is retiring. I will forward list to dear ol’ Jer. 🙂

  2. Agree none of the losses were game changer players and can be upgraded (except Leary although Collins should be sufficient). The challenge for Cowboys is the volume of starters lost. It’s a lot of starts to replace. However, the secondary should have a great opportunity to actually be upgraded via the draft. Carr was steady but unspectacular and Claiborne was Mr. Injured. In a draft deep with CB’s we should be able to find better/younger/cheaper.

    Have a suspicion RT is going to emerge as a problem as there are no obvious proven players on the roster to fill that spot (assuming Collins is kept at guard). Looks like a good place to pick up a FA and address in draft next year. The OLine is no place to mess around with on this team in particular so this needs to be solved.

  3. IMO, Cowboys no longer favorites in NFC East due to the lost talent across the board and the collateral damage to the locker room; we can draft all the corners you want, but will they be able to plug them in and render results? The Carroll signing from Philly was a break even with Carr, at best………..i would have thought that they would have kept either Mo or Carr, and Wilcox………Heath is not starting safety in the NFL, will Frazier become one?
    But with Free retiring this becomes issue one with the strength of the team…..we counted on a dominating line to help out the defensive side of the ball…………….Collins has disappointed at left guard thus far, Green @ RT? Looney and Cooper might offer enough depth at guard, the the tackle position is now weakened by Free’s retirement.

    • I want to see Frazier at SS. Agree on RT, could be a big problem that derails offense and season.

    • I don’t know that Mo and Carr will be missed all that much. Carroll-Carr a wash, and Mo has never been consistently available. Cleary or Green at RT before Collins. Collins will get better at LG, he has only had one season at the position. I hope Smith is able to play, and hope Jerry doesn’t notice that surefire 1st round cb Sydney Jones blew out his knee at his pro day.

  4. Carr and Claiborne signed for a total of 11 million this year. That is cheap for a pair of solid outside CBs. My guess here is that the Cowboys want to move towards bigger, more physical corners and play more cover 3, ala Seattle. Marinelli has been making noise about that kind of switch for a few years now.

    This sounds great in theory but with half the team’s in the NFL moving towards a variation of the Seattle coverage the market for tall, angular CBs like Sherman and Browner has risen to a level where CBs like that are no longer cheap or easily available. This is going to be interesting.

  5. I think you nailed it. I can see Dallas drafting up to three DBs in this draft, most likely two CBs and a safety. With the very strange amount of depth in the edge rusher category, you can get another piece of the DL pretty much anywhere, even in FA if you look in the right places. Crazy year for edge rushers. It’s disappointing that Free retired. I’m hoping Green can stay healthy. Not a great year to try and find a plug and play OT. There is some OT talent in the draft, but most of it will need to be groomed, much like Free was for three years after being drafted in the fourth round.