Looking At Dallas Past Tells Cowboys Future

Cowboy Chilling

The bane of a classical education. You are taught early the reason we study history is so we can understand our decisions from the past in order to make better ones in the future. For as human beings, we are doomed to repeat ourselves. This tool can also be used as a predictor for behavior. Here we are going to look at the Cowboys recent past in order to get a better feel for what types of pre-draft moves may still be coming out of the confines of the Star in Frisco.

So far this offseason the Dallas Cowboys have been …. deliberate. This new-norm has recent roots and can be directly correlated to improved regular season performance. In the not so distant past the blog-o-sphere would be ablaze right about now with the latest big Free Agency signing and now (because of the signing) the Cowboys are serious contenders for next season’s Super Bowl. Jerry Jones would be at his carnival-barker best whipping the media into an off-season frenzy and have the masses thoroughly convinced the recent signing and consequent over-payment of suspect talent was the missing ingredient from the previous seasons failure. I can get one time, but Jerry was able to do this groundhog day reboot for 20 years. Say what you will about Jerry the GM, Jerry the owner is sick-slick at what he does.

But that behavior is sooooo 2010.

So far this season Jason Garrett has (again) had the Cowboys taking a deliberate approach before the draft making sensible signings of second-wave, free agency players to short term contracts. If at all possible the team will sign “known” quantities, i.e. their own players or players someone on the club has personal experience with. Seems there are less surprises that way. And with the league being (very much) a cap driven one NOT making errors in free agency is critical to a clubs competitive chances. Ergo Garrett approaches March/April with a keen eye towards the draft and getting the team as flush as possible across the boards so as to not be totally driven by need come draft day.

As we see, so far this season the new Cowboys measured approach is in full bloom. Below is a table from the NFL transactions list that details the Cowboys official signings since the beginning of the month for 2017.

Dallas Cowboys 2017 Pre-Draft Free Agent Signings

3/20 Kellen Moore Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
3/16 Darren McFadden Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
Jonathan Cooper Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
3/14 Stephen Paea Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
Damontre Moore Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
Nolan Carroll Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
3/11 Terrance Williams Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
3/24 Byron Bell Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signings).

Unlike the NFL Draft, free agency is all about need. QB Moore fills a critical need with Josh McCown choosing the Jets. RB McFadden is the preferred RB2 over Alfred Morris and Cooper is the fail-safe for the offensive line that could end up starting at LG. DT Paea got started in the league under Rod Marinelli and should be a solid rotational addition. They have been trying to sign CB Nolan Carroll for years. Terrance Williams may not get the fans love, but he is a solid WR2 who excels in the run game. That’s kind of important to the Cowboys scheme. Bell is (of course) insurance for the probable retirement of Doug Free.

The Cowboys haven’t had many free agents come though The Star this offseason. By waiting till the first-wave of players have signed the team enjoys a more receptive negotiation and the process is optimized. It’s a solid approach that has produced measurable results. However it’s still early in the process and weeks before the draft. What other moves might the team make before now and then? Let’s look back at the previous offseason to try and get a feel for what other moves the Cowboys may make before the NFL Draft, this season.

Dallas Cowboys 2016 Pre-Draft Free Agent Signings

4/28 Ronald Leary Asked to Re-Sign (asked to re-sign).
4/13 Jeff Heath No Offer Sheet Executed (no offer sheet executed).
4/5 Jack Crawford Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
3/31 Matt Wile Free Agent Signing (free agent signing).
3/30 Joe Looney Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
3/24 Benson Mayowa Acquired via First Refusal (acquired via first refusal).
3/22 Alfred Morris Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
3/18 Lance Dunbar Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
3/15 Rolando McClain Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
3/14 James Hanna Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
3/12 Morris Claiborne Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
3/11 Kyle Wilber Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
Cedric Thornton Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).
3/10 Josh Thomas Unrestricted Free Agent Signing (unrestricted free agent signing).

Not many. That’s the quick answer to the question in regards to future free agent signings the team may make this offseason. Last year the front office signed OL Joe Looney at this juncture of the offseason to solidify their rotation for that unit. After that the team spent the rest of April getting their own free agents (restricted and otherwise) to put pen to paper. Boring, effective.

In 2016 by the end of March the team was basically done in free agency and in 2017, you can expect more of the same. Cowboys Nation may pine to hear about a big signing before the NFL Draft, however my old history professor would be proud. Instead of blindly guessing we can look back and read the tea leaves. Regardless of perceived needs, the Cowboys are pretty much done in free agency for 2017. The players on the team now are your 2017 Dallas Cowboys. The next influx of talent for the organization will be through the draft and if history serves (it does) this is a good thing.

It’s going to be mighty crowded on the defensive side of the roster pretty soon.

Ed Note: Click here for the latest Dallas Cowboys Depth Chart

What say you Sports Nation?

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

Cowboys Free Agents & Musical Chairs

Cowboys Free Agents

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