There's little doubt that the Dallas Cowboys need to be "bargain-bin ballers" in the 2014 offseason, working free agency to uncover cheap, undervalued assets whose future production will exceed their cost.
That sounds simple in theory, but it's quite difficult when every other team is trying to do the same thing. Football is a zero-sum game, meaning that for every winner there's a loser.
To become long-term winners, the Cowboys need to emphasize predictive traits that others are overlooking, seeking players who for, whatever reason, figure to see a jump in productivity.
The following slides each propose a bargain-bin free agent whom Dallas should consider signing along with an explanation of why he'll be undervalued. If the Cowboys are going to climb out of their salary-cap nightmare, they'll need to not only sign the right sort of players but do it at the right prices.
"But the Cowboys don't need another wide receiver!"
Yes they do. Second-year man Terrance Williams was decent in 2013, but he didn't do anything we shouldn't have expected given his age. More importantly, he didn't dominate in college until his final year, and there are some concerns that he doesn't have the bulky Dez Bryant-esque body type that can excel in the red zone.
If something were to happen to Bryant or if defenses do everything in their power to take him out of games, where will the Cowboys turn? Williams isn't ready to become a No. 1 receiver. Wide receivers Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley certainly aren't more than role players. Tight end Jason Witten is on the way down.
Meanwhile, the Chargers' Danario Alexander is a player with an elite skill set who has yet to break out in the NFL because of excessive injuries. Is he injury-prone? Yeah, he might be. But everyone already thinks that, so it's going to be priced into his contract. That means there's little downside to signing him but massive upside if he can stay healthy.
Alexander is really the prototypical sort of low-risk, low-cost, high-upside player Dallas should be seeking.
Sign of Success: elite size
Young is a 6'5", 251-pound defensive end with 34.5-inch arms. He's 28 years old and has just three career sacks, but he also didn't start a game in his career until 2013. There's a lot of short-term upside there.
Young isn't going to come in, start and generate 15 sacks this year. But he's also not going to cost much. For a low salary, the Cowboys can sign Young and hope for Selvie-esque production over the next season or two. With DeMarcus Ware breaking down, Young (or a player like him) could be huge for Dallas.
Sign of Success: arm length
Cornerback isn't the most pressing need for Dallas, but they could still benefit from bringing in someone to compete with second-year slot man B.W. Webb.
Webb was torched in his rookie season. He won't be on the field much this year unless Morris Claiborne gets injured again, but that is hardly out of the realm of possibility.
When a starting cornerback gets injured it typically affects two positions, because you need to move your normal nickel cornerback outside and then start a new face in the slot. Brandon Ghee is a player whom the Cowboys could bring in very cheaply to potentially soften the blow if a starter gets injured.
Ghee is 6'0", 200 pounds. He basically hasn't played in the pros, getting targeted only 13 times (and giving up just four catches) during his time in Cincinnati. The former third-round pick will be a low-risk free agent.
Sign of Success: length
This year's rookie safety class is very weak. Even though they need to bolster the defensive line, the 'Boys also have a big weakness in the back end. Maybe J.J. Wilcox or Matt Johnson will develop in 2014, but Dallas can't count on them.
Free-agent safety Stevie Brown had a big-time 2012 season for the Giants before going down with a season-ending injury in the 2013 preseason. The question for Dallas is if that will drop his price tag enough to put him in play. It should.
Sign of Success: ball-hawking ability in 2012
Again, the Cowboys need help in the red zone. They're wonderful at moving the ball between the 20s, but they're going to have trouble consistently scoring near the goal line if Bryant isn't the one to do it.
Enter the Seahawks' Kellen Davis. He's never been a dominant receiving tight end, racking up just 50 career receptions in six years in the NFL. The Cowboys don't need him to assist them in moving the ball up the field, however; they just need help getting into the end zone.
Davis has scored on 24 percent of his catches, which is a ridiculously high rate. The Cowboys could spread defenses with Davis, Bryant, Witten and tight end Gavin Escobar when they approach the goal line, providing a formidable red-zone receiving corps.
Sign of Success: height and career touchdown rate
A second-round pick in 2010, offensive tackle Charles Brown didn't get extended playing time until the 2013 season.
Because he's failed to live up to expectations in the NFL, Brown's cost should be low. If it's low enough, he's certainly worth the risk. Still only 26 years old, Brown has played just over a season's worth of snaps in his four-year career. In that way, he too is a Selvie-esque free agent who struggled in limited early action but has the skill set to be a dominant player.
Brown's addition would be smart because right tackle Doug Free struggled down the stretch in 2013. Free might improve in 2014, but there's probably an even better chance that he was simply playing better than he should have to start the season and returned to form later.
Sign of Success: 35.25" arms
A third-round pick in 2010, 6'8" offensive tackle Jared Veldheer is still only 26 years old. Veldheer struggled in the five games he played for the Raiders in 2013, but Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him as a top-20 offensive tackle in both 2011 and 2012.
Again, this would simply be an insurance policy for Free. Brown is probably a notch above Veldheer, and since Brown has yet to play much in the NFL, he'll probably come cheaper.
Sign of Success: 2011 and 2012 play
If there's one Cowboys free agent the team should re-sign, it's guard Brian Waters. Even at his age, Waters played very well in 2013, allowing only six pressures in 218 snaps in pass protection, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Dallas has some question marks at guard; it's unlikely that both Ronald Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau will play like the Cowboys need them to this year. By signing Waters, the Cowboys can give both guards competition at a cheap price.
The 'Boys could always draft a guard, too, but offensive linemen typically take a long time to develop. Thus, Waters is a nice short-term solution as the Cowboys find their guard of the future.
Sign of Success: 2013 season