The 5 Moves Dallas Cowboys Must Avoid in Free Agency

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IMarch 3, 2014

The 5 Moves Dallas Cowboys Must Avoid in Free Agency

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    With NFL free agency just over a week away, the Dallas Cowboys have a number of moves they could potentially make. They're currently over the salary cap, but that should change with the restructuring of just a couple of deals (quarterback Tony Romo and defensive end DeMarcus Ware chief among them).

    Even so, the Cowboys won't have a lot of room with which to work. They also have a few elite players currently on the roster who will need new deals in the near future, namely left tackle Tyron Smith and wide receiver Dez Bryant. They won't let those two get away, but it's going to cost them. 

    Thus, the Cowboys' 2014 free agent action is likely going to be characterized by, well, non-action. Can Jerry Jones and Co. avoid making a few moves that could cost Dallas down the line?

1. Re-Signing DT Jason Hatcher

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    The Cowboys reportedly aren't closing the door on re-signing veteran defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, according to Nick Eatman of DallasCowboys.com:

    The word around these halls at Valley Ranch is the Cowboys are crunching some numbers just to see what it might cost to bring him back. If anyone can negotiate with Hatcher and his agent right now, it would be the Cowboys.

    It makes sense to at least figure out Hatcher's market value and see if it makes any sense to bring him back to Dallas, but chances are that he is simply going to command a contract he's not worth.

    Hatcher will enter the 2014 season at age 32, coming off of the best season of his career by far. He recorded 11 sacks in 2013 after never surpassing 4.5 sacks in any of his prior seven seasons. The switch to the 4-3 defense might have helped him, sure, but that doesn't change the fact that it's not a savvy business move to reward an aging veteran for a career year as opposed to paying him for what he'll be worth in the future.

2. Re-Signing DE Anthony Spencer

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    The Cowboys have a decision similar to that of Hatcher when it comes to defensive end Anthony Spencer. Unlike Hatcher, however, Spencer 1) is still at an age when many pass-rushers are productive (30) and 2) isn't coming off of a career year.

    When Spencer got injured and was lost for the 2013 season, it severely deflated his market value. The question is how much. If the Cowboys can re-sign Spencer at a price that fully represents the fact that he hasn't played a full game in over a year, then they might be able to work something out.

    However, Spencer is likely looking for a long-term deal. The Cowboys aren't in a position to give any free agent much guaranteed money, so assuming his market value hasn't sunk dramatically, the Cowboys should let him walk.

3. Trading CB Morris Claiborne

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    It's not entirely clear if the Cowboys are indeed contemplating a trade of third-year cornerback Morris Claiborne, but ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins suggested that might be the case:

    Claiborne shouldn't be the third corner on this team, but it's fair to say Scandrick is just better. And now with the Cowboys trying to upgrade a poor defense, a look at the current personnel is needed. 

    The bold move would result in the Cowboys trading Claiborne for maybe a third-round pick. NFL teams aren't going to give up anything higher than that, considering Claiborne's health issues and a lack of play-making ability in his first two seasons. 

    It's easy to focus on Claiborne and say he's come up short of expectations and you would be fair in saying that. Trading him could be an option for the Cowboys if they believe someone is willing to give them a third-round pick. 

    This sounds like more of a rumor than anything else, but it just wouldn't make sense for Dallas to move Claiborne right now. For one, the team would instantly become thin at cornerback. Even with Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr starting, the Cowboys would be forced to play either B.W. Webb or Sterling Moore in nickel packages. That's not ideal.

    More important, Claiborne's value is next to nothing. It would be one thing if he'd had a quality 2013 season and the Cowboys could get decent value in return, but he didn't. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) tracked him as allowing 10.2 yards per attempt, which is really poor.

    Trading Claiborne now would be like dumping a stock at its lowest value before it rises in price. Even though he clearly isn't what Dallas wished he'd become when it traded up to grab him in the draft a couple years ago, it still wouldn't make sense to move him for a mid-round pick.

4. Signing a Free-Agent Running Back

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    There are a number of high-profile veteran free-agent running backs set to hit the market. According to RotoWorld, here's a look at the top 10:

    1. Ben Tate

    2. Rashad Jennings

    3. Darren McFadden

    4. Andre Brown

    5. Knowshon Moreno

    6. Maurice Jones-Drew

    7. Donald Brown

    8. Rashard Mendenhall

    9. Ahmad Bradshaw

    10. James Starks

    The Cowboys don't have a big hole at running back right now, but with DeMarco Murray set to become a free agent in 2015 and possibly commanding a big payday, it could make sense to bring in another back.

    But not through free agency. Age is a running back's worst nightmare, and only the most elite of backs are worth a second contract. Signing a veteran who underachieved in a different city doesn't add up.

    If the Cowboys are looking to add a running back, the middle and late rounds of the 2014 NFL draft are the place to look.

5. Overlooking Right Tackle as a Need

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    We know the Cowboys are weak basically throughout their defense, but one of the rarely mentioned needs of this team is right tackle. Current starter Doug Free started really hot in 2013, which may have caused people to overlook the fact that he was horrible down the stretch.

    According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Free allowed 34 pressures and six sacks, both of which were the most on the team. After yielding four total pressures in the first five games (0.80 pressures per game), he allowed 30 in the final 11 games (2.72 per game). If he maintained that latter pace for 16 games, Free would have allowed the third-most pressures in the NFL in 2013.

    The offensive tackle free-agent class is pretty deep, so there are going to be some decent players who can be had rather cheaply. It might make sense for Dallas to bring in a player like Charles Brown, a 26-year old former second-round pick, to at least give Free some competition.