Dallas Cowboys Final Free Agency Outlook and Predictions

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IMarch 4, 2014

Dallas Cowboys Final Free Agency Outlook and Predictions

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    NFL free agency is right around the corner, and although they won't be major players due to salary-cap restrictions, the Dallas Cowboys will still be active.

    The Cowboys' primary concern will be figuring out creative ways to lower their 2014 cap liability. Getting under the salary cap isn't a problem for Dallas, but signing noteworthy free agents is another story.

    The 'Boys will need to be bargain shoppers during the 2014 free-agency period, hunting for deals on low-priced players. With so many needs across the board, almost every position is in play for Dallas in the coming weeks.

    Let's take a deeper look at the Cowboys' salary-cap issues, needs, possible additions and free-agency predictions.

Salary Cap Space

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    As USA Today reported, the 2014 NFL salary cap will be $133 million. The Cowboys have to be ecstatic with that number, as it's a $10 million increase over 2013. Without much anticipated cap space, Dallas needs every extra dollar.

    Over the Cap currently has the Cowboys projected at around $644K over the cap, just days after being $17 million over it. While it's not ideal to still be over the salary cap, the 'Boys should be able to create a lot more room without too much trouble by restructuring some current deals.

    For one, the Cowboys are currently redoing the deal of quarterback Tony Romo. After that happens, they'll free up $10 million in additional cap space, according to David Moore of the Dallas Morning News.

    Defensive end DeMarcus Ware's cap hit will come down, whether it means restructuring his deal, forcing a pay cut or even releasing him. The Cowboys will also likely make wide receiver Miles Austin a post-June 1 cut, according to Mike Fisher of CBS DFW, which would save $5 million in cap space in 2014.

    And just like that, the Cowboys have some money to spend. They still need to sign all of their rookies, of course, so they can't go nuts in free agency, but it's not like they won't be able to sign anyone at all.

Current Free Agents

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    MARCO GARCIA/Associated Press

    Here's a complete list of the Cowboys' 2014 unrestricted free agents:

    • DT Jason Hatcher
    • DE Anthony Spencer
    • G Brian Waters
    • C Ryan Cook
    • QB Jon Kitna
    • LB Ernie Sims
    • DE Edgar Jones
    • S Danny McCray
    • DE Jarius Wynn

    Looking at that list, you can probably tell that there's a very real chance the Cowboys don't sign a single one of their unrestricted free agents. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and defensive end Anthony Spencer are the big names, but the Cowboys will have some reservations about giving even a moderate amount of money to aging players, as they should.

    Nonetheless, the Cowboys are still talking to Jordan Woy, the agent for Hatcher and Spencer, Todd Archer of ESPN has reported. The Cowboys are probably just determining where the players are pricing themselves in the event that Dallas could afford one of them.

    Ultimately, it will probably come down to the market. You might argue that the increased salary cap space makes signing one of the veterans more likely, but it also means other teams will be more willing to shell out big bucks for free agents.

Team Needs

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    The Cowboys have major needs across the board. Let's take a look at the most pressing.

     

    Defensive Tackle

    Even if the Cowboys were to re-sign Hatcher, they're still currently in a position to start Nick Hayden alongside him. That could change if the 'Boys use Tyrone Crawford inside, which makes sense, or if they address the position early in the 2014 NFL draft.

    It will be interesting to see what the Cowboys do, because the projected first-round defensive tackle who makes the most sense for Dallas, Pitt's Aaron Donald, lit up the NFL Scouting Combine and might not be available for them at No. 16 overall. Either way, defensive tackle is probably Dallas' largest need.

     

    Defensive End

    Will the Cowboys release Ware? They need him to take a pay cut or restructure his deal, which seems likely, but there's no guarantee he'll be back in Dallas in 2014. Even if he returns, the Cowboys aren't set for the future with he and George Selvie on the outside.

    One of the problems with signing a free-agent pass-rusher is that they usually cost a lot of money. It's improbable Dallas will be able to afford a starting-caliber defensive end to start immediately, meaning the draft is its most likely source for a difference-making end.

     

    Free Safety

    The free safety position might benefit most from an upgrade along the defensive line; J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, and Matt Johnson are hardly inevitable future stars, but whomever plays free safety will benefit immensely from an improved pass rush.

     

    Wide Receiver

    Others will disagree with listing wide receiver as a need, and it's certainly not as important as finding a quality defensive tackle, but the Cowboys' offense could benefit quite a bit from upgrading at wide receiver. Terrance Williams is a nice player, but finding a legitimate No. 1-caliber receiver to complement Dez Bryant would actually upgrade two spots; the Cowboys would have an upgrade over Williams, but Williams would also be an immense upgrade over Cole Beasley as the No. 3 wide receiver, assuming Austin gets cut.

    Plus, a big, physical receiver could give the Cowboys an even more potent red-zone attack; as it stands right now, Bryant is the only player we know is long-term dominant in the red zone.

     

    Right Tackle

    According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), right tackle Doug 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 the latter pace for 16 games, Free would have allowed the third-most pressures in the NFL in 2013.

Possible Targets

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Looking at the team needs from the previous slide, here's one potential free agent who could interest Dallas at each position of need:

     

    DT Henry Melton

    If the Cowboys sign a high-priced free agent, defensive tackle Henry Melton might be their guy. Melton has been linked to Dallas, and, although he'll probably cost even more than Hatcher, he's also four years younger. 

    The issue will be how much money Melton can command on the open market. He tore his ACL last year, which is the only thing that might shoot down his price just enough for Dallas to steal him.

     

    DE Corey Wootton

    Another former member of the Chicago Bears, Wootton is still just 26 years old. He's played only two full seasons in the NFL, racking up 10.5 total sacks over that period. Wootton had just 3.5 of those sacks in 2013, which is actually a good thing for Dallas; if they're looking for a high-upside pass rusher with youth, Wootton might be its cheapest option.

     

    FS Stevie Brown

    Had Brown played in 2013, there's almost no chance the Cowboys would have been able to afford him. After missing the entire season with a preseason injury, though, Brown might not be so pricey. RotoWorld's Nick Mensio has Brown ranked as the eighth-best safety in this free-agent class; if he gets paid accordingly, Brown could give Dallas a playmaking "centerfielder" in the back end for a relatively cheap price.

     

    WR Kenny Britt

    Britt is coming off of a season with 11 catches for 96 yards, and he's never had 1,000 yards in a season during his five-year NFL career. He also has some notorious off-field concerns, so there's a good chance he isn't head coach Jason Garrett's "right kind of guy."

    Having said that, it's not that easy to just go out and find a 6'3", 223-pound wide receiver with good speed. There are so many quality wide receiver options in this draft that a free-agent receiver might be a long shot, but Britt will offer value because his downside (character issues) will be priced into his salary, i.e. the Cowboys would be getting massive upside basically for free.

     

    RT Charles Brown

    As mentioned, right tackle Doug Free is a bigger problem than most believe. Offensive tackles are typically expensive, but most of the top-paid players man the left side. The Cowboys could probably find a fairly cheap tackle, like Charles Brown, to at least give competition to Free on the right side. This is the one position where a free agent probably makes more sense than a rookie.

Cowboys Free Agency Predictions

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Let's take a look at five Cowboys-related free-agency predictions:

     

    1. The Cowboys will free up enough cap space to sign one major free agent.

    Dallas doesn't have the best salary cap situation, but it also isn't as bad as it initially appears. By doing everything it needs to do to trim away the extra fat, Dallas should be able to put itself in a position to sign a fairly high-priced free agent.

     

    2. That player will be defensive tackle Henry Melton.

    If the Cowboys do indeed sign a big-name player, Melton is perhaps the most likely. He fits with what Dallas wants in a 4-3 defensive tackle. You could argue that the Cowboys will want to wait to see what happens in the draft, but they really need two defensive tackles. Since signing Melton wouldn't stop Dallas from drafting someone like Pitt's Aaron Donald in the first round, the move makes sense no matter what the Cowboys want to do in the draft.

     

    3. DeMarcus Ware will remain in Dallas.

    The Cowboys have all the leverage and Ware knows it; he will probably take a pay cut to stay in Dallas.

     

    4. Dallas won't sign a defensive end.

    Assuming Ware remains in Dallas, it'll have him and George Selvie to start in 2014. There are a bunch of intriguing second-round defensive ends in the draft, and don't forget that Tyrone Crawford has the versatility to kick outside. Since ends usually cost a pretty penny in free agency, it makes sense for Dallas to keep what it has and upgrade via the draft.

     

    5. The Cowboys won't re-sign a single one of their free agents.

    This really comes down to whether or not Dallas will keep either Jason Hatcher or Anthony Spencer. Hopefully, the Cowboys have learned their lesson from handing out sizable contracts to aging players.