Dallas Cowboys' Updated To-Do List Ahead of Free Agency

Marcus Mosher@@Marcus_MosherFeatured Columnist IMarch 6, 2017

Dallas Cowboys' Updated To-Do List Ahead of Free Agency

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    With free agency set to begin on Thursday, the Dallas Cowboys have an array of things left to do before the league's new year begins. 

    Between re-signing some of the team's better players and moving on from an icon, Dallas has a busy month ahead of them.

    Here are some of the items on the Cowboys' to-do list before free agency begins.

Move Tony Romo

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    The biggest question that will surround the Dallas Cowboys the rest of the offseason is what to do with Tony Romo and his massive contract. The quarterback will turn 37 in April, and it's clear that he will not stay on the roster as the team's backup.

    Releasing Romo outright will save the Cowboys $5.1 million, but he would still account for $19.6 million against the cap. The team does have the option of releasing the player with the post-June 1 designation. That would save Dallas more than $10 million in 2017, but they wouldn't actually be able to utilize that cap space until June. 

    The smartest move would be to trade Romo, regardless of what the compensation is. The team has a valuable asset that could net them at least a mid-round pick. A trade is equal to a Romo release in terms of salary-cap relief, but it would at least allow the team to turn him and his contract into a draft pick or two. 

    Dallas didn't add any compensatory picks in 2017, and they are missing a fifth-round pick due to the Matt Cassel trade in 2015. Any trade involving Romo would surely return more value than that. But whatever the Cowboys decide with Romo, they need to do it quickly as the team needs immediate cap relief. 

    The Cowboys have a number of free agents who will likely leave via free agency, but moving on from Romo may allow them to hold on to one or two of those key free agents, such as Morris Claiborne or Barry Church.

    Holding on to Romo and his contract just delays the inevitable.

Re-Sign Barry Church or J.J. Wilcox

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    This one is pretty simple; Dallas needs to sign either Barry Church or J.J. Wilcox before free agency begins on Thursday. Both players had brilliant years in 2016 and will likely command decent money on the open market.

    What makes the situation difficult is just how much the team relied on these two players the past three seasons. They've played a combined 5,745 snaps on defense and special teams since 2014.

    With Byron Jones flipping back and forth from cornerback to safety, the Cowboys rely on having depth at safety. Without Church and Wilcox, the team only has Jeff Heath and 2016 sixth-round pick Kavon Frazier as depth. 

    According to Mike Fisher, Church could be the most sought-after free agent at safety. With Dallas having limited cap space, that may mean they have to turn their attention to Wilcox. 

    At just 26 years old, Wilcox had the best year of his career in 2016. He's got the athletic ability and size to flip back and forth from strong to free safety, and he's got plenty of playing experience at both.

    The wise move here is to let the older Church (29) walk, pick up the 2018 compensatory pick and move on with the younger player. Wilcox could probably be had for no more than $4 million dollars per season. 

    In any event, they can't go into free agency with both players hitting the market or they will likely lose Church and Wilcox.

    The team could decide to upgrade the position in the draft with a player such as Budda Baker or Jabrill Peppers, but there's no way that can be the only plan entering free agency. The team has to bring back one of these veterans.

Re-Sign Either Brandon Carr or Morris Claiborne

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Much like safety, the Cowboys can't afford to lose both Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr via free agency. With only slot corners Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown left on the roster, cornerback is clearly a need for the Cowboys in free agency and the draft.  

    The argument for Carr is pretty simple; he's one of the most reliable defensive players on the team. Since joining the team in 2013, he's started every game and has been an average cornerback at worst.  But Carr will be 31 in May, and he clearly lacks the speed to be an elite corner in the NFL.  

    On the flip side, Claiborne has all the talent and a much brighter future, but his price and injury history are concerning. The former sixth-overall pick in the 2012 draft was fantastic in 2016, but once again, injuries clouded his future. If he hits free agency, he will likely be offered starter money that the Cowboys may not be able to match.  

    Even if the Cowboys were able to sign one of the two players, cornerback will still be a need in the draft. But signing one will allow them to address that need in the draft at the appropriate time instead of reaching for a player a round or two early.

Re-Sign Terrell McClain

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    Retaining the 29th-rated defensive tackle in 2016, per the NFL1000, is going to be tough for the Cowboys.

    According to NFL.com's Jane Slater, Terrell McClain is expected to get a lot of interest in free agency. The Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons and divisional foe, the Washington Redskins, could all be interested in the 29-year-old player from South Florida. 

    Despite Dallas signing Cedric Thornton in 2016, McClain was clearly the better player. He outsnapped Thornton and had more tackles and sacks as the starter next to Maliek Collins. What will make re-signing McClain difficult is that Thornton will count more than $4 million against the cap in 2017. 

    With many teams interested in McClain, it's hard to envision him getting less on the open market. Atlanta and Washington could offer McClain $6 million-$7 million to be an athletic penetrator as their 1-technique.

    As one of the better defenders for the Cowboys in 2016, the team needs to re-sign him before he hits the open market. If not, they will surely lose arguably their best defensive lineman.

Sign Veteran Running Back

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    With reports that the Cowboys may try to trade Alfred Morris, the running back room all of a sudden looks somewhat empty. Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar are both free agents, scheduled to hit the market later this week, and that leaves just Ezekiel Elliott on the roster. 

    As deep as this running back class is, it's unlikely the Cowboys spend a premium pick at running back unless a special talent falls to them in the middle rounds. That means the team will likely try to sign a veteran runner to play behind Elliott. 

    The Cowboys want a home-run threat as their No. 2, and that's the big reason why Morris won't be back in 2016. He just doesn't have the speed to threaten defenses anymore. That's why it's far more likely that McFadden returns rather than Morris despite the latter still being under contract. 

    If the Cowboys do decide to bring in some new talent to the roster, there are some names who are set to hit free agency that would make sense for Dallas.

    Recently released Jamaal Charles makes sense as a backup if his knee can hold up. Charles is from Texas and would be best suited as a change of pace back behind the well-entrenched starter. 

    Another name to consider is Chris Johnson. He's no longer the 4.24 athlete he was coming out of East Carolina, but he still has enough speed to make defensive coordinators sweat when the starter comes off the field. With experience as a receiver and a blocker on third down, Johnson would make sense on a relatively cheap deal.

    The Cowboys will sign one, if not two, running backs in free agency to help lessen Elliott's workload. But when examining players who could fit into Dallas' scheme, look for players who still have the top-end speed to score from anywhere on the field. 

Add Veteran Quarterback

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    If the Cowboys eventually move on from Tony Romo, they will need someone to replace his roster spot as the backup quarterback.

    Kellen Moore is a free agent, but he will likely be back on a cheap deal as the team's third quarterback. Mark Sanchez is also a free agent, but it's unlikely the Cowboys would want to bring him back as the No. 2 quarterback. There will likely be only one spot available for Moore and Sanchez. 

    That leaves the No. 2 job wide open and the list of names who could fill that spot could be in double digits. Do the Cowboys try to bring in a younger quarterback who has some upside such as Geno Smith? Or do they try to bring in a more established player like Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh McCown? 

    Due to Dak Prescott's youth and the team's dwindling cap space, it's likely that the Cowboys will invest little cash into a backup quarterback. The best bet is that Dallas will re-sign Moore and bring in McCown to help Prescott in the quarterback room.