Free-Agent Contracts Cowboys Must Consider Before Training Camp

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2021

Free-Agent Contracts Cowboys Must Consider Before Training Camp

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    The Dallas Cowboys are banking on having a healthy roster in 2021. This is a team that went 6-10 in 2020, but the return of players like quarterback Dak Prescott, tackle Tyron Smith and guard Zack Martin from injuries could be enough to put Dallas back in the playoff mix.

    The Cowboys did make a few key additions during the offseason too. They brought in Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal and rookie Micah Parsons to help bolster their 23rd-ranked defense.

    On paper, the Cowboys don't have many glaring weaknesses, and they look to be legitimate players in the NFC East race. However, this doesn't mean that there isn't room to make a few more additions before the start of the regular season.

    Dallas may have to go the budget route and/or free up some cap space—they only have $5.4 million available, per Over The Cap—but signing another free agent contract or two shouldn't be out of the question.

    Here we will examine three free agents Dallas should consider as training camp continues.

CB Buster Skrine

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    Assuming everyone is able to stay healthy—and yes, that's a big assumption—the Cowboys should have no issues fielding a premium offense in 2021. However, the defense—which ranked 23rd overall and 28th in points allowed last season—could use some help.

    Journeyman nickelback Buster Skrine could be just the sort of budget option Dallas needs to strengthen its secondary. While not a Pro Bowl-caliber talent, Skrine held a prominent role during his time with the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets and Chicago Bears.

    Skrine has 92 starts on his NFL resume and played 52 percent of the defensive snaps in Chicago last season, according to Pro Football Reference.

    Dallas has a capable cornerback trio on paper—in Jourdan Lewis, Trevon Diggs and rookie Kelvin Joseph—but experience and depth are always important at the cornerback position. This will be particularly true in the new 17-game regular-season format.

    The Cowboys should know as well as anyone how quickly injuries can change the course of a season. Skrine may not be targeted as a starting option, but he would be a battle-tested depth piece who should fit with Dallas' cap situation.

Edge Adrian Clayborn

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Edge-rusher Adrian Clayborn is another potential budget option Dallas has to consider. The 33-year-old isn't likely to change the face of Dallas' defense, but he can be a fine contributor on a rotational basis.

    Clayborn has 40 career sacks on his resume and is still capable of impacting games. Though he only started two contests for the Cleveland Browns last season, he logged 3.5 sacks and 12 quarterback pressures.

    Strengthening the pass rush should be a goal for the Cowboys, who notched a mere 31 sacks as a team in 2020. DeMarcus Lawrence is a quality edge-defender, but Dallas lacks a consistent complement opposite him.

    Lawrence was responsible for 6.5 of those 31 sacks in 2020. Aldon Smith was the only other player to notch four or more sacks, and he departed for the Seattle Seahawks in free agency. Safety Donovan Wilson was third on the team with 3.5 sacks last season.

    While Clayborn may not be the type of free-agent target who will excite the Cowboys fanbase, he is the sort of player who would work within the team's financial limitations.

Edge Justin Houston

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Arguably the best pass-rusher still available, Justin Houston would not be a budget option. To sign him, the Cowboys would almost certainly have to clear some cap space first.

    However, if Dallas believes it can be a contender in 2021, it must consider adding the 10-year veteran. Houston is a borderline Hall of Fame player with 97.5 sacks and 117 tackles for loss on his NFL resume.

    While he is nearing the back end of his career, Houston proved in 2020 that he is still an impact defender. He started all 16 games for the Indianapolis Colts and finished with eight sacks and 25 quarterback pressures. Two years ago, Houston had 11 sacks for Indianapolis.

    Houston is the sort of premier pass-rusher who could star opposite Lawrence—helping the former to see fewer double teams while pressuring the quarterback himself. He's still a high-level player and is only waiting for the right opportunity.

    "Houston will play in 2021, with the right team, at the right time," CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora tweeted. "... He'll weigh what's best for him as teams continue to make overtures."

    Could Dallas be the right team for Houston?