SAN ANTONIO -- Only a few days ago it was fashionable to wonder what the heck the Dallas Cowboys were doing in free agency.
Although they had made some moves, their biggest need was two giant holes at safety.
It didn't help that many of the top safeties had already come off the board with big money contracts, including Eric Weddle ($40 million with the Chargers) and Michael Huff ($32 million with the Raiders).
Even options like Quintin Mikell and Danieal Manning cashed in big with deals for $27 million to the Rams and $20 million to the Texans, respectively.
Still smarting from costly deals for Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin in the past, the Cowboys had no intention of overpaying for a safety.
Instead of paying $5 million for one safety, the Cowboys got two for that price -- Gerald Sensabaugh and Abe Elam for $2.5 million each.
The Cowboys signed seven free-agent contracts for a total of $71 million, including deals for tackle Doug Free, guard Kyle Kosier and defensive ends Marcus Spears, Kenyon Coleman and Jason Hatcher.
Certainly the Cowboys would have broken from the plan if they could have signed All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, the top prize in free agency. They offered him $40 million over four years before he agreed to a five-year, $60 million deal with the Eagles.
The Cowboys were limited when free agency began because they were roughly $18 million over the salary cap, leading to the release of four starters -- receiver Roy Williams, Marion Barber, Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis -- in cost-cutting moves.
They are still $6.6 million over the cap but expect to restructure the deals of Miles Austin, Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware, turning their base salaries into up-front signing bonus money to get in compliance of the $120 million cap by today's deadline.
"At the end of the day, we had six free agent needs -- a couple on the offensive line, a couple on the defensive line and a couple on the back end -- we had to address, and we were able to do that plus one," coach Jason Garrett said. "Given the salary-cap circumstance and the new CBA, we had to be creative. We had to be able to make some hard decisions, but we were very systematic in our approach the entire off-season. We feel good about how things have turned out."
The Cowboys had to negotiate also with next year in mind. They will have roughly $20 million already allocated toward next year's cap because of roster cuts made this year.
"We were a team that was right up against the cap from the get-go," owner Jerry Jones said. "We've got some real challenges next year, so we'll want to be prudent this year.
"Last year, we spent more than anybody in the NFL on our football team, and we really thought we had put a team in place for the next three or four years. But, of course, we've made some adjustments, we've had to move on with some players. All of that impacts the cap."
Considering that Free was their only big ticket item, the Cowboys didn't wow anyone, but they did address needs.
"We had a lot of discussion, a lot of talk about what we thought were the priorities for our team, what decisions we felt like we had to make," Garrett said. "We consistently made what we think were the right decisions. We will have to see how it all plays out, but we had a plan and we were able to execute that plan, and we feel good about that."
Clarence Hill, 817-390-7760