Because of salary-cap limitations, as well as for philosophical reasons, the Dallas Cowboys are not simply pressed about the start of free agency Thursday.
They have 18 unrestricted free agents, although owner Jerry Jones says there are only eight or nine who really matter.
There is a good chance the Cowboys could lose them all, including receiver Terrance Williams, cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne and safeties J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church.
With roughly $3.2 million in cap room available, per the NFL Players Association, the Cowboys have no plans to be active early in free agency. They will let the market come back to them, which means they could watch almost all their free agents walk.
Yet, they are not pressed.
The Cowboys identified two off-season must-haves in order to improve the team for next year, per a source. They are receiver and a “war-daddy” pass rusher.
But make no mistake about it, we can wait until that June 1 time to get cap credit with any plans that we have. We’ll get room someplace else, so to speak, with other agreements.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, on not having to cut Tony Romo immediately to gain $5.1 million in salary-cap space
Jones believes they will get those two must-haves covered in the draft or free agency and is not worried about being decimated in free agency.
It’s a reason Jones says the start of free agency is not impactful from the Cowboys’ point of view in relation to the impending decision regarding the future of quarterback Tony Romo.
If Romo is traded or released, the Cowboys would gain $5.1 million in cap room.
While the Cowboys likely make the move sooner than later, because it would be in Romo’s best interest to get on the market while the money is flowing, clearing cap room is a not a motivating factor for the team.
In fact, Jones said the Cowboys could actually wait until June to make a move with Romo, even though his full $24.7 million cap figure would count against the team until then.
“That’s right. We have other ways to get the $5 million,” Jones said. “My point is that, whether it comes from his agreement and the timing of when it comes — let’s say that his was the last $5 million that you needed to have room for your plan for the coming year, well, it could be the last one and you might not need that until you’re signing your draft picks.
“But make no mistake about it, we can wait until that June 1 time to get cap credit with any plans that we have. We’ll get room someplace else, so to speak, with other agreements.”
In addition to Romo’s deal, the Cowboys can get extra room by extending the contract of tight end Jason Witten, who is in the final year of his contract, or restructuring the contracts of receiver Dez Bryant and cornerback Orlando Scandrick, among other moves.
Again, the issue is not just the money, but the desire to be active.
$7M The salary wide receiver Terrance Williams and safety Barry Church may command on the free-agent market, putting them beyond the Cowboys’ limits.
The Cowboys would love to retain Williams at receiver as one of their must-haves. But if he stands to get $7 million or more on the open market then they will be searching for another second receiver in the draft and/or free agency.
Church is also a guy they would like to keep at safety. But he also stands to command a nice contract of at least $7 million annually on the open market.
Wilcox could be brought back at the right price, but the team appears comfortable starting Jeff Heath at safety opposite Byron Jones. They then would likely target the position in a deep draft for safeties.
Carr, Claiborne situation
At cornerback, it’s an either/or situation with Carr and Claiborne, although there is a good chance both could be gone.
But the Cowboys must decide between Carr’s durability and availability over Claiborne’s seemingly better ability that is offset by a lack of durability.
Brandon Carr never lived up to the five-year, $50.1 million deal the Cowboys signed him to in 2012, making only seven interceptions in five seasons. However, he never missed a game, starting all 80 in Dallas.
The Cowboys used the sixth overall pick on Claiborne in 2012. Although he had his best season in 2016, he missed nine games. Claiborne has missed 33 of a possible 80 games in his career.
Don’t look for the Cowboys to be active early, opening the door for many of their free agents to walk out with deals with other teams.
“You have really gone to the essence of it,” Jones said. “You’ve got one that is always available. Ability and availability, which way do you go. Is it cut and dried? No. So you try to come up with your ability to get one or the other, if it were either/or. That’s the call. If you are reaching for availability then you might want to come back around and take some risks and get ability.”
The Cowboys have Scandrick and impressive rookie Anthony Brown at cornerback and could also target the position in the draft.
Again, it’s not definitive that the Cowboys will let all their free agents walk. Some of these players could return if the money is right. The Cowboys would likely try to bring back Brice Butler to cover themselves for the possible loss of Williams.
But don’t look for the Cowboys to be active early, opening the door for many of their free agents to walk out with deals with other teams.