The Dallas Cowboys have 18 free agents, including impact players such as safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox, cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr, receiver Terrance Williams and nose tackle Terrell McClain.
With roughly $3 million in cap space heading into the start of free agency Thursday, the team has accepted that it’s nearly impossible to retain all of them. But in assessing their priorities for the draft and free agency, the Cowboys see two positions as necessities, per a source.
It’s a war daddy pass rusher, a position owner Jerry Jones has talked about all off-season, and wide receiver. The second is a surprise considering the offense is well stocked — Williams was the fourth-leading receiver in 2016 — and the obvious void the Cowboys have in the secondary.
Terrance Williams caught 44 passes for 594 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Cowboys.
Jones declined to acknowledge which positions will be the main focus this off-season during a state-of-the-team interview Saturday, but he said only two spots concern him.
“I am not going to say which ones, because it’s competitive,” Jones said “But there are two spots we get wounded if we don’t have at least that position back with that caliber of player. There are two spots, whether by that player or one of his quality. We need to replace those positions, that talent level on the roster.
“Beyond that then we are not decimated if we don’t have that individual player. We will have somebody playing the position. But out of that whole makeup and list, there are two we have to really address. We can’t come up empty. We have somebody meaningful there. They are part of our core strategy.
“But it’s two. It’s not nine. It’s two. And I think we have the cap room and whatever we resolve with Tony, I feel confident we will not lose on those two.”
There are two spots, whether by that player or one of his quality. We need to replace those positions, that talent level on the roster. Beyond that then we are not decimated if we don’t have that individual player.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
Asked if both players were on defense, Jones said: “Not necessarily. I don’t want to answer. It’s competitive.”
Since the only major free agent on offense is Williams, then receiver has to be the other spot.
“Again, I guess you can easily see,” Jones said. “But from a standpoint of functioning like we did last year [on offense], we need to. I don’t want to answer for competitive reasons, but there are two positions. We can make do most of what is in question in free agency for us with our existing players. We’ve got to replace those two parts of our team.”
A source later confirmed, the two areas of focus are receiver and pass rusher.
As a result, the Cowboys plan to work hard to keep Williams in the fold at the right price. If not, they will be in the market for a receiver in the draft and in free agency.
While Jerry Jones continues to talk about keeping quarterback Tony Romo as Dak Prescott’s backup, the reality is the Cowboys know that is unlikely and are already focused on the plan behind Prescott.
There has been talk of Dallas making a play for veteran free agent Josh McCown, but the team is eying Kellen Moore as the primary backup. They also could add a young developmental quarterback in the draft or free agency.
A young quarterback could be a long-term backup for Prescott or a future trade piece, per Jones.
This is an opportunity to use this to have another young quarterback.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
“This is an opportunity to use this to have another young quarterback,” Jones said. “That’s the option. You won’t have that opportunity if you only have a veteran with Kellen. You won’t have that opportunity. For instance, if we kept Romo, we wouldn’t have that opportunity to get any snaps for a young quarterback.
“So do we as a franchise bring in a young quarterback and take advantage of this, reps in practice and the preseason? And for the future have a quarterback that might be of real value to you for any number of reasons — trading not being the least. There is a reason not to bring in a veteran quarterback because you got Kellen. Kellen is the key here.”
Moore is a free agent, but Jones feels good about retaining him because of Moore’s relationship with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
Jones said Moore is the preferred veteran to play behind Prescott.
“With a signed Kellen Moore, then you might want to bring in a potential future quarterback,” Jones said. “Kellen would satisfy that itch. There is a relationship. He fits here real well.”
Free to return
Jones and coach Jason Garrett said they expect Doug Free to return to the Cowboys this season.
A report last week said the right tackle was considering retirement.
“I do not know of any talk of retirement in regards to Doug Free,” Garrett said. “We had a good visit after the season. He, like all the players, they wanted to get away for a little while, then get themselves recharged and come back to work. I don’t anticipate anything other than that.”
Free, 33, enters the final year of his contract, which will pay him a $5 million base salary and count $7.5 million against the cap.
He has started all 16 games in seven of the past eight seasons. Free allowed seven sacks and had three holding penalties last season, according to STATS.
Staff writer Charean Williams contributed to this report.