Dallas Cowboys

Playing the free agent market can be risky for Cowboys

The Cowboys will let the market set a price for running back DeMarco Murray before taking any action.
The Cowboys will let the market set a price for running back DeMarco Murray before taking any action. Star-Telegram

Free agency is off and running and it appears the Dallas Cowboys have been left in the starting blocks.

Negotiations began around the league Saturday and teams can officially sign free agents starting Tuesday.

But don’t confuse the Cowboys’ lack of action — outside of minor deals for wide receiver Cole Beasley and offensive tackle Doug Free — for lack of a plan or lack of interest in retaining DeMarco Murray, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

The Cowboys have learned from past mistakes of paying too much for their own free agents and those from other teams.

“Hopefully, I’m better today at doing what we’re doing than I was 15 years ago,” owner Jerry Jones said. “It’s just from the experience that we’ve gotten. Overpaying free-agent wise has not borne out, not just for us, but for around the league in general.

“When you go out and overpay in free agency, those usually don’t have good endings.”

The list of bad endings for the Cowboys includes current cornerback Brandon Carr as well as past disappointments such as running back Marion Barber, receiver Roy Williams, safety Ken Hamlin and receiver Miles Austin.

That being said, the Cowboys want to keep Murray, 27, who led the league in rushing in 2014 with a franchise-record 1,845 yards. But they have a price they don’t want to go above.

The Cowboys have done their due diligence on Murray to find a comfortable price. They are considering everything, including his age and how backs have historically performed after carrying the ball as much as he did in 2014.

According to multiple sources, the Cowboys took their scouts off the draft for an entire week to break down film of every one of Murray’s carries since he entered the league as a third-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2011.

The Cowboys did the same for Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and Houston Texans running back Arian Foster among others, a source added.

The lack of communication with Murray’s agents is about letting the market set a price and then deciding if it is something the Cowboys will match.

Jones acknowledged at the NFL Combine last month that the Cowboys have a price for Murray and would consider exceeding it if necessary.

How far the Cowboys go depends on what offers Murray receives in what has become a surprisingly robust running back market with new deals for Lynch and Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy.

So far, no deals for Murray have been made public.

Outside of the waiting game with Murray, the Cowboys plan to slow-play free agency just as they did a year ago.

The Cowboys will let the first wave die down and the money come down before adding players to fill needs in the secondary and along the defensive line — though they still remain in talks with linebackers Rolando McClain and Justin Durant.

The Cowboys have made contact with the agents for Chicago defensive tackle Stephen Paea and Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn, though Paea agreed to terms with the Redskins on Monday.

But the focus remains on bargain shopping.

“I'm still a firm believer there is not great value in free agency in terms of getting efficient,” Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said. “The problem is price. There could be good players at the right price.

“The problem is the price goes up because there are a lot of people bidding on them and you end up paying the best players that are out there in free agency like they are the best players at their position in the league, and that might not be the case.

“I think sometimes you feel forced to do something because the need is so significant. That’s when you make mistakes.”

The Cowboys learned their most recent lesson in 2012 when they gave Carr a five-year, $50.1 million contract to come over from Kansas City.

Carr has yet to live up to that contract, and the Cowboys plan to force the cornerback to either take a pay cut or be released this off-season.

Cowboys rework Smith

The Cowboys reworked left tackle Tyron Smith’s contract Monday to free up $8.16 million in salary cap room, according to sources.

The move had been anticipated since he signed an eight-year, $97.6 million contract extension last summer.

The Cowboys turned $10.2 million of Smith’s base salary of $11.039 million into a signing bonus.

The Cowboys were up against the cap, needing space to make Doug Free’s new contract official as well as to cover tenders for restricted free agents Chris Jones and Lance Dunbar.

Staff writer Charean Williams contributed to this report.

Clarence E. Hill Jr.

817-390-7760

Twitter: @clarencehilljr

Types of free agents

An unrestricted free agent is a player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. He is free to sign with any team, with no draft choice compensation owed to his old team.

A restricted free agent is a player with three accrued seasons. He can sign a qualifying offer with any team, but his original team can match the offer. If the original team doesn’t match the offer, compensation will be awarded in the form of draft picks from the signing team.

An exclusive rights free agent is a player with three or fewer accrued seasons. His original team must make a contract offer or the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. No compensation is awarded for losing an exclusive rights free agent.

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