The Dallas Cowboys have 18 free agents, including safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox and cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr, receiver Terrance Williams and nose tackle Terrell McClain.
They are among the notables for their starting experience and impact.
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 offseason, and receiver. Receiver is a surprise considering the offense is well stocked; Williams was the fourth-leading receiver; and the obvious void the Cowboys will have in the secondary.
Jones declined to acknowledge the biggest positions of need 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 make up 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 (Romo), I feel confident we will not lose on those two.”
Asked if both players were on defense, Jones said: “Not necessarily. I don’t want to answer. It’s competitive. But I guess I am. Not necessarily.”
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 that 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 free agency.
It’s a position receivers coach Derek Dooley is begging for help on a daily basis with executive vice president Stephen Jones, scouting chief Will McClay and coach Jason Garrett.