Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys in free agency: Ignore the noise, nothing to see here

After seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, safety Barry Church is expected to walk away in free agency. One report said he will finalize a four-year deal with Jacksonville worth more than $6 million a season.
After seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, safety Barry Church is expected to walk away in free agency. One report said he will finalize a four-year deal with Jacksonville worth more than $6 million a season. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Social media has linked the Cowboys to Adrian Peterson, DeSean Jackson and many other big-name free agents. The click-bait posts got big hits, and lots of likes and retweets.

All are laughable.

The Cowboys won’t be big players in free agency when it officially begins Thursday at 3 p.m. CT. Just like they weren’t last year … or the previous year … or the year before that.

Not since 2014 have the Cowboys ranked in the top half of free-agency spending.

“I just think you live and you learn,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “I’ve said it always about free agency: Sometimes you’re required to use it, but you better go in with your eyes wide open that you’re overpaying. You’re going to pay good players like they’re great, average players like they’re good, below average players like they’re average. It’s just not a great way to build a football team. But sometimes there’s situations that do present themselves, and you’ve got to be ready to do that if you see the right value there.

“Not a huge fan of having to go out and pay guys a lot of money, filling in big needs through unrestricted free agency. We’d rather build through the draft and then pay our own players.”

The Cowboys, with $9 million in salary-cap space after restructuring the contracts of Sean Lee, Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, will focus on re-signing some of their own free agents. They began the off-season with 18 unrestricted free agents.

The Cowboys re-signed receiver Brice Butler on Wednesday, and they will lose safety Barry Church to the Jaguars. But the Cowboys expect to be mostly quiet the first week of free agency, waiting for the spending frenzy to die down.

“I accept that,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “That doesn’t bother me because everybody’s playing by the same rules, and this is the life we’ve chosen. I don’t get mad at it. I get competitive about it. I get frustrated when one doesn’t work for us, when we make a decision that we’d like to have back. But I don’t get mad at it. We need to practice what we preach to Dak [Prescott], or what you’d preach to a quarterback, ‘Man, get over it.’ Make the bad play, get over it, correct it as quick as you could and go.”

Gone are the days when the Cowboys hold a big press conference to announce a headline-grabbing signing like Deion Sanders in 1995, Rocket Ismail in 1999, La’Roi Glover in 2002, Leonard Davis in 2007 or Brandon Carr in 2012.

The Cowboys wined and dined Carr the first day of free agency in 2012, quickly signing the cornerback to a five-year, $50.1 million contract. He was one of seven unrestricted free agents the Cowboys signed that year, doling out $24.75 million in guarantees. They signed Carr, Mackenzy Bernadeau (four years, $11.5 million), Nate Livings (five years, $18.75 million), Brodney Pool (one year, $1.2 million), Dan Connor (two years, $6.5 million), Kyle Orton (three years, $10.5 million) and Lawrence Vickers (two years, $2.4 million).

Since, the Cowboys have altered their philosophy.

“You knew [free agency isn’t the answer] probably the whole time, but there’s just some situations where you can’t get everything taken care of,” Stephen Jones said. “Your team is just not good enough, and you can’t get all your needs filled through the draft and through your own players. At some point, if you don’t draft well, then that’s what you’re stuck with. That’s why it’s so important to draft well and make good decisions. You’re not ever going to be perfect in the draft. You’re going to make mistakes, as you do in any type of player acquisition, but you certainly want to be as good as possible especially in the draft, because that leads to being able to sign guys and you know what you’re going to get. When you sign another team’s player you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to get.”

The Cowboys ranked 11th in free agent spending in 2012, committing $87.6 million to nine free agents, according to spotrac.com. They were 32nd in 2013, spending $11.6 million on 13 free agents; 23rd in 2014, spending $44.3 million on 17 free agents; 23rd in 2015, spending $38.3 million on 16 free agents; and 19th last season, spending $48.8 million on 11 free agents.

Charean Williams: 817-390-7760, @NFLCharean

Cowboys’ free agents

Free agency opens Thursday. The Cowboys have 17 unrestricted free agents (after WR Brice Butler re-signed Wednesday) and expect to lose most of them.

Player

Position

Age

Years in league

Brandon Carr

CB

30

9

Took a pay cut to stay last season and finish what originally was a five-year, $50 million deal signed in 2012.

Barry Church

S

28

7

Played in 12 games, missed four with a broken forearm, had a team-high two interceptions and 109 tackles. He has agreed to terms with Jacksonville.

Morris Claiborne

CB

26

5

Likely won’t get the deal he covets after missing 33 of 80 possible games in his career, including nine this season.

Jonathan Cooper

OG

26

4

Former first-round pick signed before the playoffs for a look-see as a possible replacement for Joe Looney.

Jack Crawford

DL

28

5

Had 3.5 sacks and 12 pressures while playing DE and DT.

Ryan Davis

DE

27

4

Finished season on injured reserve after arriving Sept. 15.

Lance Dunbar

RB

26

4

Played only 139 snaps in a third-down role after coming back from a major knee injury last season.

Justin Durant

LB

31

10

He played 280 snaps.

Gavin Escobar

TE

25

4

Had 30 catches for 333 yards and eight touchdowns in 62 games, likely signalling end for former second-round pick.

Andrew Gachkar

LB

28

6

Core special teamer had seven tackles in 307 plays, including 75 defensive snaps.

Ron Leary

OG

27

4

Started final 13 games at left guard in place of the injured La’el Collins.

Terrell McClain

DT

28

6

Made 41 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Darren McFadden

RB

29

9

Missed 13 games with a broken elbow.

Kellen Moore

QB

27

5

Missed entire season with a broken ankle.

Mark Sanchez

QB

30

8

Served as Dak Prescott’s mentor, handled mop-up duty in two games.

J.J. Wilcox

S

25

4

His big hits set the tone in several games.

Terrance Williams

WR

27

4

Made 177 catches for 2,791 yards and 20 touchdowns in

four seasons.

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