What's Next for Dallas Cowboys After Initial Wave of Free Agent Signings

Jonathan Bales@thecowboystimesAnalyst IMarch 23, 2014

What's Next for Dallas Cowboys After Initial Wave of Free Agent Signings

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys have yet to re-sign any of their own players in free agency, but they got their most coveted free agent in defensive tackle Henry Melton. Does it make up for the loss of defensive end DeMarcus Ware? Maybe not completely, but Melton is younger and certainly a step in the right direction, especially when you consider the low-risk nature of his deal with Dallas.

    Outside of a couple other low-profile signings, the Cowboys have been relatively quiet this offseason. They still have some obvious holes on defense, so where do they go from here?

    Although the free-agency period is dying down, the Cowboys will most likely sign at least one more semi-big-name player. They have so many issues on defense that bringing in a free agent or two prior to the draft will give them a lot more flexibility with their selections.

    Let’s take a look at the rest of the Cowboys’ offseason, starting with the remainder of free agency and moving to the draft.

Possible Free-Agent Additions

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    Defensive end is hands down the Cowboys’ biggest weakness. With the loss of Ware and Anthony Spencer still a free agent, Dallas currently has George Selvie and perhaps Kyle Wilber (or Tyrone Crawford) set to start out wide.

    Not great.

    The problem is that the defensive end market has dried up. The top 12 players on RotoWorld’s list of free-agent defensive ends have all signed.

    The top remaining player is former Denver Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers, who is hardly an elite option. Ayers has 12 sacks in five NFL seasons and totaled only nine combined sacks in four years at Tennessee. We have nine years of data telling us Ayers can’t consistently get to the passer, and yet he’s still being valued fairly highly.

    Why?

    Dallas’s second-biggest weakness is arguably free safety. There’s a decent chance that the team will let Matt Johnson, Jeff Heath and J.J. Wilcox battle it out in camp. But if they go the free-agency route, there are a couple of intriguing names still on the market.

    The top safety available is Chris Clemons, whom RotoWorld initially had ranked as its fifth-best free-agent safety in 2014. Clemons would shore up the Cowboys’ free safety spot, at least in the short term, so the team can concentrate on other positions early in the draft.

Will the Cowboys Re-Sign Anthony Spencer?

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The big question left for Dallas in this free-agency period is whether or not they want to re-sign defensive end Anthony Spencer.

    It initially seemed like signing a 30-year-old coming off of a season-ending injury wouldn’t be such a smart move, but Spencer’s market appears to be thin. If the ‘Boys can ink Spencer to a low-risk deal, perhaps a one-year contract with a few incentives, it might be smart to bring him back.

    If you look at both free agency and the draft, signing Spencer makes even more sense. As mentioned, there’s not much left at defensive end in free agency. Outside of Spencer, you’re looking at maybe soon-to-be 32-year-old Will Smith as the top available player.

    There are some interesting names to watch in the second round of the draft at the defensive end position, but it seems unlikely the Cowboys will find great value in the middle of the first. After South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, CBS Sports has Missouri’s Kony Ealy as the second-best defensive end, all the way down at No. 22 overall. Ealy had only 12.5 sacks in three years of college ball.

First-Round Targets

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    If the Cowboys sit tight at pick No. 16 overall, it’s really unclear who might interest them.

    Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald has been widely mocked to the team, but that was before the Cowboys signed Melton. It would be really interesting to see what the Cowboys do if Donald were to fall to them in the first round; he’s a 3-technique just like Melton, but he seems like too good of value to pass up. My hunch is that the ‘Boys would feel the same and would draft Donald at No. 16 overall if he falls.

    Another interesting player to watch in the mid-first is Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin. Current starting right tackle Doug Free was horrible down the stretch in 2013. While right tackle isn’t the Cowboys’ biggest need, Martin would offer value at that point and could interest Dallas in the no man’s land that is the mid-first of this year’s draft.

    Because the top-end talent is unlikely to fall to Dallas at No. 16 and considering how deep this draft is, my best guess is that the Cowboys will move back in the first round. If they don’t and neither Donald nor Martin are available, linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive end Kony Ealy and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan are all names to watch.

Late-First/Second-Round Targets

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    If the Cowboys do indeed move back in the first round or out of it altogether, there’s a number of prospects sure to interest them in that area (as well as with their current second-round pick).

    At the defensive end position, the team might look at Oregon State’s Scott Crichton or Stanford’s Trent Murphy. Both are long-armed pass-rushers who could go anywhere from the late-first to the late-second round. Both Crichton and Murphy would likely compete for a starting job right out of the gate.

    Stanford guard David Yankey is another player to watch. The Cowboys have decent guards in Ronald Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau, but Yankey would team up with center Travis Frederick to give the Cowboys a very formidable duo to help them win in short-yardage situations for years to come.

    At safety, Louisville’s Calvin Pryor might be available in the back of the first round, especially if Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is off of the board. Pryor would start for Dallas from day one.

    Finally, watch out for the “odd” selection from Dallas of a wide receiver in the second round, particularly if it trades down in the first round and can add another pick to its arsenal.

    Although they’re all potential first-round picks, you’d think that either Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, Fresno State’s Davante Adams or Penn State’s Allen Robinson will be available for Dallas in the second round. All have No. 1-receiver potential at the next level and would give Dallas one of the premier wide receiver corps—including one of the best trios of red-zone wide receivers—in the entire NFL.