Best and Worst Moves Dallas Cowboys Made in Free Agency
The Dallas Cowboys haven’t made a huge number of moves in free agency thus far, but they’ve generally been smart ones. The most difficult decision the Cowboys made was to cut defensive end DeMarcus Ware, which has opened up a big hole at the position. The ‘Boys really had no choice but to let Ware walk due to his 2014 salary cap hit, however.
The Cowboys’ biggest free-agent addition was defensive tackle Henry Melton. Melton will play as the Cowboys’ three-technique—a position that’s vital in Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 defense. If he can provide a legitimate pass-rushing threat from the inside, it might help limit the negative impact of Ware’s departure.
With a bunch of holes still to fill, the Cowboys probably aren’t finished in free agency. The bulk of the heavy lifting is over, however, so let’s take a look at the team’s best and worst moves.
The Worst: Signing QB Brandon Weeden
The Cowboys signed former Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden to a two-year deal worth $1.23 million, as reported by Dallas Morning News. Despite playing only two years in the NFL, Weeden will turn 31 years old in October. Starter Tony Romo, who has been in the league for 10 seasons, is only three years older than Weeden.
Even though he should have performed better than the average inexperienced NFL quarterback due to his age, Weeden was horrific in his two seasons in Cleveland. He never completed more than 57.4 percent of his passes, never surpassed 6.55 yards-per-attempt and never threw more touchdowns than interceptions.
The fact that this is the worst move Dallas made this offseason is a good sign, though. Although it’s unclear how much Weeden will be able to help Dallas if something happens to Tony Romo, it’s still a low-risk deal that helps soften the blow if veteran Kyle Orton decides to retire.
The Would-Be Worst: Potentially Signing WR Nate Burleson
Although the Cowboys haven’t made any really poor moves during free agency, they’re perhaps on the verge of doing just that; according to ESPN Dallas, the team could sign wide receiver Nate Burleson. Burleson played under current offensive coordinator Scott Linehan with the Lions.
It’s always interesting to see coaches bring players they’ve coached to their new teams. It’s like they understand that the player is a below-average talent—or else the current team would want him—but they just like that they have familiarity with him.
It’s unclear what Burleson could offer Dallas that they don’t already have. At 6’0” and 198 pounds, Burleson is undersized and won’t help Dallas in the red zone. He’s also 32 years old, so he could potentially stunt the growth of the rookie receiver Dallas should be picking early in this year’s draft.
During his 11-year NFL career, Burleson has averaged 511 yards and 3.5 touchdowns per season. If the Cowboys sign him to a deal worth anything more than zero dollars, it will be a huge mistake.
The Good and Bad: Releasing DE DeMarcus Ware
It was a sad day when the Cowboys released defensive end DeMarcus Ware. The move was a neutral one in that it hurt the strength of the Cowboys' defense, but it was a necessary transaction due to Ware’s cost. He was set to take up over $16 million in 2014 salary cap space, which is a number the Cowboys simply couldn’t afford to eat. By cutting Ware, the Cowboys saved over $7 million against the cap this year.
Ware’s departure has left a sizeable hole to fill at defensive end. The Cowboys are extremely bare at the position and, outside of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, there don’t seem to be any special talents in the first round of this year’s draft. The Cowboys had no choice but to let Ware walk if he wouldn’t accept a pay cut, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be missed.
The Would-Be Best: Re-Signing DE Anthony Spencer to a Short-Term Contract
Related to the Ware release is the increasing value of potentially re-signing defensive end Anthony Spencer. Although it looked like Spencer might originally cost a little too much for Dallas’s liking, the fact that he’s 30 years old and coming off of a season-ending injury has plummeted his market value.
If the Cowboys can re-sign Spencer to a low-risk deal, perhaps one laced with incentives to provide him with upside, it might be a smart decision. Spencer’s presence wouldn’t stop the team from targeting a pass-rusher at any point in the draft, but it would give them someone who is probably good for about eight to 10 sacks in 2014.
By no means should Dallas give Spencer a long-term contract with lots of guarantees, but it makes sense to offer a two-year pact through which the Cowboys can part ways with Spencer after this season with minimal issues.
The Best: Nabbing DT Henry Melton
In my breakdown of the Henry Melton signing, the overall theme was how smart of a contract Dallas created. Even if Melton achieves as much as possible in 2014, he’ll still make just $5 million. The Cowboys have a 2015 club option built into the deal through which they can hold onto Melton for three more years.
The “prove it” nature of the deal makes it low-risk/high-reward for Dallas. They get Melton’s services in 2014, but more importantly, they’ve bought a “buffer” to give them time to really assess Melton. If he responds positively from ACL surgery, the Cowboys should have no problem exercising his option and retaining him for three more years in the prime of his career.
Jerry Jones & Co. get a lot of criticism, much of it well-deserved, but we need to hand it to them for grabbing a potentially elite player in the prime of his career without committing much guaranteed money.