Well, we have waited the requisite 7 days since the final Dallas Cowboys game of the 2016 season and allowed the dust to settle from a disappointing end to a fantastic season. Now, on this day, the coaching staff is off to Florida for the Pro Bowl and the scouting staff is off to Alabama for the Senior Bowl.
That leaves the players to scatter to the 4 corners of the globe in search of rest and relaxation where the water is clear and the sun is warm. They earned it and will be asked to be back in the weight room within 4-6 weeks, so give them this.
Now, one thing that does grab you as you look at the regrettable end of another season is the reality that this group of guys will never be together in totality again. Sure, the young Cowboys seem to be the start of something big, but this group - the 60 or so players who contributed to the 13-3 Cowboys of 2016 - will have the normal subtraction of 20 pieces and those will be changed out with 20 new players moving forward.
This most normally happens with the loss of free agents going out and the draft coming in. This is the conveyor belt of talent that every organization deals with. Yes, a few retirements and cuts of contracts with time left. And yes, the occasional veteran free agent will be acquired. But, we have 18 names that are now out of contract. Let's see which should be top priorities to try to keep if the price can be found to be agreeable before March:
Here are the 18 names - Brandon Carr, Rolando McClain, Morris Claiborne, Ron Leary, Barry Church, Mark Sanchez, Andrew Gachkar, Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar, Jack Crawford, Gavin Escobar, Terrell McClain, Justin Durant, Josh Thomas, Terrance Williams, Kellen Moore, JJ Wilcox, and Brice Butler.
TOP 5 NAMES TO CONSIDER - In no particular order:
Barry Church, SS - At age 28, Barry Church has been a major part of this thing for his entire career. He plays his tail off, is never noticeably attacked, and appears to be a major part of the defensive leadership. I certainly like the utility he provides in the box and his durability has usually kept him in the mix. This is a player I would like to keep at the right cost.
Ron Leary, G - It sure seemed like his time was short when the rumors of a trade last summer popped up. He seemed unlikely to get an offer back then, but after his 2016, I don't know how the Cowboys just walk away without trying. He is a warrior in the trenches and is seldom exposed or beaten. Yes, he still has the possibility of long-term health concerns, but after 5 seasons with the team, I have very little negative to say about Leary. I might keep him and kick La'el Collins out to right tackle to replace Doug Free.
Terrell McClain, DT - For much of the year I thought McClain was easily the best 1-technique on the roster. Yes, the Cowboys now have options and should probably resist to put too much on a run-stuffing DT, but when he is right, he is really impressive. I really like what he brings to the table and competes, but I will also grant you that he has not shown he has 16 games in him so you have to be careful.
Terrance Williams, WR - This is really interesting. A few months ago, he was being compared to Brice Butler, but I believe his year quieted that down. He is a far more accomplished than Butler but also not a proper Dez Bryant replacement when Dez is out. So, there is that middle ground where he is worth the trouble and that price is likely more than anyone wants to admit. So, do you want Williams at $6 million to $7 million a season? Tough call, but if you don't go get him, you will have a pretty big void to consider and might need to take a WR pretty high in April.
Morris Claiborne, CB - I am likely walking away from Mo. Corners are expensive - especially at age 26. Talk about sticker shock. I am not interested in putting much money on Claiborne because he has not really proven much to me since his rookie year. Yes, he has a high bar because of his spot and he has never been fully healthy, but if you are trying to decide between Brandon Carr and Claiborne, you simply look at who is always out there and who isn't. Carr might be getting close to the end, but he still gives you 1,000 snaps a year and plays about 980 of them really well. And will come cheaper.
So that is the top group of choices. Many come at positions where you might have to choose between 2 players who are both UFAs: At WR it is Butler or Williams. At CB, Church or Claiborne. At DL, McClain or Jack Crawford. At safety, Church or JJ Wilcox.
Then you have other spots like Lance Dunbar or Gavin Escobar that make you wonder if you have any price. Then the backup QB spot with Mark Sanchez and Kellen Moore.
I am pretty sure I would try to keep Church and Leary and otherwise, I would let the market dictate my actions after that. If Williams comes back to you at a fair price, great. What you don't want to do is to feel desperation to affect your draft. That said, keep in mind that you can likely have some options moving forward with cap room (Romo) that will allow you to grab some players in the secondary market to fill some spots.
As I look at this list, the Cowboys are in a decent spot. Nothing on here is irreplaceable. You can put some prices on them and if they take it then you have them at your price, but there is no name that makes you launch into desperation to lock them up.