Sturm's Weekly Bag of Footballs - All of the Comings and Goings From The Star
On Mondays, this bag of footballs exists to catch you up on the affairs of the last few days from the perspective of the Dallas Cowboys during the offseason. Some weeks that takes a few paragraphs before we move on to other matters. Today, it will certainly require all of our space. Because on this first Monday of the free agency season, there is no fewer than 15 Cowboys (coming or going) that must be discussed on some level.
So, let's go.
When the season ended, we rolled through the 18 pending free agents that the Cowboys had coming up and pretty much concluded that regardless of how many exit, the Cowboys will figure it out and be fine. We will continue to maintain that position, even right now where every headline makes us cringe just a bit. Now, not included in that 18 was starting right tackle and veteran Doug Free. And let's start there.
Doug Free retiring on Day 3 of Free Agency is a very oddly timed announcement. We knew there would come a time where Free would ride off on his lawn mower and decide he was not ready to continue anymore. After all, he was now 33 years old and had already played 10 seasons for the Cowboys after being selected in the 4th round back in 2007. He was the longest tenured Cowboy after Tony Romo, Jason Witten, and LP Ladouceur. Only Zack Martin and Travis Frederick played more offensive snaps in 2016 than Free, who played 1,054 of them. He was seldom thought in recent years as "elite", but he battled and was dependable in most cases. This is a bit of a blow as now the team scrambles to fill those 1,000 snaps at what most consider the 2ndmost vital spot on the offensive line. Why did he wait until March 11th to announce this? Because if he said it earlier, I am pretty certain the team would have made right tackle a bigger priority. Was he being asked to take a pay cut again and got annoyed? We are left to wonder, and when you consider they just also lost their left guard, this could get tricky.
Ah yes, the left guard. Ron Leary, just signed a 4 year deal that averages $9m a year in Denver. $20 million in guarantees for a guy who had a knee that left him completely undrafted in the 2012 draft altogether because his career will be cut short. Great for him, but that is another massive body to replace. La'el Collins will be able to handle one of those 2 spots, but which one? I would figure before it is all said and done that Collins will end up at RT and someone like Jonathan Cooper will be grabbed to play guard. However, Emmett Cleary or Chaz Green may get into the mix at camp. I have very pessimistic views on Green - both health and technique - and was impressed with Cleary when he was needed in 2016, but for now, the Cowboys will have to demonstrate that they can "plug and play" around their 3 franchise cornerstones on the offensive line and proceed without issue. I think Collins can be good (although he will need a contract in a year), but that other spot - possibly the very vital right tackle spot - may end up being a camp headache, because I don't think they can afford to go into the established tackle market with their budget.
Let's discuss a few more that got paid to leave. Barry Church is another undrafted free agent who built up his value in Dallas and now gets his career's best payday by signing for 4 years and $26m (although we can not find the amount of guaranteed money yet). I have always enjoyed Church's work and I think he was a very fine Cowboy on some overachieving defenses. This simply adds another very high-use hole to fill where Church gave them 1,000 snaps on a regular basis and now will need to be replaced with competent play. They were never going to pay him that here and he was wise to jump on the money when the Jaguars offered it. I think this is a bit of a blow that I did not fully anticipate that level of interest. His replacement is tough to fully see right now. I assume Jeff Heath was playing center field already, but with Church gone, they were going to need another safety for those scores of plays where the Cowboys would put 3 safeties on the field.
Also gone is JJ Wilcox to Tampa Bay. Wilcox is reportedly taking 2 years for "up to" $8.5m with the Buccaneers. He never approached the promise from his 3rd round draft position, but he was plenty useful at times both as a plug-in on defense and as a special teams guy.
One of the first to leave was Terrell McClain to Washington for a reported 4 years/$21 million. Now, I am a very big fan of McClain's, especially after the way he started 2016 as arguably the best defender on the team for the first 4-5 weeks. But, much like in 2015, he was nowhere close to staying as dominant for the course of a whole year, so Washington is utilizing a lot of faith that at nearly 30, McClain is going to suddenly run off 4 years of quality play. They were scrambling to find a player like the exceptional Chris Baker (who they are losing) and I don't believe they did so. McClain is quite a nice piece at the right price, but there was no way you can consider that for a part-time 1-technique.
Finally, amongst the exits, you have Jack Crawford joining that ensemble cast in Atlanta's defensive front on a 3-year deal that is at $10m. Again, we are not sure the guarantees, but for yet another Cowboys find on the scrap heap from Oakland, this is a very nice payday and he had to take it. All of these guys are getting the biggest paydays of their career and have to be delighted to have their hard work pay off. Crawford never sustained much consistency, but he would certainly flash and caught someone else's eye.
Meanwhile, if you would have told me that Terrell McClain was going to get better offers than Terrance Williams, I would have thought you were nuts. Of course, when the Cowboys got Williams to stay with them for the bargain price of 4/$17m, some readers went nuts the other way. I don't totally get how anyone could be anything but ecstatic to keep a starter at this price, but some of you were looking forward for him being somewhere else, I guess. For me, I was pretty sure they were going to lose him for about $6-$7m annually, because that is the going rate. If you look at receivers of a similar production value and similar draft spot/age, you see that Atlanta's Mohamed Sanu (5/$32.5m), San Diego's Keenan Allen (4/$45m), Miami's Kenny Stills (4/$31m)and Buffalo's Robert Woods (5/$39m) set the market pretty high. Production-wise, Williams can hang with those guys, but his soft market allowed the Cowboys to keep him around. If I am a fan, I am thrilled with this, but like I said, the feedback has not been favorable. I guess many didn't want him at any price.
Then, Brice Butler was kept on 1/$1.1m for this season. So, you actually kept both of them for less than $20m which I never thought possible. Pretty good business there from the Cowboys to keep their offensive skill players situation in a great spot without having to burn a 2nd or 3rdon a wide receiver.
A couple new additions as well. Philadelphia's Nolan Carroll and former Bears pick Stephen Paea have both been added. Carroll on a 3/$10m deal - identical to Jack Crawford's and Paea looks like 1 year for $2m. Both have been useful pieces, but Carroll is a low-end starter who I have never cared for and Paea is likely just cover for Terrell McClain's exit. I assume they still plan on drafting a corner and maybe trying to retain Brandon Carr or Morris Claiborne if the market gives them nothing but frowns. We will give Carroll a closer look soon, but with the division adding huge receivers in every city (Brandon Marshall, Terrell Pryor, Alshon Jeffrey), the Cowboys are likely fretting about the caliber of their secondary at the moment. Unfortunately, that is a very expensive place to fill vacancies this time of year. And the Cowboys have almost no money.
Oh yes, and they took a flier on Aggie DE Damontre Moore who has not really approached his expectation level and with his DUI over the holidays, he might be facing a suspension from the league. Add him to the pass rush mix at camp, at least.
Which ends this space with Tony Romo. Romo has a week of rumors, heresay, and instagram that has allowed everyone to say whatever they wanted to say about the Cowboys QB. In the end, we are right where we started with nothing but uncertainty on why the Cowboys are continuing to hold out for a trade that I don't believe they can afford. I have said since November that a release is the only way to do this, but apparently, someone (Jerry Jones) disagrees with me and holds out hope that he will be able to get a good trade still. He might be right, so let's wait and see if he wins another hand of poker, but for now, it all seems like a really transparent and somewhat silly bluff.
But, I believe those comings and goings should get you caught up on everything the Cowboys have done since the window opened. In total, there is plenty of work to be done and plenty of time to do it. Just wondering about the cash to pull it all off.