Allow me to now pay them some compliments in what might be a far more important component in how they do business. This ties into a wonderful, clear and new trend that has been found during the Jason Garrett tenure as head coach.
The Cowboys are now among the very best at home-grown talent. This simply means players they have discovered. These are players who have never played elsewhere (strictly defined as having never played a game in another uniform). They now successfully draft and/or sign out of college the majority of their own players. According to our research from last season, the Cowboys trailed only the Green Bay Packers in this category (49), among all of the teams in the NFL that we surveyed. The Cowboys had 43 homegrown players on their 53-man roster last year, which compares quite favorably to many of the key teams on your radar.
Inside the NFC East, the Giants had 30, the Redskins 29, the Eagles 27. All three of those teams have really needed to rely on other teams' players and have either been involved in a massive roster overhaul recently (Eagles, Redskins) with new people switching the direction of the build or a massive cash outlay in free agency (Giants) to try to sort out some problems of equal size.
Some of the notable names around the league also fall well short of the Cowboys current trend: Seattle was at 39 last season. Atlanta 31, New England 38, and Pittsburgh came in at 36. Now, obviously, it should be pointed out that there is no magic to this formula. A team with 31 can still go to the Super Bowl and you can, of course, build a very powerful team while not subscribing to this strategy.
But, I have tracked this trend over the years and there are two benefits to being on the list of teams that are in the top 10 on this list year after year.
1) The list of teams that have the most homegrown players on their roster seems to correlate in a larger sample to long-term winning. Every time we assemble this list, we see that the teams who consistently win are also the teams that do not resort to free agency or the waiver wire to fill gaps in their squad. It happens to everyone, but those who rely on it do not win consistently. New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Seattle are the four teams that annually are the most "home-grown" since I started charting this in 2009 and they also have been in the playoffs regularly.
2) The list of teams who draft and sign their own talent out of college then have a magnificent advantage of extending those players to team-friendly contracts can help you manage your salary cap and your expenditures to keep your team together for years to come. There are limitations - Seattle has found that out the hard way as they have signed too many players to "top of the charts" deals and have not had enough money elsewhere to fill all holes. But if you do this right, you can keep your core well past their 30th birthdays and not have to panic-buy in free agency to fix problems very often.
Collins is a tremendous talent and one I thought was among the very best players in that draft - a sure first-rounder. Through a series of events that no doubt rocked his world, he went from that status to undrafted with a bizarre link to a murder case right before the draft. Once he was cleared of that connection, he was free to make his living in pro football, but the damage financially was done.
I had him as my best 2015 OL draft prospect - ahead of Brandon Scherff (Redskins) and Ereck Flowers (Giants) who both went in the top 10. I submit he may have gone before one or both of them, but that is academic now.
Scherff received a 4-year/$21M rookie deal and Flowers received 4-year/$14.4M while Collins ended up with three years for $1.5M. Collins lost a ton of money as you can see, but this recent extension will bring his five-year earnings to about $17M. Scherff will get about $35M and Flowers will be at roughly $26-$27M. So while Collins is back in the mix, I suspect the intent was to get him close to the Byron Jones number which, after they pick up his fifth-year option is going to be roughly five years, $17-$18M.
Now, the Cowboys will have Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Collins locked in for the next three years, and Zack Martin's deal will be next. His, of course, will be far longer than Collins', and will probably split the difference between Tyron's annual value ($12.2m) and Frederick's (9.4m). Martin could eclipse $11M a year and then they will have secured the entire first-round OL they have built through their primes. Collins will have to prove he is to that level, but I believe he is and therefore will also join this group.
Now, back to Seattle's issues with the cap because that is relevant here. They were able to go to the Super Bowl and build their best teams when Russell Wilson was making almost no money. When he started making his present deal which pays him about $22M a year, the cap space dried up. Certainly, the Cowboys are on the clock here as they try to get rid of Romo's deal and before they have to pay Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott contracts that reflect their spots (assuming they maintain them) at their position. That is where things get tricky because you have to make tough decisions at a certain point.
And, you might need to pay the market rate on defenders to make this team a Super Bowl contender for the long-term. It is not easy in a salary-capped sport, but getting extensions done before free agency often saves a ton of money for the club.
In short, these next three seasons - 2017, 2018, and 2019 - might be the best "window" the Cowboys have.
The Cowboys never used to be the team that has control of the chess pieces. But, by being determined to spend your money on your own drafted players (which requires you to draft the right guys on a regular basis) and sitting out free agency for others, the Cowboys have ascended to a team with 29 wins in the last three seasons and a team that has a very healthy cap situation, roster age and future outlook.
And, for that, the front office should be complimented. It wasn't like this six years back when they started Bill Nagy and Phil Costa in Week 1 because they had no money.