The Cowboys are entering the 2016 NFL off season with more needs than draft picks. They not only have multiple positions lacking depth, but several key players are entering free agency.
I normally discourage being too active in free agency because more times than not, you end up over-paying for avg NFL starters. However, as the result of failing to hit on mid to late round draft picks in recent years, and/or an inability to develop players, the Cowboys have some major depth issues.
The Cowboys enter free agency this off season with glaring needs along the defensive line, the offensive line, in the secondary, at running back and wide receiver. The national media would like you to believe that the Cowboys biggest need is at quarterback, but I am here to tell you, nothing could be further from the truth.
Tony Romo gives the Cowboys the best chance of getting to and winning a Super Bowl. His back is healthier than it has been in 3 years and his Clavicle injury was on the opposite side of his throwing arm. 90% of playing QB in the NFL is mental. This is why you see guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Matt Hasselbeck still playing at a high level despite being older than Romo.
If the Cowboys want any chance of getting to the big show before the window closes on Jason Witten and Tony Romo, the front office needs to build a championship team around them. In order to do that, they need to fill some holes in free agency so they can enter the draft with the ability to draft the best player available rather than feeling the need to reach out of desperation.
Especially when this draft has the weakest quarterback class I have seen in a decade. I will maintain my stance that there is not a QB in this class that is better qualified than Kellen Moore to be the backup moving forward. I firmly believe with a full training camp to develop some chemistry with the receivers and get comfortable in the offense, you will agree he is capable of being the heir apparent. I am certain the Cowboys offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan, agrees. With all of that being said, below is my list of the Cowboys top 5 free agency targets.
It appears as though the Cowboys plan to pencil in their 1st round pick from 2015, Byron Jones, at free safety so he can properly learn and develop at a set position. Too many times opposing quarterbacks have taken advantage of poor safety play. Barry Church and JJ Wilcox (who is entering free agency) were both out of position a lot, took bad angles, got burnt in coverage and missed tackles resulting in big plays.
Berry is fully recovered from his bout with cancer and by far the best safety on the market. He is currently playing FS, but is physical enough to play the run as well, making him suited to play either safety position. This would give Marinelli the ability to move both safeties around and he could continue using Jones to cover the big TEs while Berry is over the top when they run single high coverage.
Safety is one of the hardest positions to find in the draft and other than Darian Thompson out of Boise, (who would be a reach at 4 and gone by round 2) I don’t see a solid day one starter. Safety play is imperative for the Tampa 2 defense and pairing Berry with Jones could prove to be a top 5 tandem in the NFL. It is one position worth spending on. (Alternate: George Iloka, S, Bengals. Age: 26)
The Tampa 2 defense is predicated on getting pressure by only rushing 4. In order for it to be successful, all of the pieces need to be in place. Much like Warren Sapp, Tyrone Crawford needs a solid NT eating up space and drawing double teams which would allow him to use his quickness to shoot the gap and get to the QB. Williams is still young and not only a solid run stuffer, but able to collapse a pocket. He amassed 65 tackles in 2015 which is almost unheard of for a NT. He also aids in creating lanes for the LBs. (Alternate: Brandon Mebane, Seahawks.)
Darren McFadden had a solid 2015 season, but the depth behind him has been suspect. I can’t figure out for the life of me why Miami abandoned the run so often with Miller in the backfield. He is the definition of a complete back. Lamar only had a 194 carries, but still amassed 872 yards and 8 TDs, while adding 47 receptions for 397 yards and 2 Tds. He is solid in blitz pick up and at 225 lbs he can move a pile to get the tough yards. (Alternate: Doug Martin, Tampa Bay.)
Jeremy Mincey is entering free agency and there are still question marks surrounding Randy Gregory. I believe DeMarcus Lawrence is ready to take the next step and move over to the RDE spot. It is a known fact that Gregory wont win any awards as a run stopper so he remains a situational pass rusher until he proves otherwise.
If the Cowboys don’t draft a top DE at 4 they need a bridge player to fill in until they develop a 3 down player. Hayes is 31, but still solid against the run and shows the ability to get to the QB. Hayes started 11 games in 2015 and amassed 53 tackles, 5.5 sacks and forced 2 fumbles. At 31 he could be a cost effective bridge player for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys are pretty solid along the offensive line, BUT….. They have little to no depth and both Mackenzy Bernadeu and Ronald Leary are entering free agency while the swing tackle position is up in the air as well. Let’s not forget that Doug Free has been barely average in pass protection. The Cowboys used their 3rd round pick on the injured Chaz Green who is yet to suit up in even a preseason game. Free has had nagging injuries and is no spring chicken.
I don’t know about you, but I want to make sure Tony Romo is protected. Barksdale isn’t what I would call an elite OT, but he was the most consistent player along the SD OL in 2015. SD may opt to resign him, but he wont command top dollar either. He could be a solid swing tackle and/or someone who could compete with Doug Free for the starting job. He is worth a look and would add some much needed depth. I believe the Cowboys will resign either Leary or Bernadeu, but OT remains a need: if nothing else, sign him as a bridge player until we see what we have in Green.