IRVING – Dallas entered free agency intent on second-tier bargains, achieved that goal and yet, in its mind, somehow still made a Jerry Jonesian “splash” with the acquisitions of pass-rusher Greg Hardy and running back Darren McFadden and the retention of receiver Cole Beasley and right tackle Doug Free.
“We’ve been in situations where you have to pay too much for players,” Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said as the free-agent window opened three weeks ago. “You’ve got to be very careful there. We’re certainly going to be that way. We’re going to look to be efficient. If that proves to be productive then that would be good.”
It has been productive. It has been good.
All four of the aforementioned signed highly cap-friendly deals with Dallas — though Hardy could eventually be paid like the first-tier talent he is (minus the domestic-violence involvement). His one-year contract is being billed as a “$13-million deal” but its immediate cap impact is just $3.2 million, with no guarantees. That allows the Cowboys to follow the lead of Stephen Jones and avoid being hamstrung financially — and allows the team to part ways with Hardy if he becomes a problem.
Ideally, you’d like to sign gifted people with pure character who come affordably. But, as Jerry notes, assembling a football team simply doesn’t allow for everything to be “ideal.”
“The real world is that you don’t get all that,” Jerry said. “One of the things that we need to do at all times is be looking toward becoming a better football team. That’s all of our jobs.’’
So the Cowboys (like every other program in every other sport at every level, and most every other non-sports enterprise, too) try to assemble a group with as many of those positive traits (talent, character and affordability) as possible.
They retained Free at a fraction of what Jacksonville paid to hire his backup Jermey Parnell, saved $400,000 by tendering the trusted slot-receiver Beasley, and view McFadden not so much as the replacement for departed star DeMarco Murray but rather as a possible replacement for the untrustworthy backup Joseph Randle.
Dallas isn’t interested in spending much on bringing back the enigmatic Rolando McClain and has signed Vikings-ex Jasper Brinkley to possibly play middle linebacker. There are still holes in the linebacking corps and the draft can help there, as well as with a first-team running back. But the biggest coup will be reaching a “Cowboys For Life” agreement with receiver Dez Bryant by the July 15 deadline to lift his franchise tag, a move that will both free up cap room and provide Dallas with one of the sport’s most dangerous weapons.
The Cowboys will also dream The Improbable Dream of Adrian Peterson in silver-and-blue … even as such a chase would figure to violate Stephen’s goals of being “careful” and “efficient.”
But the judgement so far? The Cowboys front office has made a series of splashy-enough moves that make football sense and financial sense … all while setting aside the “marketing sense” that will surely come if they’ve handled the other departments properly.