Why Cowboys should re-sign free agents Greg Hardy, Jeremy Mincey
2015 was not the season that the Cowboys had hoped for. After a division championship in 2014 powered by an emergent offensive line and a defense that took many by surprise, Dallas was on an upward trajectory. Last season withered on the vine for the Cowboys, though; unable to cope with an injury to Tony Romo the defense showed its former frailties, and nobody at a skill position was able to stand up and lead in Romo’s absence. So, as the countdown to the new league year goes on, what do the Cowboys have to do in free agency to re-discover their upward momentum? Who needs to go, who needs to stay and where do they need a boost from outside?
DE Greg Hardy
The biggest name on the docket for the Cowboys in free agency is Greg Hardy, and at this point, do they really have a choice but to try and keep him? His off-field baggage is well documented, and I won’t make that the focus here, but the Cowboys’ actions relating to Hardy this year made it clear that this was not a road-block to keeping Hardy in Dallas. Though he didn’t quite hit an elite level of performance, Hardy proved this season (81.9 overall grade) that he is a player worth keeping, and the key for the Cowboys is to ensure that they don’t get into a bidding war with themselves for the former Panther’s services. His off-field baggage will limit his market, and the Cowboys should be in a strong position to retain Hardy on their terms.
DE Jeremy Mincey
Staying on the defensive line, the Cowboys would do well to keep hold of veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey, who in large parts carried the Cowboys’ pass rush in 2014. Though Dallas would like to see DeMarcus Lawrence and Greg Hardy carry the bulk of the pass rush, the Broncos have reminded us—along with many other teams—that you can never have too many pass rushers, and the Cowboys would be well served to retain Mincey’s services for rotation and insurance purposes. Though he only racked up 17 pressures last season, Mincey led all Dallas defensive ends with 50 during the 2014 regular season.
LB Rolando McClain
Though he suffered a down season in 2015, Rolando McClain showed plenty in 2014 as an all-round linebacker, not just a thumper against the run, that should buy him another year with the Cowboys.
RB Robert Turbin
He came into the mix late and didn’t get many opportunities as the Cowboys loaded up on Darren McFadden to replace DeMarco Murray, but even if just for a strong showing against the Packers in Week 14, Dallas would be well served to give Robert Turbin another look with a star on his helmet.
TE James Hanna
The longevity of Jason Witten’s career has perhaps limited opportunities for his backups to develop, but James Hanna has found a niche in the Cowboys’ offense as a run-blocker while he waits for an expanded opportunity. Hanna finished the season just outside our top 10 graded tight ends as a run-blocker, and the Cowboys would be wise to retain him to support their offensive line.
CB Morris Claiborne
Any deal that it would take to retain Morris Claiborne would likely be too rich for what his first four years in the NFL suggest he is worth to the Dallas Cowboys. Claiborne earned the worst grade of his career in coverage in 2015, surrendering a passer rating above 100 on passes targeted into his coverage for the third time in his four-year career. Viewed by many as a sure thing high in the 2012 draft, Claiborne has fallen well short of expectations, and were he not carrying the tag of “former first-round pick,” there would be far less interest in him as a free agent acquisition. The Cowboys should know all they need to about Claiborne at this point, and let someone else overpay for the potential that some may still see in a former top 10 pick.
DT Nick Hayden
2015 was Nick Hayden’s best season since joining the Cowboys in 2013, and it was still poor by league-wide standards. In terms of overall grade, Hayden (48.9) sat at 115 of 123 qualifying interior defenders (3-4 defensive ends, defensive tackles), and he fared little better in his specialty as a run-defender (45.5). As a space-eater, Hayden offers little for the Cowboys, and he certainly doesn’t make many plays against the run or pass. With Tyrone Crawford still productive as a three-tech pass rusher, an upgrade over Hayden as a space-eater and run-destroyer at one-tech should be a primary target this off-season.
DE Jack Crawford
Staying on the defensive side, Jack Crawford saw plenty of playing time this season, and was unproductive at both defensive tackle and defensive end. Crawford notched up only 12 pressures all season long, and none in 128 snaps over the final months of the season.
QB Matt Cassel
The Cowboys already signaled their intent by starting Kellen Moore for the final two weeks of the season, but after a disastrous eight-week spell under center, Dallas may prove to be the final stop in Matt Cassel’s journeyman career.
The Cowboys aren’t exactly flushed with cap space, and will need to make moves to create room, so shrewd tier-2 and tier-3 free agents will need to make up the core of their free agent spending, along with not overspending on their own talent.
DE Jaye Howard or NT Terrance Knighton
To upgrade their run defense, the Cowboys could do worse than to look at Jaye Howard or Terrance Knighton if they were to shake loose from Kansas City or Washington, respectively. Knighton would be on more of a short-term deal, while Howard, as a run-defending specialist, may be someone that the Cowboys could work a team-friendly deal over a few years to help upgrade their defense for the long haul, allowing them to invest in the draft at premium positions.
CB Casey Hayward
One young corner who could shake loose from his current employer is Casey Hayward up in Green Bay. After an exceptional rookie season in 2012, Hayward has somehow struggled to re-establish himself as a full-time player (only doing so this season) and his playing time snub in 2014 may cause him to seek new pastures. The Cowboys invested heavily at corner a few years ago, and weren’t adequately rewarded by Brandon Carr or Morris Claiborne. At the right price tag, Hayward would be a significant upgrade in terms of performance level, without putting the pressure on the Cowboys to pick a corner high in the draft, and then placing that pressure on that corner to deliver immediately.