Offseason to-do list for the Dallas Cowboys

Neil Hornsby takes a look at the Cowboys' top priorities in the offseason, including contract negotiations, free agent targets, and draft prospects.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Offseason to-do list for the Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys are coming off a disappointing 4-12 campaign, just one season removed from nearly making it to the NFC championship game.

How can they get back on track in 2016? Here’s a look at potential cuts, re-signings, free-agent pickups and draft targets:


1. Cuts and negotiations

CB Morris Claiborne: The first thing the Cowboys need to do is part ways with Claiborne. They have an option on the 2012 No. 6 overall selection, and they’d have to be a lot more optimistic than me to pick it up. After a promising rookie year, a combination of injuries (he’s averaged about 50 percent of the defensive snaps) and poor play (this year he’s our 109th ranked CB) left the front office with few reasons to retain his services.

CB Brandon Carr: It’s not that he’s been terrible, but he’s never come close to justifying his ridiculous contract. A cap number this year of $13 million is about four times what he’s worth, and the Cowboys can free up about $6 million on release. However, given Claiborne is probably gone and Orlando Scandrick will be returning from injury, leaving things in just his and the apparently capable hands of Byron Jones may be a step too far. My preference here is to negotiate him down to a more reasonable number (say, $7 million, which is the amount of dead money on release) and keep him as contingency for another year.

RT Doug Free: After Week 11, his departure was looking like a no-brainer, but he’s turned things around since allowing just one sack and six hurries and grading out as our ninth-best tackle. Is it too little, too late? At a saving of $2.5 million, you still need to replace him, and La’el Collins looks raw. I’d prefer to season the rookie for another year at guard, and trust Free can do a decent job for one more season.


2. Players to re-sign before free agency

LB Rolando McClain: As you often see with players coming back after an enforced rest, he played poorly for four weeks, but picked it up thereafter. He’s a superior athlete who knows how to cover, and that’s a skill set in short supply in the NFL. He’d be the only free agent I’d make definite plans to resign before free agency.

DE Greg Hardy: The Cowboys rightfully took a tremendous amount of heat for signing him, but on the field he is an elite player and had some superior performances. If the market is lukewarm in free agency, I’d expect the Cowboys to take another run at him, but only if the price is less than $8 million a year.

DE Jeremy Mincey: He’s a decent bit part player, and at about $1.5 million APY over a couple of years, a worthwhile addition, but certainly more a secondary target than a primary.


3. Top free-agent targets

There’ll be a little money for free agency this year, but not much particularly if they get McClain. I’d recommend they don’t attempt to play initially, but splurge on maybe one player in the secondary market and look to play more in the tertiary phase.

Secondary free-agent targets

WR Marvin Jones, Bengals: The success of the Bengals may have driven his price too high, but he has the ability to either draw coverage from Dez Bryant or capitalize if he doesn’t.

FS Walter Thurmond, Eagles: One of Chip Kelly’s success stories. The lack of effort by many teams in free agency may leave this star relatively unsought after, and he has the skill set in coverage the Cowboys need to complement Barry Church’s “in-the-box” ability.

Tertiary free-agent targets

WR Rishard Matthews, Dolphins: Did a decent job in difficult circumstances with the Dolphins. May be an under-the-radar guy who they can get for a reasonable price

FS Isa Abdul-Quddus (Lions), Robert Golden (Steelers), Chris Clemons (Cardinals): A few things in common with these guys; they are all good in deep coverage and relatively unknown. Maybe less so Golden (in terms of coverage), but he compensates for that by being one of the best special teamers around, contributing significantly in five of six phases.

CB Josh Robinson, Vikings: When Josh Robinson played slot corner, he used to be a trivia question around PFF: “Which corner has a higher completion percentage targeting against him than throwing against air?” In 2013, he allowed 39-of-41 targets to be completed. This year, he’s played all of six snaps, but it’s 2014 that is the season of interest. Playing 94 percent of his snaps on the outside (mostly LCB), he did a passable (if hardly outstanding) job. Unlike most teams, with Jones and Scandrick, the Cowboys are solid in the slot, but need help outside, and while Robinson will never be a long-term solution, he’s better than what they currently have at a significantly lower price.

QB Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks: Oh, how I’d love to put the name of Chase Daniel in here (I feel he could be this years Tyrod Taylor), but I just feel the bidding war for him will be too intense for the Cowboys’ financial status. I could be wrong, and maybe the league doesn’t like him as much as I do, but if they do, all of the 49ers, Rams, and Texans have about three times as much cap space as Dallas. Therefore, I’m going with the QB the Cowboys can afford most likely to deliver given a decent supporting cast, and that’s Jackson. I firmly believe that, with him, the Cowboys would have won at least four more games and been in the thick of the playoffs.


4. 2016 NFL draft needs

QB: They have to look at quarterback (maybe multiple times), and this is as good a year as any, with a class that might be lacking star power, but appears to have decent depth.

CB: Dallas could really use an outside guy, possibly looking at one with the No. 4 overall pick. Florida State corner Jalen Ramsey graded as our second-best college cornerback and could be an option.

G: If they let go of Doug Free and move La’el Collins to right tackle in 2017, then they’ll need a replacement left guard.

RB: When a player like Darren McFadden can look half-decent playing behind your line, you know it’s pretty good. One thing is for sure here—a high-round pick is not essential to running the ball and that goes doubly when you have the best group in football.

| PFF Founder

Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • David LaMantia

    May be a stretch financially, but Lamar Miller is an interesting target if the Cowboys decide to go RB in free agency. He has the skill set to fit the system and is a clear upgrade over McFadden. He has been frustrated with his role in Miami, making touches and role in the offense major pulls for him in free agency, both he would find in Dallas. I wouldn’t be surprised if Murry’s big deal and performance further dampens the already low market price on RBs, making him more affordable. Just a thought.

    • JudoPrince

      They need to replace Guard with Linebacker as top draft need. McClain is not a guaranteed signing yet and the market could become unexpectedly high for him. Even if McClain does sign, Sean Lee has a long history of injury concerns so you definitely need depth here. Letting Claiborne walk is a no brainier while Carr should certainly be released if he doesn’t accept a sizable pay cut. There are two really good outside CB’s at the top of this draft the Cowboys can easily replace him with, while they get back a very solid CB in Scandrick.

    • Sean Mounts

      I don’t think Miami will let him walk but I’ve been advocating for the Cowboys to go after him for a while.

      • David LaMantia

        It’ll depend on how well the new coach pitches him to stay and how much faith they have in Ajaya(spelling?). If he’s as frustrated as he seems it might take Miami more money to retain him than it would cost other teams with more attractive situations. I definitely agree it’s likely not going to happen and there are a lot of moving parts, just think there are a number of signs that it could work.

    • alex

      doug martin would be a more interesting FA for the cowboys to look at. he fits the boys running style better than miller.

  • TiredProgrammer

    First think to do during the off season for the Cowboys!
    1) Hire a HC
    2) Hire a OC
    3) Find a #2 QB, one that will actually be able to step in when Romo gets hurt this season and he will.

    • TL

      Did u want to hire a head coach last year when we were 12-4 or an OC when we were top 5 in the NFL? Relax, this isn’t madden

      • TiredProgrammer

        I have been wanting Dallas to hire a HC ever since Garrett came back to the Cowboys as a coach!!! Garrett has been a loser for Dallas since day 1, as a backup QB and as a coach! IMHO

      • Levin Adkins

        Garrett bought himself more time with the players buying in to his system but the coaching staff really dropped the ball this year. Should have been able to win more than 1 game without Romo. Linehan was out there still calling plays like Romo was under center. Next season will be make or break for the coaching staff.

        • Adrian

          Totally agree on the coaching staff dropping the ball. They need discipline type coaches. Way too many penalties by O-line. Linehan did not adjust to any of the backups they had. Hopefully all learned their lesson including JJones!

          • Dana Lucas

            The O-Line issue was complicated when management/someone let Bill Callahan leave!

          • Levin Adkins

            i dont think Garrett is the wrong type of personality for the team bc they really like him and they play hard for him. I think overall as far as game management is where he could still improve. It doesnt matter if the players like you if you dont give them the best chance to succeed.

  • Levin Adkins

    I cant agree with their assessment of the Cowboys at all. La’el Collins is not moving to RT. They like him at Guard, they drafted Chaz Green for a reason(even if hes been injured). They want Byron Jones at safety so this notion of getting a FS to pair with Church doesnt make sense. If anything, they would be going after a SS to pair with Jones and replace Church. They also are making excuses for McClain who is very inconsistent in the way he prepares for games. Some games he looked dominant and others he looked like he should be a backup. Sean Lee made the defense click and McClain struggled when Lee wasnt in the lineup

    I agree that they need to bring back one of Carr or Claiborne, maybe even both. If Claiborne is on a team friendly deal then i would welcome him back. He didnt play as poorly as their stats indicate when i watched the games.

    • Reginald Lewis

      why bring back corner backs that can’t tackle in the open field or create turnovers? neither has had an interception in years.

      • Romosexual_Ca

        Did you check out what Dallas was ranked aginst the pass this year? They may not be great but sometimes… you’re better with the so-so you know vs the unknown. Dallas was ranked #5 against the pass. I know, it surprised me too!

        • Reginald Lewis

          You can’t just go by ranking. they give big cushions and teams march straight down the field. They are all very bad open field tacklers. they lost every game in the 4th quarter because they couldn’t make a play. All they do is turn a look at each other with their hands up. Turnovers win football games.

      • Levin Adkins

        the whole defense cant create turnovers so why single those two out? It makes no sense to let two of the top 3 corners go with no backup plan in place. Relying on a rookie is a crapshoot and the FA corner market is very thin. Cowboys are better off sticking with one of the two and adding another corner through the draft in the mid rounds.

  • Boy’sfan

    I like the objectivity in this assessment of the cowboys. It seems that too often Jerry get’s personally invested in a player or coach, which tends to inflate their worth and extend their stay (i.e., Claiborne). I think McClain is a Jekyl and Hyde type player, but when he plays, he really looks good, which makes him hard to dismiss outright. I know that writers will say that when you study tape, Carr really isn’t as bad as he seems. But, to be an elite team, you need guys that at least pose a threat for an interception, which neither of the corners did this year. To me, that is the bottom line. No quarterback in the NFL is wary of throwing at the cowboys corners. However, its painful to think of the cowboys drafting another corner with a high pick after the Claiborne and Newman (please don’t tell me you think he turned out) projects.

    I’m much less hopeful than some when it comes to the Dallas receivers. While Dez poses a threat every week, he is not elusive enough to have huge games while being double and triple teamed. You have spend the money/pick to complete that offense. If Romo has two threats, not counting a tight end or Beasley, the cowboys will have a top five offense again.

    The pain is still to fresh to talk about a back-up quarterback. The cowboys should have gone after a Mike Vick type player before the season. You don’t need an all-star, you need a guy that can go 2-2 when your quarterback gets knocked out. They scraped the bottom of the barrel and paid for it.

  • DnH Fan

    Be competitive in trying to resign McClain and Hardy. The linebacker position needs McClain’s speed, a speed that was lost when Bruce Carter left. Hardy, well he’s just very good at what he does on the field. 6 sacks in one year isn’t too shabby and he’ll just get better he and Gregory and Lawrence continue to meld as a OLB/DE unit. Sign him to another short contract based on his off field issues. Mincey was a beast in 2014, give him a shot to get back up to that level with a short contract.

    Mo has got to go. He has made only a handful of great plays in his NFL career. He’s had 3 total interceptions and 22 passes defended since 2012; nothing short of pathetic. Compare this to Richard Sherman who has 22 interceptions and 62 passes defended since 2012, or Patrick Peterson (paired with Mo at LSU) who has 15 interceptions and 44 passes defended since 2012. He’s too short to play today’s receivers.
    Now Carr; he is slow and ineffective. This is proven by the 15+ yd cushion he gives receivers so he doesn’t get beat. Stats since with Dallas (also started in 2012): 6 interceptions and 37 passes defended.

    You can’t have horrible CB play like this in a league that heavily promotes passing. We need CB’s built like receivers.

    I have disliked Free for many years. In 2012 he had the most false starts of any RT’s. Then shortly thereafter Jones resigns him ~ sigh. He’s also the source of most pressure because teams attack him more than Tyron Smith, for obvious reasons.

    The biggest disappointment this year, except for 3 back up QB’s that could total only 1 win, was Terrance Williams. Dez was out for several games and he had a chance to step up into the #1 WR role and failed miserably, not getting open, not completing routes and dropping pass after pass. Not sure of the idea to bring in Marvin Jones as the #2 WR. I have a feeling Butler might work his way into this role and he’s bigger than Jones.

    Walter Thurmond isn’t that good. I’d steer clear of him otherwise we’ll be stuck in another Carr or Claiborne situation.

    I like the idea of having T Jack as a back-up QB but the Seahawks will fight to keep him as their #2.

    Address the issues of a very subpar secondary, this is the first priority. Next find a promising QB in the draft that Romo can mentor and pray Romo can get through at least 2 more years.

    • Reginald Lewis

      So why bring back Claiborne? he can’t cover or tackle. And he is hurt just as much as Lee.

      • DnH Fan

        I said Mo has got to go. Bringing Claiborne back would be a huge mistake and they need to get rid of Carr. They need new CB’s and now that the DB coach is leaving they can bring in someone who can actually coach the position. I like the possibility of bringing in Darren Woodson.

  • Brandon

    I don’t believe Jackson would fit in Dallas. With Tony Romo still there n Garrett as hc than they will always have a pocket passer. I would love to see them trade Romo for another first round pick n a player. Maybe send him to the browns for the #2 pick n take Goff from California n try to get one of the running backs from Cleveland or go for Hayden but I don’t think Browns let him go even tho he got hurt. And then with the other first round pick at #4 they should take either another linebacker or I’d say go for Ezekiel Elliott he’d be a good fit for our running schemes. And definitely resign both McClain n Hardy

  • CB

    Except Byron Jones and D.Law and A. Hitchens every other player on the defensive side needs to be upgraded… that inlcudes Lee. When Lee is in the game he is dynamite.. but the key is “when he is in the game”. Lee has never played a full season EVER! Not even in college! The fact that he can’t stay on the field makes him a liability (tallent drops off, scheme fall as apart and roster is constantly being churned to fill in for him). dangl him as trade bait and i bet the league doesn value him( due to injuries) as highly as some in Dallas think.

    It is clear that Byron Jones is a FS and the future at that position (potential pro-bowler). Dallas would be foolish to part with both Claiborne and Carr in the same year and move Jones to CB. Carr has no future with this team and is over paid. Cutt Carr and try to bring back Claiborne on the cheap. Carr has no future with this team.

    I see them resigning Leary(RFA) and not resigning Bernadeau (URFA). Chaz Green is the future RT not La’el Collins. Collins is a beast at LG and a natural fit. Leave him there.

    I have seen at least 7 different guys projected/mocked to dallas so far at # 4. That tells me that there is no clear cut top 5 in this draft and it is lacking star power across the board. Without star power at the QB position.. don’t waste the #4 overall pick on a guy that would be a late first or early 2nd in any other draft! If Bosa is not there at 4… then trade back in this years first round and try to pick up another first rounder for 2017! Dallas cant afford to reach at #4 and it looks like after Tunsil and Bosa…the talent really drops! Remember… what the scouts do and the meadia and fans don’t consider the 2017 potential draft class when ranking 2016 draft on the big board. Imagine the possibilities of a later 1st this year and 2 first rounders in 2017!

    • Steven Gus Maxwell

      It is way to early to be looking at Mock drafts. Don’t buy into the hype

    • Felipe Haces

      Man there is a drop off in talent but you cannot say there’s only 2 elite guys, guys like myles jack and ezequiel elliot have the atheltic ability and instincts to be superstars in the league or even Treadwell, you need to look at this draft class a little more because there is superstar value, personally I think Bosa was somewhat abscent this year, take a look at Shaq Lawson of Clemson, may be raw but has a lot of talent as a pass rusher

  • Dana Lucas

    Dallas QB needs trump all other needs. Getting Paxton Lynch, for his height and arm strength over Goff, sitting behind and learning from Tony & Jason for a few years is more important than a CB/FS/RB that you could get later in the draft. But a future QB is a MUST.

    • Rob rod

      Sleeper QBs – Vern Adams Ducks & Kevin Hogan Whizkids. Couldn’t be more different yet equally intreguing.

  • Joe Sandy M Faulkner

    There will be lots of discussion over the next 112 days as to the draft and for free agency. I agree on the renegotiation of Carr. Claiborne played better than most thought and numbers aren’t always the best way to evaluate. I wouldn’t offer Claiborne, Hardy or R. McClain contracts until late in free agency or actually in Hardy and McClain case until after the draft, they aren’t going to get many if any calls. Chaz Green will take over for Free this year so forget Collins moving from LG.

    I do agree that you don’t need to spend a 1st on a RB but if Elliott or Henry are there at 34 then you take either one or wait until the 3rd for the kid from Arkansas. QB is something I would address late third with a trade possibly or in the 4th round.

    Ramsey is a good talent and maybe the 4th pick overall but have to wait out the process because what if Bosa is at 4, do you take him then instead or what if San Francisco offers their 1st (7th overall), 2nd and 3rd to make sure they get Goff if he is there. To much to determine just yet.

    As to free agency, if you are going to make a splash then go for Ashlon Jeffery at WR. Best bet for me would be RGIII as the backup QB, Sean Smith at CB (had a good year at KC, great size and fits the system here and won’t command top $$), and Danny Trevathan at the MIKE LB spot. Then maybe Treadwell at WR after a trade down in the draft (because no way is Chicago parting with Jeffery).

  • Cowboysdude

    First thing they REALLY need to do is find a real HC

    • Romosexual_Ca

      You would have fired Landry after 4 seasons.

      • Cowboysdude

        Landry wasn’t handed a team with talent he had to build it. He had the knowledge to do so. Besides you’re comparing apples to oranges. WHY do cowboys fans live in the past. Next thing is he is 2 games over .500… how many years do you think it should take? 10? That’s what it’s heading for.. he’s been here 7 years… I think he’s proven he isn’t the guy. But Thanks for playin!

        • Romosexual_CA

          Seven years? So you’re counting his OC time as well… Those three years when the Dallas Offense was top 5 each year. I just believe in continuity. I’m sure all Cowboy fans would love to be Tampa right now! Oh wait…

  • Robert Boucher

    How about trading Twill or Escobar for a CB or FS or decent picks? Play Lucky and Butler more. If the pieces can be found there then it helps with the draft options. I’m all for defense but Dallas has to find and groom a QB.

    • Levin Adkins

      TWill and Escobar are worth nothing right now lol. Cowboys would be lucky to get 6th round picks for them especially when they are both FAs at the end of next year. Cowboys really need a receiver opposite Dez. Butler could be that guy but hes very inconsistent. Personally, I think the Cowboys need a speed receiver because defenses can really play the offense honest because there is no deep threat. Butler is the closest person they have to that. Whitehead has the speed but for an undersized receiver, it is tough to be effective downfield when you have more of those 50/50 balls

  • Levin Adkins

    People assume that everyone can just replicate what the Seahawks did and be effective. The Seahawks secondary and front 7 work in perfect harmony to be a dominant force in the league. The Cowboys defense doesnt have a reliable pass rush so the corners are left out to dry a lot. This is not an excuse for the corners as they have been the definition of average but just trying to give some perspective. People say get corners that are the size of receivers, well, aside from Sherman, Peterson and MAYBE Sean Smith, how many of these “big” corners are truly successful in the league. Last time I checked, the majority of the corners people place at the top of the list are 6’0″ or shorter. What makes a corner great is technique and being able to use that technique to mask your weaknesses. What is funny is noone made such a big fuss about big corners until the LOB came along, now all of a sudden that is the only type of corner fans want.

    • Rother Vandross

      I don’t know, I was a fan of Nnamdi back in Oakland. Always appreciated how fast he was for a 6-2 corner. Matter of fact. Pete Carroll was singing his praises before he went and got him a Richard Sherman or anyone else.

  • Eric

    Get QB Carson Weitz,keep qb Morre,get best TE just Witten catch& block,RB, CB,OL gruad ,

  • Voidhelix

    I think they can grab one quality FA this window. And IMO that should be a FS, either Berry or Gipson. Byron Jones is a solid cover guy, but IMO he`s more adept at tackling. Move him to SS, cut Church ( FAR too many missed tackles off the edge). A Gipson and Jones safety tandem would be awesome. Reduce Carr at LCB, and draft a RCB. Someone like Kendall Fuller in the 2nd.

  • Bernard Jiggetts

    Y we always get defense players we need a back up qb that will back Antonio tony Romo, cb, fs.and a gud special team player