Why Cowboys should re-sign free agents Greg Hardy, Jeremy Mincey

Ben Stockwell identifies Dallas free agents to re-sign and let walk, as well as players the Cowboys should target.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Brad Penner)

(AP Photo/Brad Penner)

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?

Re-sign

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.

Let walk

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.

Target

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.

| Director of Analysis

Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.

  • Jacob Lamb

    Good Column, only beefs are the resigning of Robert Turbin and letting Claiborne walk.
    I would let Turbin walk as a low upside back who isn’t a straight power guy. If you are going to get a guy as a backup to DMac who is not a feature back option then they have to be able to do one thing REALLY well, either running between the tackles or short yardage. Or being a really great receiving back and Turbin is neither.
    I also would want to bring back Claiborne because I believe his best years are ahead of him and he was a better cover guy this year. The worst thing they could do is watch a #6 pick of theirs go star for another team. Bring him back, or another comparable corner so that you can go into the draft without a huge hole in the secondary. (hopefully Ramsey will fall to them but looking more doubtful all the time)
    Good read.
    thanks,

  • crosseyedlemon

    With all the key injuries the Cowboys had last year they still managed to stay in the running for a playoff spot until the final weeks so I don’t think they need to hit the panic button. Those injuries exposed their lack of depth though so they need to address that.

  • Greg Sturges

    Don’t disagree on the logic of resigning Hardy (I’d rather have him back than need to replace him) but the team has done everything but come right out and say they’re not that interested. Could be posturing though I guess.

    Real issue here is not resigning Jack Crawford, not sure what games you were watching but 4 sacks off the bench (when 8 was the team leader) is nothing to shake a stick at. Has position flex and great hustle/work ethic. High on my list of guys to retain

    • Jonny Kilroy

      Yea I was bit caught off guard to see Crawford on the “let walk” list. To get 4 sacks from the DT position, as only a situational player, that’s pretty impressive. And he’s still young and should still be pretty cheap

  • JudoPrince

    The Cowboys should be targeting a LB and CB with their first two draft picks; forget DE. Hardy with his solid yet non-elite production combined with the off-field baggage should warrant a favorable deal. That would give the Cowboys three capable DE pass rushers (Lawrence, Hardy, Gregory). Myles Jack seems logical with the first pick and CB in the 2nd round such as Jackson III, Mckenzie, or Eli Apple.

    • Tim Edell

      Well if they don’t re-sign Hardy and with Gregory once again showing his fondness for the good green the Cowboys are in desperate need for DE.

  • Johnny

    I say yes to resign Hardy, we already got destroyed by the media. Besides I think he will be better. Poor Nick, we need a run stopper bad!!! Burned me up how we did well against the pass then give up ten yards a carry. Please buy or draft a run stopper!!!.

  • Levin Adkins

    Turbin can go. Nothing he showed makes anyone feel that a rookie couldnt come in and do the same thing. I would like to see Hardy and McClain back at the right price. As for Mincey, I dont necessarily think he needs to be back, we could find a DE in FA or later in the draft for depth purposes. I hope 2015 was Hayden’s last year with the Cowboys. The coaches love him but I think they have finally realized they need to get someone better and hes a huge liability in the middle. If Goff is off the board I think we should grab either Ramsey or Jack and then in the 2nd round grab either a 1-tech like Johnson from Penn State or hope that by some grace a guy like Jarran Reed falls to us

    • Rod

      There’s a lot of good DT in draft..2nd pick should definitely focus on one

  • Zachary Mills

    I keep seeing Knighton floated as a possibility for some of these teams. Why? His grade hasn’t been stellar and he never seems to be in great shape. What gives?

  • RJ

    I agree with the top five to keep, but I would add Mo Claborne, he is a stud. I know people want more, but the guy plays great. I would add Nick Fairley and Trumaine Johnson. Trumaine Johnson would replace Brandon Carr, simply because Carr cost to much…

  • Dalen Erickson

    I really wanted Trumaine Johnson or Amukamara in FA. We really need a proven, big, physical CB who can take on big physical receivers, something we haven’t had in quite some time. Hayward would’ve been a good signing but Scandy really excels in the slot so Ideally I wanted someone who specialized in covering outside receivers. Carr has been a hindrance to this team for far too long. I don’t care how much dead money it leaves, if we can save a few Mil by releasing him we need to do it. If we could trick someone into taking him in a trade that would be great but nobody wants him for that much $. I believe we save 6 M on the cap in 16 if we just cut him and we could get a far better CB for our system for less than that per year. We signed Thornton, which is a big upgrade over Hayden at 1-tech but he’s only played 3-4 end in the NFL and this is the DT draft of the decade so why would we spend our limited FA money on a position we could EASILY cover in the draft? Seems like a waste to me. I think there are much better upgrades at 1 tech we could’ve drafted in rounds 2-3 and be able to use that money to get a proven NFL CB. I think Jack Crawford should be a high priority signing because of his versatility and how affordable he should be considering the limited amount of snaps he has taken. I could see him developing into a starting caliber 3-tech or LE. Howard was the guy I wanted if we decided to upgrade the 1-tech spot in FA but we didn’t jump on the opportunity. Knighton would’ve made more sense on a 1 year deal than Thornton as well.

  • Number 10

    Please resign the woman beater Greg Hardy.
    I and the rest of the NFC east fans look forward to the circus
    run by Jerry Jones.
    The worst part is listening Dallas trying to justify keeping the letches they sign every year.

    Does anyone know the over/under on Dez Bryant choking out his Grandma
    or how many times romo will suffer broken bones this year?

  • Ashley Foster

    Re-signing Hardy cannot be any worse than Hillary Clinton being allowed to get away with the crimes they said she committed, and she’s running for the Presidency?