Free Agency Will Put the 2016 Version of the Dallas Cowboys to Rest

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 1: Barry Church #42 of the Dallas Cowboys walks off the field with a fist raised after the Cowboys forced an errant throw on a two point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings on December 1, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Cowboys defeated the Vikings 17-15. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

During his post-season press conference head coach Jason Garrett made mention that the 2016 team would never be together again. First year quarterback Dak Prescott echoed that sentiment a few weeks later during his pressers at the Pro Bowl. Both men were eluding to the fact that Free Agency will put the 2016 version of the Dallas Cowboys to rest.

Free Agency Will Put the 2016 Version of the Dallas Cowboys to Rest

Looking at the team’s list of Unrestricted Free Agents confirms possibly two of the Cowboys starters will not be returning to the team. Wide Receiver and Defensive Back seem to be where the team will be hit the hardest. Here’s a look at the Cowboys options for re-signing some of their own free agents.

Wide Receiver

By the numbers, slot receiver Cole Beasley would have been the number one receiver on the Cowboys roster. The majority of his receptions came out of the team’s three-receiver set, meaning both Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams were on the field with him. Now that Williams is an unrestricted free agent the Cowboys have to decide whether to re-sign him for a significant pay-raise or let him test the waters in the open market.

Williams’ backup Brice Butler is also a free agent. They are almost identical in size but Butler has played for only three seasons compared to Williams’ four seasons. Beasley lacks the size to truly be considered a number two receiver. Therefore, it behooves the Cowboys to re-sign one of the two larger receivers. Both of the big receivers provide tremendous value as run blockers. They also provide Prescott with big targets to go along with Bryant who is clearly the number one pass-catcher on the team.

Dependability

Statistically, Williams finished the season with 44 catches for 594 yards including four touchdowns which made him number four on the team’s receiving list. Butler had only 16 receptions for 219 yards but he finished with one less touchdown than Williams. This bodes well for Butler considering his 6’3” 215-pound frame. Butler has shown some of the same tendencies as Williams. Ironically, Butler has managed to make most of the tough catches but has dropped some of the simple ones. Williams has done the same throughout his four-year career.

Williams, on the other hand, has developed nicely. He has become an intelligent route-runner and his speed has enabled him to blow by some unsuspecting defensive backs on occasion. Ideally, Williams would be the clear-cut favorite to return as the team’s number two receiver but his asking price may be too steep, garnering potentially $8.2 million per season on the open market. Butler could come at a lower price and provide the same kinds of plays that Williams has provided with an increased workload.

Defensive Back

If a wide receiver is an area of concern in Cowboys free agency brain, defensive back is going to be a migraine. The team has four of its premier defensive backs up for free agency this off-season. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne along with safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox have all completed the final year of their deals. All of them had decent years but Carr is said to be contemplating retirement while Claiborne, Church, and Wilcox missed time due to injury once again.

Many believe Claiborne was having his best year until he was hit by the injury bug in week seven. Claiborne returned after nine weeks but left the divisional playoff game after one-half of play. Carr was asked to follow the opposition’s number one receiver for most of the year. Church was clearly the brains behind the Cowboys backline and Wilcox was a ball-hawking hitter in a season where most expected the player to be cut during the pre-season.

Health Concerns vs. Inexperience

Of the four players, Carr is probably the most valuable. But all four of them are quality defenders. Church has become a bit injury-prone over the past five seasons as well. However, replacing him with a rookie is a possibility. There are a number of options available in the upcoming draft class. This would make second-year hybrid safety Byron Jones and fourth-year player Jeff Heath the elder statesmen in the secondary heading into training camp. Heath has shown flashes the past two season but he’s not really considered a starting safety in the NFL.

Church’s market value is set at $4.2 million per year. The 28-year-old may have two or three good seasons left in him but how many games will he be available to play in? He has only played a full 16 week season twice in his seven-year career. The Cowboys would do better to select a player with big-play capabilities in the early rounds of the draft. Church was signed in 2010 as a rookie free agent and earned his stripes but he hasn’t shown the ability to affect games. Playmakers are desperately needed to resurrect the Cowboys defense.

The team has some big decisions to make. After the first round dismissal, it’s safe to say the Cowboys would probably still be playing had the defense come up with one more stop against the Green Bay Packers. Many people say defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has worked his magic with the defensive talent he’s been handed. Some of us say he’s asked them to do things they can’t do, one time too many. Ultimately, the difference in the success of the team will always come down to defense. Defense wins championships!

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