FRISCO, Texas — NFL free agency is not over because, as Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones likes to say, player acquisition is a 365-day-a-year proposition.
But it certainly does slow down, especially with the draft approaching in a month.
The Cowboys are in Arizona for the NFL owners meetings this week, where the focus will be on league matters, such as expanding replay — but it is possible Robert Quinn‘s name will come up. Quinn visited the Cowboys last week, as the Miami Dolphins are looking to trade the defensive end. With both teams staying at the Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, it would seem natural that they would have some discussions about a deal.
If the Cowboys acquire Quinn, they will have used free agency the way they have intended: by filling holes in an efficient manner without using major salary-cap resources to get it done.
The Cowboys have signed Randall Cobb, Christian Covington, Kerry Hyder and George Iloka to free-agent deals and retained Jamize Olawale, Cameron Fleming, Tavon Austin and L.P. Ladouceur while chewing up roughly $14 million in cap room.
Not only that, they have shored up the roster so they can go into the NFL draft not having to reach for a position.
Cobb is the biggest signing, but the cost was just a one-year, $5 million deal. Cobb can help replace the production lost by Cole Beasley‘s departure in free agency to the Buffalo Bills. The Cowboys also re-signed Austin on a one-year deal, and his versatility can help the offense, too.
Neither wide receiver signing would prevent the Cowboys from selecting a receiver in the draft. Drafts have to be about the bigger picture. The Cowboys might have filled needs for 2019, but Cobb, Austin and Allen Hurns will be free agents in 2020. Technically, Amari Cooper is a free agent after the 2019 season, as well, but the feeling is the Cowboys will work out a long-term deal. At the very least, they could use the franchise or transition tag on him in 2020.
The Cowboys signed defensive linemen Covington and Hyder to one-year deals. Maliek Collins is set to be a free agent, as well. Randy Gregory could be a restricted free agent, depending on when (or if) he is reinstated from his indefinite suspension.
Without a long-term deal with DeMarcus Lawrence, who has been given the franchise tag the past two years, will be in his final year with the Cowboys. A third year on the franchise tag would cost the Cowboys the quarterback number, which is nearly $25 million this year.
That’s not going to happen.
This is considered an especially deep draft along the defensive line. Without a first-round pick because of the Cooper trade, the Cowboys will need to replenish the defensive front for the future, if not necessarily 2019.
“You can never have enough defensive line depth,” Jones said at the scouting combine.
The draft is also deep at tight ends, although T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant and Irv Smith Jr. should all be gone by pick No. 58. The Cowboys welcomed back Jason Witten from retirement and have Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz and Rico Gathers remaining from last season. They lost Geoff Swaim to the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency.
Witten is signed for one year and turns 37 in May. As much as he has turned back time for years (he was named to the Pro Bowl in 2017), the Cowboys have to think about a tight end for the future at some point, even if they like Jarwin and Schultz.
At linebacker, Sean Lee agreed to a reworked contract but is a free agent after the season. Jaylon Smith is set to be a restricted free agent in 2020. Linebacker depth is a must for a variety of reasons, including special teams, and the Cowboys have selected at least one linebacker in 13 of the past 14 drafts.
The Cowboys have loaded up on first-round picks on the offensive line with Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin and used a lot of cap resources on the spot. Right tackle La’el Collins is set to be a free agent after the season, which might be why they signed Fleming to a two-year deal in free agency.
Although Ezekiel Elliott is the bellcow running back, the Cowboys don’t want to use him as much as they did last season in the entire offense. The only tailbacks on the roster at the moment are Darius Jackson and Jordan Chunn. Taking a runner on the third day of the draft makes sense if they don’t add a low-cost veteran in free agency in the next few weeks.
“We’ve got young guys who are going to come up for contracts, and you don’t have good drafts if you pigeonhole yourself at two or three positions,” Jones said. “I think we have one of the best corner staffs in the league in terms of depth. I mean, when Jourdan Lewis isn’t getting a lot of plays, I think that tells you a lot. We love that position, but those guys are going to be coming up for contracts quickly.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any one position we’d rule out.”