Cowboys Not So Restricted: RFA Roadmap

The free agency landscape has several different terrains. Here, we look at the footing underneath the restricted free agents who are somewhat still under Dallas' control.

The Cowboys have a lot of work to do, prior to attacking the 2015 draft. Every year, as soon as the season is over, the collective thoughts of fanbases turn to the sexiness that is the amateur draft. However, quality teams know that the best way to approach the draft is to not “need” anything. Sure, there are areas of your team that you would like to upgrade. However having a need in a draft forces you to potentially reach for a player, because you can’t do without them. Teams need to feel comfortable knowing that they are prepared to enter offseason work already able to field a team.

Just such a thing happened to the Dallas Cowboys last season. After letting DeMarcus Ware go because his performance no longer matched his salary cap hit, Dallas did a poor job addressing the position in free agency. Jeremy Mincey was the only defensive end the club brought in from outside Valley Ranch. He turned in a solid performance, but Dallas didn’t have a true, speedy edge rusher for its defensive line. The club was forced to trade up to secure Demarcus Lawrence in the second round. Having a “need” cost the Cowboys an entire player, whomever would have been their third-round choice. That player would have likely been G Trai Turner, who Dallas admitted it tried to trade back into the third round to select.

This year, Dallas has a surplus of free agents that they will have to make a decision on. In addition to the majority of the coaching staff, including Head Coach Jason Garrett, the Cowboys had 25 players that were in the final year of their contracts. Some, like Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, are free to sign with any team. They are Unrestricted Free Agents. Others, the Cowboys maintain rights on. Those are the Restricted Free Agents.

RFA’s are defined as players with three years of service in the league and three accrued season. To count as an accrued season, a player basically must appear in six games for the team. If so, that player is still under the control of their original team, even though his contract has expired. This will normally pertain to UDFA’s, or undrafted free agents, as players that are drafted by a team get a four-year contract. Dallas has several players that fall into this category.

The interesting part here is that the club has to place a qualifying offer on said player, in order to retain his rights. The player is still free to negotiate with other clubs for a long-term deal. If he receives an offer, the original club can either match it, or receive draft pick compensation based on the level of their qualifying offer. If the player does not sign an offer sheet with another club, he will stay with the original club for a salary equal to the qualifying offer. The player is still free to negotiate a long-term deal with the original team as well and unfortunately for them, the qualifying offer isn’t even a guaranteed deal. As such, a qualifying offer can be removed should the team sign a different free agent at that position.

Here’s a look at the projected various levels of a qualifying offer.

  • Level 1: $1,574,100 or 110% of 2014 salary (Right of First Refusal or Original Round Pick)
  • Level 2: $2,405,700 or 110% of 2014 salary (Second Round Pick)
  • Level 3: $3,424,300 or 110% of 2014 salary (First Round Pick)
  • Note: The offers are based on the salary cap for the year, and that has not been determined. However there is a rule that the increase will be no less than 5% and no more than 10%, so we’re using 10% as the max amount of increase.

This is where things get tricky. If Dallas wants to keep a player, they have to judge whether or not said player is likely to receive an offer from a club willing to part ways with the associated level of the draft pick. A player that was a UDFA will garner no compensation pick if he signs an offer sheet with another club after being tendered at that level. How does Dallas look at the landscape for their restricted free agents? We’ll have to wait and see. Our 2015 Offseason Schedule says that the club has to extend the qualifying offer by the start of the league year, March 10th. Players have until April 24th to sign their offer sheets. Here’s a look at the various players Cowboys will have to decide on, and what kind of tender they might have to place on a player to keep them.

Beasley is certainly the Cowboys player that would be most coveted on the open market. The slot receiver is a third-down-conversion machine and catches basically any and everything thrown to him (75% catch rate and didn’t drop a single pass in 2014). His production has increased every season in the offense He is quick, shifty and has shown not only the ability to avoid the big hit, but also survive it despite his diminutive 5’08”, 177 pound frame.

Projected Tender Value: Second Round ($2.406 million)

Prediction: Dallas doesn’t even test the waters and signs Beasley to a two-year deal. There just might be a club crazy enough to offer a second rounder for Beasley. Dallas would be wise to offer a $1.5 million signing bonus with a minimum base salary for ’15 and $1m for 2016.

Moore was plucked off of New England’s practice squad a few years back and has been a solid contributor for Dallas. He isn’t flashy, but he is a solid tackler; a dying art for cornerbacks. Moore does fight for the ball in the air, but he has a tendency to allow more catches than one would like. However he does keep opponents out of the end zone, going the entire regular season without relinquishing a touchdown. He has ability to play outside, slot and even some hybrid safety.

Projected Tender Value: Right of First Refusal ($1.57 million)

Prediction: Dallas was hesitant to bring Moore back during the 2013 campaign that saw B.W. Webb struggle mightily while Moore languished on his couch. He’s been productive every chance he got and saw real playing time in ’14. It would surprise to see him walk, considering Dallas will likely say goodbye to big-money Brandon Carr in the off-season. Still though, Dallas likely doesn’t see him as a long-term starter, so a two-year deal is a possibility with Dallas looking in the draft for an upgrade.

Dunbar showed his breakaway ability with a 80 yard draw that saw him zoom past an entire defense; unfortunately it was called back for a holding penalty. Outside of that though, we saw a handful of explosive plays and an inability by the coaching staff to find a consistent role for the speedy back from North Texas. His lack of between-tackle running prowess limits his effectiveness and as such, probably makes him an afterthought for the offense. The fact that Scott Linehan will be in complete control of the offense moving forward (now that Bill Callahan is no longer around to be the run coordinator) gives hope, as well as the fact that Dallas might be in need of a returner if UFA WR Dwayne Harris moves on.

Projected Tender Value: Right of First Refusal ($1.57 million)

Prediction: He’s not offered by another team in this world of cost-saving running back options but Dallas finds it’s solutions elsewhere and Dunbar is a camp casualty. Ryan Williams will get a shot at the pass-catching role as he is much more versatile and Dallas will have the draft and training camp to see if there are other return solutions.

Chris Jones (P)

His stats say he is decidedly average, yet his impact on the games tends to feel much worse than this. Jones can be upgraded, and there will likely be a full-fledged competition in Oxnard this summer. His saving grace is that he’s the holder for the league’s most accurate kicker ever and the team might be satisfied with average in exchange for that continuity.

Projected Tender Value: None

Prediction: There’s no way the club thinks anyone is making an offer for Jones, so they may offer him a close-to-minimum level two-year deal with no guarantees. Chances are, they just invite punters in for workouts and if they can’t find any, then give his agent a call.

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