Dallas Cowboys Have Crucial Decisions To Make With Defensive Free Agents

The Cowboys list of in-house free agents is long, but are players from a 4-12 team worth bringing back? We look at the defensive free agent decisions the brass will be faced with over the next three weeks.

The new league year is less than three weeks away. In reality though, it's right around this weekend's corner. The NFL Scouting Combine kicks off in Indianapolis, and while the Underwear Olympics are going on, front offices and agents will be having "off the record" conversations to get a jump on the free agent frenzy. 

Before (after and during) Dallas gets to other teams free agents, they must categorize their own. Yesterday, we looked at the 2015 offensive players who are no longer under contract. Today, we turn our attention to the defenders and the difficult decisions facing Dallas.

POSITION PLAYER
2015 CAP HIT
LIKELIHOOD

CB

Morris Claiborne

$5.2m

Moderate

Claiborne showed that when able to stay on the field, he isn't a bad cornerback. He also has never been a good one. Dallas would likely be able to bring back Mo at a reasonable price, and probably will need to as they consider what should be the inevitable release of Brandon Carr. Claiborne likely won't command much on the open market, so the Cowboys likely could tell him to shop himself and see if they could get him on the cheap, but with Scandrick recovering from an ACL, maybe they just pony up an acceptable offer to prevent total turnover in the secondary.  ADVISED OFFER: 3 years, $10m SB: $1m, September roster bonus $1.5m. Base salaries: $1m, $2.5m, $4m. 

POSITION PLAYER
2015 CAP HIT
LIKELIHOOD

DL

Jack Crawford

$660k

Moderate

Crawford has spent two seasons in Dallas and has shown his value playing both inside and outside on the defensive line. Crawford was fourth on the team in sacks, and also played more special teams snaps than any other DL. He's become one of those "glue" guys and makes sense bringing back on the cheap.  ADVISED OFFER: Two years, $2.5m with incentives. 

POSITION PLAYER
2015 CAP HIT
LIKELIHOOD

DE

Greg Hardy

$8.8m

Low

At the end of last season, I thought there was no way Dallas doesn't resign Hardy. They'll get a discount and pay him less than 2015, but with incentives and be good to go. Don't feel the same anymore. Still think there's a chance, but report after report make it seem like legit concerns and not a smear campaign to keep the price low. Fish has the breaking news on Dallas' decision here on Greg Hardy in Premium Cowboys ... But this is about my advice. So Dallas should make some sort of offer that will expire as soon as they are able to negotiate with other FA DE's like Olivier Vernon and Mario Williams. ADVISED OFFER: 4 years, $32m total. $3m SB, $1m Sept roster bonus, $2m in per-game bonuses, $2m base. Year Two: $5m w/ $2m incentives. Year Three: $7m. Year Four: $10m. 2016 Cap Hit $5.5m to start.

POSITION PLAYER
2015 CAP HIT
LIKELIHOOD

DT

Nick Hayden

$665k

Medium

Despite being the fans favorite whipping boy for having no pass rush skills, Rod Marinelli and the Cowboys coaching staff love them some Nick Hayden. Each year, it seems Terrell McClain and others will take his place, but when McClain gets hurt he still gets to almost 600 snaps. This seems like the easiest upgrade on the defense and this year's draft is only deep in one category, defensive tackle. ADVISED OFFER: None, for now. Wait until post-draft.

POSITION PLAYER
2015 CAP HIT
LIKELIHOOD

S

Jeff Heath

$586k

High

Heath is the other restricted free agent player, and even with his role on special teams, it would still surprise if Dallas chose to tender him at the lowest, no compensation level. Although fans give him grief, Heath has grown as a player on defense and isn't an abstract liability anymore. $1.5m still seems too high, here, and I'd imagine a two-year deal for near that total amount would seem more likely  ADVISED OFFER: Two years, $2m, $500k signing bonus, $750k per season.

POSITION PLAYER
2015 CAP HIT
LIKELIHOOD

LB

Rolando McClain

$2.6m

Low-Moderate

McClain's 2015 wasn't on par with his 2014, but he was a generally reliable contributor through the second have of the season. However, Dallas' coaching staff likely isn't over the hesitency they had in green-lighting the front office to extend an offer to McClain, and I'd imagine they would love to get him back for a similar setup to what they signed him to after hearing New England was on his trail. ADVISED OFFER: 2-years, $5.25m up to $8.25m with incentives. $1.5m SB, $750k base, with incentives up to $2m first year, $3m base for year two with $1m in incentives. 

POSITION PLAYER
2015 CAP HIT
LIKELIHOOD

S

Danny McCray

$665K

None

Nah.                                                                                                                                                                                               ADVISED OFFER: None

POSITION PLAYER
2015 CAP HIT
LIKELIHOOD

DE

Jeremy Mincey

$2.25m

Low

Mincey's age (32) and lack of 2015 production (zero sacks), combined with his willingness to "spill the beans" over his perceived fight for locker room control with Greg Hardy seem to indicate his Dallas days should be behind him. There's no doubt Mincey was a locker room leader in 2014, but he also held out a short while to demand a playing time bonus he fell short of, and then gave Dallas zero ROI. Assume Ryan Russell or a new addition to take his role on the field in 2016. Though we advise no offer here, will not be surprised if Cowboys do in fact extend one. ADVISED OFFER: None. 

POSITION PLAYER
2015 CAP HIT
LIKELIHOOD

LB

Kyle Wilbur

$770k

High

Wilbur never materialized into an every down player, but that doesn't mean he's not valuable. He's a core special teams player who has the ability to play both Sam linebacker as well as defensive end. That's the kind of versatility a team needs from it's specialists. There's no reason to think another team will look at him as a starting caliber player. ADVISED OFFER: 2 years, Vet minimum base, $1m signing bonus. 


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