Cowboys 1st & 10: Free Agency Views as Cowboys take frugal approach

The Dallas Cowboys appear more interested in finding good fits in free agency than in spending gobs of money. That's a good thing, as I explain in 1st & 10.

At the start of each week I provide 10 quick hits on the Dallas Cowboys. The news of the week, analysis of key events and a little humor as I wrap up the first few days of free agency here at First and 10.

1. My takes on the free agents the Cowboys have signed to this point (new and holdover):

Cedric Thornton:  A solid signing. He has three years on the former 1-technique tackle, Nick Hayden, and a chip on his shoulder after making the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Arkansas University. He won't get to the quarterback too much (just four career sacks), but the 1-technique is there to help stop the run and clear the path for linebackers to make plays, which is something the 6-foot-4, 309-pound tackle is adept at. At $17 million over four years he's a relative bargain. (See more on Thornton here.)

Josh Thomas: I barely remembered the Cowboys took Thomas in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft. Since then he's played with six teams in five seasons. He's a body, competing to be the fourth or fifth cornerback.

Rolando McClain: 1-year, $5 million. That's what the Cowboys have given McClain to prove that he's worth a long-term deal. ... assuming he reaches all his contractual goals. An offseason without injuries or off-field issues gives him that chance in 2016.

Charles Brown: Any comparisons with the Peanuts character ends with the name. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive tackle will compete for the swing tackle backup job this offseason. You may not even realize he was on the Cowboys' roster most of last year. But he's the guy who was ahead of Chaz Green. Will he stay there?

Morris Claiborne: The Cowboys are bringing him back on a 1-year, $3 million deal. I'm not sure Claiborne will be anything more than he is now, but at that price he's a good deal to shore up depth in the secondary. He also knows the defensive system. This also gives him incentive to have a better 2016 to try and get a bigger contract. The Cowboys played this one perfectly.  Fish reports, by the way, that the Mo signing doesn't necessarily preclude a continuing chase of Nolan Carroll.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

James Hanna: The tight end agreed to a 3-year deal worth $8.25 million, with $3.25 million guaranteed. At first glance that sounds like too much money. But Hanna is versatile. He can block, he can catch passes and he can play on multiple special teams units. But, to me, this is as much about Hanna's ability as about Gavin Escobar's inability to become the legitimate backup tight end.

Kyle Wilber: The guy is a survivor, I'll give him that. When the Cowboys went from the 3-4 to the 4-3 I felt Wilber was a goner, because being an outside 3-4 pass rusher was his strong suit. But he's reshaped his game and proven to be a versatile backer and special-teams performer. The Cowboys re-signed him for two years.

Two things stand out here. First, the Cowboys have finally reset themselves as a franchise that won't overspend on free agents. There is probably a small space of Jerry Jones' heart that screams at him every day to spend, spend, spend. But he and the rest of the braintrust are being smart with their money and disciplined with who they invest in (Greg Hardy being the exception the past couple of years - but even that didn't end up being "overpriced''). Second, I'm encouraged by the fact that the Cowboys are re-signing their own draft picks to second contracts. Hanna and Wilber are dirty-work players. Claiborne is a player that should be hungry to prove he's more. These are the kinds of things consistently good franchises do.

2. Tony Romo finally had his clavicle surgery. I saw him the night before the surgery at the Mavs-Clippers game. It's not like we talked or sat near each other. He sat next to Rick Carlisle. I sat next to another notebook jockey in the press box. So when I say I saw Tony Romo I mean, you know, I "visually" saw him. He's fine in eight weeks, fine well before OTAs.

3. The Cowboys did lose Mackenzy Bernadeau to the Jaguars. I interviewed Bernadeau when he arrived in Dallas for a magazine piece. He had an interesting background. He barely played high-school football and ended up at Division II Bentley, a school better known for producing businessmen than football players. Seemed like a class guy. He handled getting benched well and started a few games at center due to injury. Sure, he was well-paid, but when you lose your starting guard job to an undrafted free agent you can go one of two ways. He went the right way, perhaps because of his own history as a seventh-round pick. Good luck to him in Jacksonville.

4. This week I went back to doing five, seven-round Cowboys mock drafts. Remember — these mocks are for exhibition purposes only. No wagering please. This is my second mock of the offseason and it never fails — the mock based on team needs and less on best player available always seems to be the one that I like the best.  

5. Last week I proposed three players that I felt might be worth the Cowboys' time when free agency began. How did that go? Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is still a Giant and cornerback Sean Smith cashed in on a four-year, $40 million deal with the Raiders. Linebacker Donald Butler is still available. And so ends my brief career at Cowboys free agency soothsayer.

JetsInsider.com Photo: Randy O'Rourke

6. Antonio Cromartie tells Michael Irvin that he's ready to play for the Dallas Cowboys. That's awesome. But wouldn't it make more sense if Cromartie told Jerry Jones about his desire to play with the Cowboys? I mean, you know, cut out the middle man? Unless Mike's getting a finder's fee.

7. I'm a little surprised that Jeremy Mincey isn't getting so much as a nibble in free agency yet. That could play well into the Cowboys' hands, in terms of brining him back. He has elbow surgery last month to remove bone chips. That isn't a procedure that normally causes pause among the decision-makers at a franchise. Mincey also failed to record a sack last season. To me, he's primed for a bounce-back season, and if the Cowboys can get that for a bargain al the better. ... though for now, we're reporting that it is vet Chris Long that is getting a crack at a Valley Ranch job.

8. Great Moments in Headline Porn for this week? From Cleveland.com — "Johnny Manziel: What if the Dallas Cowboys had drafted him? A Manziel alternate history" Check out the video here.. This isn't so much headline porn as just plain scary to think about. And Doug Lesmerises' attempt at "Man in the High Castle" territory runs aground about the time that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sells the team to Donald Trump. Though, if Jones selling Trump the team manages to divert the billionaire's attention from running for President, then perhaps Jones should get credit for saving American democracy?

The Browns released Manziel on Friday. Depending upon where his life goes from here, he might end up being one of the five biggest first-round flameouts in NFL history. But there are more important things for him to deal with right now.

9. Joseph Randle was arrested this week for charges stemming from a game of beer pong. I'm not making that up. The sport of frat boys led Randle to the slammer. It's his sixth arrest in 17 months. And it's a push as to who is in more trouble — Randle or Manziel?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

10. Checking out Pro Days for this coming week. Here are some players that the Cowboys might be taking a look at this week (player availability is subject to change). And, check out my premium piece on five players who helped themselves during the first round of Pro Days the first week of March.

March 14: Bowling Green (QB Matt Johnson, RB Travis Greene, WR Roger Lewis)

March 15: Grand Valley State (DE Matt Judon); UCLA (RB Paul Perkins, LB Myles Jack); Western Michigan (WR Daniel Braverman)

March 16: Baylor (WR Corey Coleman, DT Andrew Billings, DE Shawn Oakman); Georgia (LB Leonard Floyd); Michigan State (QB Connor Cook, DE Shilique Calhoun); Pittsburgh (WR Tyler Boyd); Temple (LB Tyler Matakevich)

March 17: Penn State (QB Christian Hackenberg); Stanford (QB Tyler Hogan, OG Joshua Garnett)

March 18: California (QB Jared Goff); Michigan (OG Graham Glasgow, DT Willie Henry).

Want to talk more about the Cowboys? Hit the CowboysHQ.com Boards or hit Postins up on Twitter at @PostinsPostcard and Mike Fisher at @FishSports.


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