Cowboys Finally Making Some Noise

It seemed like a forgone conclusion that the Cowboys would be at the forefront of free agent activity this offseason, but for whatever reason it hasn't happened.

Shortly after the Cowboys season-ending wildcard loss the Carolina Panthers, coach Bill Parcells promised working tirelessly in the offseason to improve the team.

But for much of the offseason, the Cowboys have been idle bystanders.

Certainly, the acquisition of defensive end Marcellus Wiley on Thursday was a welcomed addition. He provides needed improvement to their pass rush over the departed Ebenezer Ekuban.

However, Wiley's addition has been the exception rather than the rule for the Cowboys and comes in stark contrast to the goings on around the league, where team are making a flurry of moves to improve their fortunes.

Questions are now arising about the Cowboys' ability to accomplish all of their off season goals in a dwindling free-agent market.

Agent Leigh Steinberg, who represents Wiley, believes the Cowboys were caught off guard by the early aggressiveness on the free agent market that saw teams across the league dish out historic signing bonuses like monopoly money and make instant millionaires out of average players.

"The Cowboys' whole approach has been slow play," Steinberg said. "They are taking a minimalist approach to everything. You know when the Cowboys poor it on, they get it done. They just haven't been aggressive."

Agent Jordan Woy is also surprised by the Cowboys' slow approach to free agency. He said he didn't expect them to be early players for his client, free agent cornerback Mario Edwards. However, he thought they would be very active early on.

"It sounded like they were going to go after a number of players and make a splash," Woy said. "So I am surprised. They might just be sitting back trying to pick up some bargains."

While vice-president Stephen Jones acknowledges that the Cowboys might have misjudged the early market a little, he said bargain shopping was the plan all along. He remains confident that the Cowboys will accomplish their offseason goals.

"The market has been more aggressive than we expected in terms of bonuses," Jones said. "But we are just being patient. We are not going to do something we don't think is in the best interest of our team. But we still think we can get things done. We want to improve in a lot of areas in free agency and the draft. We have no reason to think we can't do it."

For Jones and the Cowboys, it's not an issue of money. The Cowboys have roughly $12 million in cap space available under the 2004 salary of $80.6 million.

It's simply about being smart and understanding a free-agent marketplace that has yielded more failures than successes across the league. From the Cowboys own free-agent experiences, there are many more Bryant Westbrook misses than Deion Sanders hits. The Cowboys were interested in Berry, who signed with the Cardinals. They just weren't prepared to give a guy who started only one year in the league a $5 million signing bonus as Arizona did.

"If you look at the history of free agency, you see a lot more mistakes are made than successes," Jones said. "We learned a long time ago that it's better to keep your own than go after guys in free agency. There are reasons why teams decided not to keep guys. So we can't get caught up in a bidding war or pay above market value because the cap went up."

In fairness, the Cowboys did handle their business in the proposed receiver-to-receiver trade with Tampa Bay, coming to terms with Keyshawn Johnson on a four-year, $20 million contract only for the deal to be held by Galloway being unable to come to terms with the Buccaneers.

Still the Cowboys, who planned all along to take a deliberate approach to free agency, didn't anticipate things being this stagnant. Consider that a year ago at this time, the Cowboys had already made a trade for receiver Terry Glenn and signed punter Toby Gowin, fullback Richie Anderson, tackle Ryan Young and tight end Dan Campbell to free agents contracts with a deal for linebacker Al Singleton to come three days later.

Now that the early free agent rush seems to be subsiding, a flurry of action could be on the Cowboys' agenda.

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