The window between the beginning of free agency and the draft will be a crucial time for the Cowboys. Free agency offers the best opportunity to fill holes and allow the Cowboys to use a “best player available” approach in the draft and avoid reaching for inferior talent at a position of need. Jerry Jones is known for making headline-grabbing trades and glitzy free agent signings. In recent years, the team has chosen to fill holes by adding solid players at bargain deals. If the Cowboys discover that resigning some of their own free agents proves to be too expensive, here are four budget-savvy moves the Cowboys can make that could keep the team in contention in 2015.
1. Trade with the Bears
With the addition of Vic Fangio as its defensive coordinator, Chicago has officially switched from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4. This calls for a significant switch in personnel types. Not all of Chicago’s current defensive players will fit into Fangio’s scheme. For example, one player that doesn’t seem to fit in Chicago is DT Ego Ferguson. He does not fit the profile of a nose tackle with the responsibility of taking on double teams while holding the point of attack. He is better suited to playing in a single gap and using his quickness to shoot through the line and disrupt the offense in the backfield. Another option is DT Will Sutton who is a similar player to Ferguson.
A straight up trade of Ferguson for Cowboys’ LB Kyle Wilber would benefit both teams. Wilber was a 4th round pick of the Cowboys in 2012 when Rob Ryan was defensive coordinator. He was drafted to be an 3-4 OLB. Since the switch back to the 4-3 before the 2013 season, the Cowboys have struggled to find a spot for Wilber. He got time as a DE and then was switched back to strong side linebacker. While he filled in admirably, his best fit is in a 3-4 scheme. This trade would help both teams as Ferguson would likely get a shot at the starting 1-tech in Dallas while Wilber would be a natural upgrade in Chicago’s transition to a 3-4.
2. Sign RB Justin Forsett
If DeMarco Murray leaves in free agency, the Cowboys will have a gaping hole at running back. With the unknown status of Joseph Randle going forward, the only other running back under contract is Ryan Williams. Even if Randle is on the team and claims a partial role in the rushing attack, Dallas will still need another back. Signing Justin Forsett would allow the Cowboys to cross RB off its list of needs, but wouldn’t preclude it from drafting a running back in the draft if one of value fell to them.
Forsett has battled the stigma of being undersized all his career. After being drafted in the 7th round by Seattle in 2008, he finally found a home and a starting gig in Baltimore last year after Ray Rice was suspended. He surprised everyone by rushing for a career high 1266 yards and 8 touchdowns, while catching 44 passes for an additional 263 yards. Despite the impressive year, Forsett will not command a long, lucrative contract. The 29 year old Arlington Grace Prep alum could be signed to a relatively affordable contract to be a very good member in a running back by committee approach.
3. Sign WR Denarius Moore
The Cowboys have a number of free agents set to test the market. One is Dwayne Harris. With his return ability and special teams prowess, he will have plenty of suitors. Despite his many abilities, Harris offers little in the Cowboys offensive sets. He will likely receive an offer higher than the Cowboys are willing to pay. Some team will give him the opportunity to be a part of their offensive game plan and he will likely choose to leave Dallas.
If Harris leaves, there will be an opening at the 5th WR spot. Denarius Moore has spent the first five years of his career in Oakland, where he flashed game breaking ability. The Cowboys have the luxury of having their top 3 WR spots locked up in Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. They like the potential of last year’s 5th round draft pick Devin Street, but could still use another WR capable of carrying a larger load if needed. Moore could be a diamond in the rough. The Tatum, TX product hasn’t lived up to his potential, but part of the blame could be the less-than-adequate quarterback play in Oakland. Tony Romo has made lesser WR’s look very good before (ie. Laurent Robinson). Moore could provide the Cowboys with a true deep threat and quality depth at a very affordable price.
4. Sign DE Karl Klug
Signing a player that was under-utilized or miscast by their former team can lead to a very good deal. Last offseason, the Cowboys were able to pull off such a deal with Terrell McClain. Miscast as a NT in Houston’s 3-4 defense, McClain came on strong late last season for the Cowboys as a 3-tech in Rod Marinelli’s scheme. Karl Klug could be a similar reclamation project.
Klug was asked to play end in Tennessee’s 3-4 defensive scheme. The position didn’t fit his skills as his pedestrian stats showed. However, Klug is a natural fit as a 4-3 defensive end with an ability to rush the passer. At only 27 years old, he still has room to improve. Klug could be used similarly to Jeremy Mincey as another solid lineman in a rotation. His price tag will be low and the Cowboys would benefit from adding another solid veteran to the defensive line.
These are but a few of the possibilities that the Cowboys could pursue this offseason. They will need to have another successful draft to solidify themselves as a contender going forward. In order to draft successfully, they need to not reach for inferior talent to fill a need. By plugging holes in their roster via prudent free agent additions and trades, they can approach the draft with a simple and effective strategy.