Offseason In Review: Dallas Cowboys

After years of building up the unit, the Cowboys’ offensive line helped propel them to the top of the NFC East. Tony Romo, who has had his ups and downs in recent years, finished the year as the No. 6 quarterback in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). DeMarco Murray took advantage of those truck-sized holes created by the o-line and rushed his way to a career year. Dez Bryant cemented himself as one of the very best (if not the best) receivers in the NFL, lighting up opposing cornerbacks on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, the defense went from last in the league in 2013 to 19th overall in 2014 – not exactly the 1985 Bears, but a step up from being the “-Allas” Cowboys.

Now, the Cowboys will look to take a step forward in 2015 without the services of 2014’s top rusher.

Notable signings:

It wouldn’t be a true Cowboys offseason with at least one splashy move and Dallas checked that box in March with the signing of former Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy. Hardy, who had 15 sacks in 2013 for the Panthers before missing most of the 2014 season, is currently slated to serve a whopping 10-game suspension. The 26-year-old made the Pro Bowl in 2013 after he compiled a career-high 15 sacks, and Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him as the second-best overall defensive end in the league. He signed a $13.1MM deal for the 2014 season and wound up playing in just one game for that entire campaign. Now, he’ll earn a base of $3.218MM and the rest of his possible cash is heavily tied to incentives.

A day after losing Murray to Philly, the Cowboys agreed to terms on a two-year deal for former Raiders running back Darren McFadden. Outside of a 2010 campaign in which he posted 1,157 rushing yards and added another 507 yards through the air, the 27-year-old has never been able to stay healthy and put it all together for a full season. 2014 was the first year in which he played all 16 games for Oakland, but he was underwhelming, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, his third straight season with a mark of 3.4 or lower. After accepting his original-round RFA tender, Lance Dunbar will also be on the depth chart at RB.

This time last year, no one knew what to expect out of Rolando McClain. The 25-year-old went on to record 87 tackles and a sack to go along with two interceptions in 13 games for the Cowboys in 2014. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked the former first-round pick eighth out of 60 qualified inside linebackers, and he excelled in every aspect of the game — PFF’s grades placed him eighth as a pass rusher, seventh as a cover man, and 11th as a run defender, among inside linebackers. Now, he’s back on a new deal, but he’s off to a bad start already with a four-game suspension looming. In addition to retaining McClain, the Cowboys added three notable free agent linebackers in Keith Rivers, Jasper Brinkley, and Andrew Gachkar.

Doug Free was set to become of the top offensive lineman available on the open market in 2015 but the Cowboys struck a deal with him in early March to keep him in Dallas. By re-signing Free, the Cowboys held together an offensive line widely regarded as the league’s best. The 31-year-old missed some time due to an ankle injury in 2014, snapping a streak of consecutive games played that had dated back to the 2009 season. The veteran has manned the right tackle spot in Dallas since 2012, when Smith first made the switch to the left side. Last season, he ranked 21st out of 84 qualified tackles, according to Pro Football Focus’ grades (subscription required), performing particularly well as a run blocker for Murray.

Cole Beasley, 26, has developed into one of Tony Romo‘s more reliable targets over the last couple seasons and it was no surprise to see Dallas lock him up. In 2014, the SMU product set career highs with 420 receiving yards and four touchdowns, while totaling 37 receptions.

Notable losses:

DeMarco Murray had the best season of his career in 2014 but the Cowboys didn’t put up much of a fight to keep him in Dallas. Murray, who has struggled with injuries in years past, put it all together in 2014 for his best campaign yet. The 26-year-old ran for 1,845 yards and 13 scores with 2,261 all-purpose yards. The advanced numbers also showed that Murray was also at the top of the heap last season. Pro Football Focus‘ numbers (subscription required) resulted in an overall score of 15.2, placing him fifth amongst all tailbacks in 2014. His lack of meaningful production in the passing game, fumbles, and below average blocking were his only real demerits. The Cowboys will still get to see plenty of him in 2015 when he leads the way for the Eagles.

Bruce Carter, a former second-round choice, didn’t really live up to expectations in Dallas, but he was still a desirable free agent thanks to his freakish athleticism. Despite his underwhelming body of work, he still managed to land a four-year, $17MM deal from the Bucs this offseason. Carter was given a negative grade by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in 2014 and ranked as just the 34th best outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme out of 40 qualified players. In 13 games (with eight starts), the 27-year-old recorded 82 total tackles with an eye-popping five interceptions and one sack.

Fellow linebacker Justin Durant left in free agency to join new coach Dan Quinn in Atlanta. Durant spent 2014 with the Cowboys and missed 10 games with a torn bicep, amassing 49 tackles in six contests. Durant finished 17th out of 40 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus’ 4-3 OLB rankings. The Cowboys “hoped” to retain the 29-year-old, but he wound up joining the fourth team in his career.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton joined the Cowboys in 2014 and played well in part-time action, recording five sacks. However, the team decided not to pick up his pricey option for 2015 and beyond, making him a free agent in March. Melton, a former fourth-round pick, broke onto the scene with the Bears in 2010, when he finished with 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks. His best season in Chicago came in 2012, when he compiled 32 tackles and six sacks, earning him a trip to the Pro Bowl and a top-six spot on Pro Football Focus’ rankings (subscription required) of defensive tackles.

Free started eleven games at right tackle for the Cowboys in 2014, but Parnell started seven, including the two playoff games while Free was out with injuries. In February, PFR’s Luke Adams looked at the market for prospective free agent offensive tackles and while Parnell didn’t land in the first tier with the likes of Free, Bryan Bulaga, King Dunlap, and Byron Bell, Parnell was in the second tier of attractive options thanks to his solid play in limited time as a starter. He wound up inking a five-year deal with the Jaguars.


  • Acquired a 2015 seventh-round pick (No. 246; TE Geoff Swaim) from the 49ers in exchange for a 2016 sixth-round pick.

Extensions and restructures:

Scandrick still had four years remaining on his previous contract, but wasn’t happy with the terms of that deal, which called for him to make just $1.5MM in base salary in 2015. After initially not reporting to the Cowboys’ voluntary offseason workouts, the 28-year-old showed up in Dallas in May as a sign of good faith as the two sides negotiated a new contract. Scandrick ranked as the 10th-best cornerback in the NFL in 2014 out of 108 qualified players, according to Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required).

In order to accommodate the re-signing McClain and additional forthcoming moves, the Cowboys created some extra cap space by restructuring Tony Romo‘s contract. The move saved the team nearly $13MM in cap space. Romo, 35, had been slated to count for $27.773MM against the cap in 2015, including a $17MM base salary. Tyron Smith also helped the Cowboys out by restructuring his deal. $10MM of his pay was converted to a signing bonus.f

Draft picks:

  • 1-27: Byron Jones, CB (Connecticut): Signed
  • 2-60: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB (Nebraska): Signed
  • 3-91: Chaz Green, T (Florida): Signed
  • 4-127: Damien Wilson, ILB (Minnesota): Signed
  • 5-163: Ryan Russell, DE (Purdue): Signed
  • 7-236: Mark Nzeocha, OLB (Wyoming): Signed
  • 7-243: Laurence Gibson, T (Virginia Tech): Signed
  • 7-246: Geoff Swaim, TE (Texas): Signed

Byron Jones was the Cowboys’ first pick of the draft but it was Randy Gregory who was the biggest name in Dallas’ haul this year. The Nebraska defensive end was widely pegged as a first-round pick, possibly even as a top 10 pick heading into the draft. However, after failing the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine drug test for marijuana, he fell to the backend of the second round where the Cowboys happily picked him up.


The Cowboys and Dez Bryant continue to wrangle over a new contract, but in the interim the wide receiver is scheduled to play out the 2015 season on a ~$12.8MM deal.

Collins had been viewed as a likely first-round pick before he was connected to a murder investigation. He and his camp had asked if he could enter the supplemental draft instead, but that request was turned down by the NFL. Multiple reports also suggested that Collins would sit out a year if he was selected on day three in the draft, opting to re-enter the draft pool in 2016, in the hopes of being picked much higher. Ultimately, since he went undrafted, Collins’ options were limited. Shortly after visiting Jerry Jones, he agreed to join the Cowboys.

Top 10 cap hits for 2015:

  1. Tony Romo, QB: $14,973,000
  2. Dez Bryant, WR: $12,823,000
  3. Brandon Carr, CB: $12,717,000
  4. Jason Witten, TE: $8,512,000
  5. Sean Lee, LB: $5,450,000
  6. Morris Claiborne, CB: $5,175,069
  7. Miles Austin, WR: $5,106,200 (dead money)
  8. Tyron Smith, LT: $5,039,000
  9. Orlando Scandrick, CB: $4,382,271
  10. Doug Free, RT: $3,980,000 (dead money). Free also has a separate $3MM cap hit for his current contract.

The Cowboys didn’t have the most eventful offseason in the NFL but, then again, they really didn’t need to. The Cowboys look primed to make another run at the NFC East crown in 2015 and they’ll be extra scary if Hardy gets his suspension cut down in the coming weeks.

Contract information from Over the Cap and Spotrac was used in the creation of this post.

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4 comments on “Offseason In Review: Dallas Cowboys

  1. Luke Adams

    Some of the Cowboys’ free agent signings could become key contributors, but I think the best – or at least most interesting – part of their offseason came during the draft, and immediately after. Byron Jones, Randy Gregory, and La’el Collins are all first-round talents. If the off-field concerns that dropped Gregory into round two and Collins out of the draft entirely aren’t an issue in Dallas, that’d be absolutely huge for the Cowboys.

  2. Ricky VanArsdel

    Bruce Carter was a Second round pick, not a first. They picked him out of North Carolina following an ACL injury. He graded out as a first round talent by many scouts, but the injury dropped his stock.

    • Luke Adams

      Good catch, it’s been fixed.

  3. Dallas Robinson

    Putting aside Greg Hardy’s off-the-field issues — which is obviously difficult to do — this could turn out to be an outstanding deal for the Cowboys. I’d figured that he’d be able to get a decent-sized contract despite his troubles, but Dallas getting him on an incentive-laden deal that will only pay him if he’s able to stay on the field is pretty solid.

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