Free Agents are kind of like frosting on a cake. They’re supposed to be the window dressing that puts something over the top, in this case, into the NFC Championship Game at bare minimum. It’s a delicate balance; too many free agents and team chemistry can be off, too few and the holes can’t be papered over.
The 2020 Cowboys are a shitty, shitty cake, and the 2020 Dallas Free Agent class is a thick layer of fecal matter smeared over that steaming pile of inedible shit.
In fact, you can say the unraveling of the Cowboys this year began with what, in retrospect, was one of the worst Free Agent classes in recent memory. Let’s take a look at this
Ha-Ha Clinton Dix: Former Pro Bowler Clinton-Dix started 16 games for the Bears in 2019, a team that ranked #4 in the NFL in points allowed and #8 in yards. He never even sniffed a start with the Cowboy, because McCarthy and Nolan deemed journeyman Darian Thompson a better fit and cut him on September 3rd, before the season started. Clinton-Dix made $2.5 million without playing a down, and as the Cowboys secondary is straight up trash, we can say that this was a questionable decision at best.
Gerald McCoy: The 32 year old former Pro Bowler McCoy was supposed to be THE big signing of the off season, but ruptured his right quadricep tendon and was lost for the season. The Cowboys cut him and ate his $3 million signing bonus. A tough break for sure.
Dontari Poe: Another former Panther and Pro Bowler, Poe was a MASSIVE disappointment this year, after signing a two-year, $8.5 million contract with a $1.5 million signing bonus in April. Not only was he cut this week (7 tackles and no sacks all season), but Jerry Jones blew him up on the way out the door, and now the Cowboys are on the hook for a $3.94 million cap hit ($3.5 dead cap) in 2020 and a $4.75 million cap hit ($750,000 dead cap) in 2021. Gross.
Everson Griffen: The former Vikings Pro Bowler was signed to a $6 million deal, underperformed, and was traded to Detroit this week for a conditional sixth-round draft pick in 2021 that could become a fifth-rounder. The Cowboys paid $1.3 million in salary to basically get bullied every game.
Daryl Worley: The Cowboys signed former Panther and Raider Worley to a one-year $2.5 million contract, including a signing bonus of $1 million. He started 15 games for the Raiders last year, but this year was yet another massive disappointment in a secondary full of them. Worley was cut the same day as Poe. His contract carries a $2.97 million cap hit in 2020.
Andy Dalton: Dalton, a former Pro Bowler, signed a one-year deal worth up to $7 million with the Dallas Cowboys, including $3 million guaranteed. He led the team to a comeback victory over the Giants, before an abysmal performance against both the Cardinals and Washington, during which he suffered a concussion and was replaced by 7th round draft pick Ben DiNucci. His greatest worth might be, ironically, in finally getting people to see how important Dak is to this franchise.
Greg Zuerlein: A former Rams Pro Bowler, Greg the Leg is currently #22 in field goal percentage and #26 in extra point percentage. He signed a three year, $7.5 million dollar deal and is kicking nowhere near well enough to justify it.
Aldon Smith: A former 49ers Pro Bowler and maybe the only signing to actually have earned his money, a one year deal worth up to $4 million. He’s played well, considering he hadn’t played a snap since 2015. That is not a typo. He has a heavily incentive laden contract with none of the money guaranteed. Ironic that the one signing the Cowboys had the LEAST confidence is the only guy performing.
Maurice Canady: Who is you? Exactly. Canady signed with the Cowboys in March of 2020, and opted out of the season due to Covid in July.
NINE major free agent signings. Only ONE has been particularly fruitful. Two of the nine will play this Sunday, in week 8.
What do nearly all of these signings have in common? “Former Pro Bowler.” As in “FORMER.” As in SEVEN of the Free Agent signings were all, apparently, very good at one point in their NFL careers. None of them, it would appear, are any good any more.
Only three of the nine major free agent signings are still with the team, and of them, you could say only Aldon Smith has actually played well enough to justify a starting position. And this, remember, was the class that was supposed to put the Cowboys over the top, help deliver them a Division Title at bare minimum, and a Super Bowl at best. Yet this class can only be described as a true disaster.
While the scouting department has been overall pretty excellent in the draft, their ability to pick up current players in the league has been an unmitigated disaster.
The question I have is: WHO IS TO BLAME?
Mikey Mac? Jerry Jones? Stephen Jones? Scouts? All of the above?
Someone needs to put their hand up and say “this one’s on me, I am the dumb ass that thinks that re-tread players can perform at an elite level with a complex new system and very little time to prepare.”
Do Mikey Mac and Mike Nolan deserve some of the blame? Do the scouts? For sure. They just flat out missed. They brought in guys that did NOT fit at all with the scheme Nolan was wanting to run. They thought Clinton-Dix was not good enough for a secondary that is dead last in most defensive passing statistics. They could not find a defensive scheme where Griffen and Poe could have even a tiny shred of success. When they knew things weren’t working, they decided to stick with the same defensive plan and discard the players they paid way too much money for… resulting in a mid year rebuild. An 11 game long preseason if you will.
Let’s face it, there’s enough blame to spread around. But someone, somewhere decided that the words “Former Pro Bowl” actually mattered. You don’t sign THIS particular roster of retreads without someone in a position of authority being VERY impressed by Pro Bowl appearances back in 2012 and 2014.
Who fits that M.O.?
Jerry. Jerry Jones, that’s who. The same guy who signed Charles Haley, a Former Pro Bowler, in 1992 and won three Super Bowls is still trying to recapture that magic, despite the fact nearly three decades have passed since then. The same guy who won’t go after players like Taylor Rapp because they want someone that reminds them of Darren Woodson, even though the game has evolved quite a bit since the 90s. It's time to get some new talent evaluators on the scouting side that are more in tune with today's game than the one 25 years ago.
And that, in a nutshell, is at the heart of the problem with the Dallas Cowboys: Jerry can’t stop obsessing and pressing to replicate his 1990s team even when the rest of the league has long since moved on.