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The Dallas Cowboys need a more aggressive philosophy in free agency

Free agency in the NFL is less than a month away, and the Dallas Cowboys will need to navigate the salary cap to improve in their search to return to the playoffs.

NFL free agency is set to begin March 17, with legal tampering an option beginning on March 15. With less than a month to go before teams can begin to build up for the 2021 season, the eyes of the sporting world will be on the NFL to see where the league’s best talent will land.

The hope for the Dallas Cowboys is that by the time free agency rolls around, the franchise will have already inked quarterback Dak Prescott to a long-anticipated contract extension so they will know where they stand financially before bidding on the open market gets underway.

Previously it was assumed that this was going to be the year that the salary cap skyrocketed, which would have greatly benefited the Cowboys ahead of Prescott’s new deal, but, with the financial impact of the calamities of the world in 2020, teams will have to adjust to a lesser cap increase.

Although the cap isn’t set yet, teams do have an idea of where the floor will be for the 2021 season, as the league announced that teams will need to spend at least $180 million.

So what will the free agency plan be for Dallas?

That remains to be seen, but judging by what they have done in the past, don’t expect them to be big buyers. The Cowboys haven’t been huge players in the open market recently, preferring to pay their own players rather than getting into bidding wars with other teams over high priced free agents. 

Under Stephen Jones, Cowboys fans have come to expect much more fiscal restraint than the franchise had when his dad, Jerry, was spending big money on the best available talent.

Times have changed. Right now, the Cowboys should be going after the J.J. Watts of the football world, but that’s very unrealistic with where Dallas has recently put their cap dollars. Instead, expect the Cowboys to fill their biggest holes in the second and third wave of free agency, with cheaper options from which they hope their scouting of underrated talent comes through.

This approach helps narrow draft needs, but it also doesn’t help put a better team on the field for the next season. It’s a short-sighted approach that hasn’t created good results for the Cowboys.

Waiting in free agency allows you to spend less money, but that’s because you aren’t getting good enough players. In essence, you get what you pay for.

The Cowboys’ goal this offseason should be to re-sign Prescott, as well as signing a top-tier defensive lineman and safety. There are great options for Dallas this spring that match up with their needs.

Furthermore, if they’re serious about a turnaround in Mike McCarthy’s second season, nothing should prevent the organization from attempting to bring in Watt at defensive end, or signing a stud defensive tackle like Dalvin Tomlinson, or landing a good cornerback like William Jackson, or exploring a handful of good safeties available such as Marcus Williams, Marcus Maye, or John Johnson. Any of these players will cost a decent amount, but they would also make the Cowboys an improved team right off the bat.

There are plenty of good options that will be highly coveted when free agency opens and likely gone quickly. Dallas needs to be more aggressive in bringing in these quality pieces to give the team the best chance at winning the Super Bowl.

While the philosophy of using their cap space to sign their drafted talent to extensions has been laudable in the past, the franchise has perhaps skewed too far away from injecting talent into the roster via free agency.

Sitting and waiting for the second-tier players isn’t a winning mentality and the Cowboys haven’t been successful trying it this way. They also haven’t used up all of their cap space in recent years, including carrying over a sizable amount from 2020 into this season.

It’s understandable why the Cowboys made the decisions to save up the money in 2020. The team stored it up to help pay for Prescott, but it can also provide help in adding top-end talent in free agency. Even bringing in one high priced defensive piece would make a difference.

Last offseason, it felt like the team had turned a corner in acquiring talent. The Cowboys weren’t extremely busy in the first wave of free agency, but they did land defensive tackle Gerald McCoy at a decent price. Dallas also added some pieces who many thought could help in the secondary and signed pass rusher Everson Griffen later in the process.

It didn’t work out, but the organization cannot allow those results to affect this year in free agency, especially when they’ve seen the middle of the road signings not pay off. It’s time to keep being aggressive and go after some higher level players.

Signing Dak Prescott remains the main priority for the Dallas Cowboys, but once they get that done, they need to enhance their shot at winning a Super Bowl by being aggressive in free agency. That should be the plan for the Cowboys.

However, their recent actions suggest another round of penny savers heading to Dallas.

What do you hope to see the Dallas Cowboys achieve in free agency? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.