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Cowboys Free Agency Primer: Outlook, Predictions & More

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At Bleacher Report, I published a few recent free agency previews for Dallas. The first has some news and my predictions for the Cowboys:

1. The Cowboys will free up enough cap space to sign one major free agent.

Dallas doesn’t have the best salary cap situation, but it also isn’t as bad as it initially appears. By doing everything it needs to do to trim away the extra fat, Dallas should be able to put itself in a position to sign a fairly high-priced free agent.

2. That player will be defensive tackle Henry Melton.

If the Cowboys do indeed sign a big-name player, Melton is perhaps the most likely. He fits with what Dallas wants in a 4-3 defensive tackle. You could argue that the Cowboys will want to wait to see what happens in the draft, but they really need two defensive tackles. Since signing Melton wouldn’t stop Dallas from drafting someone like Pitt’s Aaron Donald in the first round, the move makes sense no matter what the Cowboys want to do in the draft.

3. DeMarcus Ware will remain in Dallas.

The Cowboys have all the leverage and Ware knows it; he will probably take a pay cut to stay in Dallas.

4. Dallas won’t sign a defensive end.

Assuming Ware remains in Dallas, it’ll have him and George Selvie to start in 2014. There are a bunch of intriguing second-round defensive ends in the draft, and don’t forget that Tyrone Crawford has the versatility to kick outside. Since ends usually cost a pretty penny in free agency, it makes sense for Dallas to keep what it has and upgrade via the draft.

5. The Cowboys won’t re-sign a single one of their free agents.

This really comes down to whether or not Dallas will keep either Jason Hatcher or Anthony Spencer. Hopefully, the Cowboys have learned their lesson from handing out sizable contracts to aging players.

I also explained why I’m “buying” or “selling” certain rumors in Dallas:

The ‘Boys Should Sign a Free Agent RB

There’s perhaps no worse proposition in all of football than signing a veteran running back, but that hasn’t stopped many from speculating that the Cowboys could bring one in. Dallas Morning News listed Ben Tate, Rashad Jennings, and Donald Brown as possibilities.

The problem with running backs is that, outside of a few special talents like Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, they’re extremely replaceable. Part of the reason for that is because they’re so dependent on their offensive lines for production. If the majority of running back success is due to factors outside of his control, why pay for one?

Another reason is that running backs enter the league at near-peak efficiency. If the Cowboys want another running back, which isn’t a bad idea with DeMarco Murray’s contract set to expire after the 2014 season, they should spend a mid-round pick on one. Just not a back who runs a 4.63 40-yard dash at 198 pounds.

Verdict: SELLING

And finally, a look at why I’d trade for Dolphins DE Dion Jordan:

Putting on the Pressure

Jordan’s rookie season in Miami was widely considered a bust because he recorded only two sacks. However, considering he rushed the passer only 206 times, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and was able to pressure the quarterback at an elite rate, Jordan’s first year wasn’t as bad as people believe.

Looking at pressure rate, which is the percentage of pass-rushing snaps on which a player hurries the quarterback, we see Jordan was actually really good.

Jordan didn’t play as many snaps as the other rushers, but the fact that he recorded a higher pressure rate than Greg Hardy, widely considered one of the top young pass-rushers in the NFL, shows you something.

So why only two sacks? Well, Jordan got unlucky. There’s good evidence to show that most pass-rushers bring down the quarterback on right around 25 percent of their pressures; that is, for every four times a pass-rusher hurries the quarterback, he typically records one sack. Getting to the passer is a skill, but obtaining a sack once you’re already there is a much more random occurrence.

If you examine Jordan’s sack-to-pressure ratio during his rookie year, you see it’s quite low.

You always want sacks, of course, but pressures are even more important than sacks when predicting future sacks. The fact that Jordan was able to reach the quarterback suggests he’s going to generate plenty of sacks in the NFL but was just unlucky in his rookie year. Based on his pressures alone, his most likely sack total was 4.5, not 2.0.

What About the Money?

One possible concern about trading for Jordan is his contract. The Cowboys don’t have very much cap space with which to work.

However, even as the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, Jordan’s contract is far from prohibitive. Over the Cap has his 2014 cap hit at only $4.7 million, with $16.8 million guaranteed remaining on his deal. In comparison, right tackle Doug Free’s 2014 cap number is $6.5 million.

Plus, the “real” cost of Jordan is his contract minus whatever the Cowboys would need to pay their first-round pick in 2014, since they’d move that selection in order to acquire Jordan.

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