IRVING, Texas - With so many expected free agents, including two of the best offensive players in football, the Cowboys have plenty of questions to answer here this offseason.
Some of them will be answered here before the start of the free-agent signing period on March 10. Others might take a few more weeks, and perhaps after the draft.
For now, DallasCowboys.com has come up with 10 pressing questions the Cowboys are facing this offseason and writers Bryan Broaddus,
David Helman and Nick Eatman will try their best to answer them, giving a forecast of what could happen here in what should be an entertaining offseason.
Today's question focuses on the assumption that Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray are the Cowboys' top two free-agent priorities.
After Bryant and Murray, which free agent should be No. 3 on the Cowboys' priority list?
David: For all the help the defense might need, I don't think there's one, single defender on this roster that makes the Cowboys more viable. I do feel that way about Doug Free. It's kind of surprising, because I remember when I first arrived at DallasCowboys.com, Free was a target of so much derision. He struggled enough in 2012 that people wanted him cut entirely if he wouldn't take a pay reduction – much like Brandon Carr this year. Free did take the pay cut, though, and he has been incredibly reliable ever since. He's the elder statesman of a talented line, and he was fantastic partnering with Zack Martin last fall before he got hurt. I thought Jermey Parnell did a good job in relief of the veteran, but the line appeared to operate at a higher level before Free got hurt. I also think Free has been a Cowboy for his entire career, and he is two years older than Parnell – two factors that should make him a relatively affordable signing. With Free in place alongside the three young Pro Bowlers, Tony Romo and the Dallas running game shouldn't have any worries over the next few years. Re-signing Free is also important because it allows the Cowboys to focus on their big needs in the draft – the defense. This team needs pass rushers, defensive backs and potentially a running back. It would be unfortunate if they had to spend that 27th pick on a tackle, when they could simply re-sign one of their own.
Nick:I agree with Bryant and Murray being 1-2 on the priority list but I'm going to stick with a skill player for No. 3. To me, it's Cole Beasley, even though he's a restricted free agent. Because he wasn't drafted, putting an original-draft tender on him will likely see him with another team, and without any compensation. So it'll cost more than $2 million to keep him. I wouldn't be surprised if the Cowboys actually give him a 3-year contract, similar to what they did to avoid restricted free agency with guys like Barry Church, Jermey Parnell, Phil Costa in the past few seasons. Sometimes it works out to benefit the Cowboys, and sometimes the players move on. But with Beasley, he's becoming a valuable part to this offense because he's such a mismatch nightmare. What he was able to do down the stretch is what I expected from him all season. I thought he would catch 60 passes but it was only 39. If he's re-signed and the legitimate No. 3 receiver for this offense in 2015, I will probably predict 60 catches once again.
Bryan: I have felt all along that the signing of Doug Free was just as important as getting DeMarco Murray done. Free is the leader in that offensive line room and those younger players look up to him. He has always been an intelligent player and his knowledge rubs off on the other players. There was no question that he was able to help in the development of Zack Martin not only in learning how to become a pro in the class room but on the field as well. He is the glue that holds that room together. He has been dependable and consistent in the way he plays. Even though he was injured badly at the end of the season - he did a nice job earlier in the year playing through issues showing a high degree of toughness in doing so. Free might not be the strongest tackle in the league but there are plenty of times where his athletic ability gets him in position to finish blocks especially in the running game. If I am this front office I am doing everything in my power to hold this group together by signing him and allowing the group to grow.