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Answering The Biggest Free Agency Questions


FRISCO, Texas – It seems like this happens earlier every year.

The hype is at an all-time high for the start of the NFL's new league year, which officially starts Wednesday afternoon. But if you follow along with the league's business, it's obvious that the madness is already underway.

Monday marked the beginning of the NFL's oft-discussed "legal tampering" window, which essentially means that players and agents can begin negotiating and agreeing to terms with NFL clubs – even if they can't officially sign until Wednesday.

Deals were already done within minutes of the window opening on Monday, as the Oakland Raiders reportedly agreed to a four-year, $66 million contract with free agent offensive tackle Trent Brown. Others will follow throughout the week.

With that in mind, we can finally focus on the issues that have lingered around the Cowboys since the conclusion of the season.

It's a good bet we'll have answers to some of their most burning questions by the end of the week?

What's Next For Cole Beasley?

If it feels like we've been talking about Beasley's impending free agency forever, it's because we pretty much have. The Cowboys' slot receiver has not been shy about discussing the topic on his Twitter account going all the way back to October.

On Sunday afternoon, he had a timely reminder for everyone about what was awaiting him this week.

It's been a long back-and-forth about what type of price the 5-8 receiver might command on the open market. Beasley caught 65 passes last year but seemed frustrated at times by his role – or lack thereof in the offense.

Meanwhile, reports around the league suggest that Beasley and other slot receivers like Adam Humphries and Jamison Crowder could be in line to earn $9 and $10 million salaries.

If that's the case, it's awfully tough to imagine the Cowboys retaining Beasley's services while also finding money to pay their logjam of Pro Bowlers.

Beasley is far from the biggest name on the market this week, but it's a good bet his situation will be resolved sooner rather than later.

Safety Dance?

Speaking of topics that have been debated endlessly, this much-discussed class of free agent safeties has finally reached the open market.

The word "class" doesn't really do it justice. There's a boatload of veteran safeties available, from household names like Landon Collins and Tyrann Mathieu to lesser knowns like Adrian Amos, Clayton Geathers and Andrew Sendejo.

Of course, there's only one safety Cowboys fans want to hear about, and that'd be Earl Thomas – the All-Pro who has been discussed endlessly since he famously told Jason Garrett to "come get me" almost a year and a half ago.

Thomas is finally a free agent after a long, slow breakup with the Seattle Seahawks. In an ideal situation, it's hard to imagine he's not the Cowboys' top target at a position of need.

Again, it'll go back to money, though. Thomas is seeking to become the highest-paid safety in the NFL on what might be the final contract of his career. And with reports that the Houston Texans are willing to pay Mathieu up to $9.5 million per year, it feels plausible that Thomas can make it happen.

Cost will mean everything to the Cowboys. They don't like to spend big money in free agency as a general rule, and that's an even bigger sticking point when they have four or five massive contracts to figure out for the likes of DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and others.

Frustrating as it might be to hear, it doesn't sound likely there's going to be a splashy signing in the near future. That's not to say the Cowboys won't seek to address the position. Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones said last month that the safety depth is thin. They may seek to acquire a veteran to downgrade their level of need heading into the draft.

Barring something unforeseen, though, it doesn't sound likely to be a headline-grabbing name.

Tank's Tag?

In an alternate universe, DeMarcus Lawrence might be the biggest free agent hitting the market this week.

Fortunately, we reside in a universe where the Cowboys aren't crazy. They placed the franchise tag on their star pass rusher last week, preventing him from becoming a free agent in exchange for a $20 million salary.

Of course, as was widely expected, Lawrence isn't quite as willing to play on the tag as he was last season, when he signed it readily and didn't make a fuss. From the sounds of it, the Cowboys shouldn't expect to sign the tag or show up to the facility any time soon.

He might not be able to test the market, but the Cowboys view Lawrence as their top free agent priority. The Pro Bowler has 25 sacks over the last two seasons and has proven himself as the foundation of the Dallas defense. All signs point toward the Cowboys extending him for the long-term.

The question is, how long will that take? Can the two sides agree on a deal prior to the July 15 deadline to sign one? It'd be a boost for such a young team to have one of its biggest leaders at work for the offseason program, but that doesn't give the Cowboys much time to negotiate, with just over a month until the offseason program begins in full force.

Again, it's not strictly a free agency issue. But it figures to be the hot button issues surrounding this team until further notice.

Other Priorities?

The Cowboys don't like to spend big in free agency. It's been well documented and thoroughly covered.

What they do like to do is address their trouble spots, thereby freeing themselves up to make the best decisions possible during the draft.

We've seen it every year. Last spring, they spent a modest sum on Cameron Fleming to be their swing tackle. They signed Allen Hurns as insurance for their eventual decision to cut Dez Bryant. In the past, they've done deals with guys like Alfred Morris and Benson Mayowa to address problem spots.

Again, these aren't exciting signings. But they'll happen to allow the Cowboys some maneuverability in the draft.

As it stands right now, the Cowboys could use a swing tackle. They could use some added depth at running back. The suspension of Randy Gregory leaves them thin at defensive end, and their defensive tackle depth is a well-known trouble spot.

It might not be Wednesday; it might not even happen this week. But odds are the Cowboys will address several of those spots as they inch closer to the NFL draft.