FRISCO, Texas – The fun thing about NFL free agency is that information gets dated quickly.
The Cowboys have been proving that point on a daily basis this week, specifically in regard to their defense.
Tuesday night, when it felt as though they were the only team in the NFL not making any moves on the free agent market, they agreed to a three-year deal with veteran defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Even later on Thursday night – approaching the midnight hour – they struck an agreement with safety HaHa Clinton-Dix.
With plenty of free agents remaining on the market, it's a good bet the Cowboys aren't done adding talent. But that's never stopped anyone from trying to assess what it all means.
The opening wave of free agency is winding to a close, so here's a look at what the Cowboys have done to address their defense, what they still need to do and what might happen next.
The much-discussed safety position is the center of the news cycle after Thursday night's news.
HaHa Clinton-Dix may never be the second coming of Darren Woodson, but it speaks volumes about the Cowboys' investment in the position that he is easily the most accomplished safety to sign in Dallas in the last decade. With one Pro Bowl selection, back in 2016, Clinton-Dix is the first Pro Bowl safety to work for the Cowboys since Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin were on the team.
After the loss of Jeff Heath in free agency, Clinton-Dix figures to slot into a starting role alongside Xavier Woods. The longtime Green Bay Packer only got a one-year deal worth $4 million – but with $2.5 million in guarantees, it seems unlikely he wouldn't make the team.
In other news, the Cowboys also brought back veteran Darian Thompson on a small deal. The old coaching staff loved Thompson as a spot starter and a core special teamer, and it seems like the new regime feels similarly. With Thompson reprising that role, Donovan Wilson rounds out the group as the young guy with potential upside.
With Thompson back in the fold and Clinton-Dix added to the mix, it'd be a bit of a surprise if the Cowboys added any other free agents. Having said that, Clinton-Dix is on a one-year deal and Woods is slated to hit free agency next year.
The Cowboys haven't taken a safety in the first three rounds of the draft since 2013, when they drafted J.J. Wilcox No. 80 overall. They haven't drafted a safety in the first round since Roy Williams in 2002.
If they want to buck that trend and invest for the future, 2020 wouldn't be a bad year to do it, with prospects like Grant Delpit, Xavier McKinney, Ashtyn Davis, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Kyle Dugger littered throughout the top of the draft.
The most poorly-kept secret in the NFL became public on Monday afternoon. After two solid seasons at cornerback, Byron Jones commanded an $82.5 million price tag and is off to Miami. The Cowboys never had any intention of matching that price and are now seeking to fill the void with more affordable means.
For starters, they brought back Anthony Brown on a three-year, $15 million contract. The decision maintains some continuity, as Brown has been starting regularly since his rookie year in 2016.
At bare minimum, it also gives them three veteran corners with starting experience – Brown, Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Throw in newly-added veteran Maurice Canady, a depth signing, and the re-signing of C.J. Goodwin, a special teams ace, and you have the makings of a depth chart.
The question here is: will that be enough? Brown is a nice signing, but is he going to make anyone forget the loss of an All-Pro in Jones? And what about the fact that Awuzie and Lewis, both drafted in 2017, are headed for free agency in 2021?
The Cowboys might have done enough to field a defense in 2020, but this doesn't exactly feel satisfactory.
There are still free agents available – from Logan Ryan, to Xavier Rhodes, to Aqib Talib. But they're all on the older end of the spectrum, and they may command too high of a price.
The draft feels like the best bet to improve this group. Florida corner C.J. Henderson is a popular target at pick No. 17. Names like Kristian Fulton, Trevon Diggs, Jeff Gladney, Noah Igbinoghene and Cameron Dantzler are worth knowing, as well.
They made this one easy on everyone.
Against all odds, the Cowboys managed to bring all the major pieces of last year's linebacker room back together again. In a business that sees 30% of the roster turn over every year, that's pretty impressive.
The obvious centerpieces are Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, who aren't going anywhere any time soon. Behind them, Sean Lee is returning for an 11th season on a one-year deal. Lee proved last season that he can still play at a high level, and he's a valuable asset – whether as a depth piece, a starter or both.
On Thursday, the Cowboys also opted to bring back Joe Thomas and Justin March on one-year deals. Thomas has stepped into the lineup on several occasions and played effectively, while March is a core special teamer. Factor in Luke Gifford, who is still hanging around, and the depth chart fills out pretty nicely.
It's hard to imagine what else they might want here. If the value lines up, perhaps they could add a draft pick with an eye toward the future. But this doesn't feel like a position that needs much else right now.
Another spot with a big-name addition.
Gerald McCoy probably isn't the world wrecker that he was five or six years ago. But at 32 years old, the guy is still producing sacks at an impressive clip for a defensive tackle.
The deal is still pending a physical, but it would presumably help the Cowboys offset the loss of Maliek Collins, who is leaving to join former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli with the Las Vegas Raiders. McCoy has been to six Pro Bowls and has posted at least five sacks in every season since 2012. He has also missed just eight games in the past eight seasons.
Much like cornerback, though, this feels like a step in the right direction – but hardly enough.
When the deal eventually goes through, it'll give the Cowboys just two defensive tackles under contract – McCoy and Trysten Hill, who essentially redshirted last season.
We know the Cowboys haven't made the position much of a priority, but this is a team without much in the way of nose tackles right now. Antwaun Woods is an exclusive rights free agent, so he would be easy to keep if the front office wants to do that – but it remains an unanswered question whether they do.
Perhaps the Cowboys are taking a hard look at other available free agents. Many of them, such as Michael Brockers, Linval Joseph and A'Shawn Robinson, have been snatched up.
As of this writing, Damon "Snacks" Harrison – arguably the best nose tackle in football these past few years – is still available. Speculation about his future will continue to swirl until he signs somewhere. Mike Daniels seems like another name worth knowing, given that he spent the vast majority of his NFL career in Green Bay with Mike McCarthy.
Otherwise, this is yet another position that will need to be addressed in the draft. Javon Kinlaw is a name to know in the first round due to his rare blend of size and power – but those traits are exactly why he's a longshot to fall to the Cowboys at pick No. 17.
Further down the draft board, Ross Blacklock, Justin Madubuike and Jordan Elliott are all versatile defensive tackles with talent to spare.
All of a sudden, this feels like the most pressing need on the Cowboys' depth chart.
Perhaps it shouldn't have been a shock to see Robert Quinn agree to a four-year, $70 million deal in Chicago. But once that deal was announced, it felt awfully surprising to see the right defensive end spot sitting so wide open.
Obviously, the Cowboys still employ an All-Pro left end in DeMarcus Lawrence. But the current candidates to line up on the other side are Dorance Armstrong, with 2.5 career sacks, and Joe Jackson, with five career appearances under his belt. Tyrone Crawford has plenty of experience playing the right side, but he is also coming off a yearlong hip injury that limited his 2019 season to just 90 total snaps.
There is boundless optimism that the NFL's newly-adopted CBA will allow Randy Gregory to apply for reinstatement and return from indefinite suspension. Hopefully that's the case. But as wonderful as that would be for Gregory on a personal level, it's worth pointing out that the 27-year-old hasn't been able to play football in 15 months.
Whatever becomes of Gregory, the Cowboys would be wise to look for reinforcements – but from where?
The free agent market is not awe-inspiring. Jadeveon Clowney is still sitting out there, unsigned. But even as teams' cap space continues to dwindle, the former No. 1 overall pick is likely asking for more than the Cowboys want to pay. Ziggy Ansah is also available but has been hindered by injury these past two years.
Clay Matthews and Michael Bennett will both undoubtedly be linked to the Cowboys – Matthews because he spent 10 years in Green Bay with McCarthy, Bennett because he spent the second half of 2019 in Dallas. But it's worth noting that they're approaching their 34th and 35th birthdays, respectively.
Everson Griffen is an intriguing name. The 32-year-old has been a Minnesota Vikings lifer, racking up 74.5 career sacks since they drafted him all the way back in 2010. He spent the entire 2019 season at right end, where he collected eight sacks opposite Danielle Hunter. He could play a similar role for the Cowboys, working off the favorable matchups provided by Lawrence. The cherry on top of the sundae is that Griffen's longtime defensive coordinator, George Edwards, now works on McCarthy's staff in Dallas. If familiarity is important to him, he'd have it here.
Of course, price will be a determining factor. Pass rushers command a premium, as the Cowboys just found out in Quinn's case. But if they're willing to spend the money, Griffen could be the best blend of value and production remaining on the market.
It's troubling to think what would happen if they had to "fix" the position in the draft. Chase Young is the best player in this year's class and will be gone long before the Cowboys pick.
After Young, there's a mixed bag of choices. K'Lavon Chaisson has the raw athleticism to do the job, but those traits may seem him drafted long before pick No. 17. Yetur Gross-Matos is a talented but unrefined option. A.J. Epenesa is more of the opposite – a readymade player who lacks elite athleticism.
There are other names to know, from Curtis Weaver to Jonathan Greenard to Julian Okwara. But as the Cowboys have learned in the recent past, the further you select a pass rusher from the top of the draft, the steeper the NFL learning curve.
All the more reason why, as it sits right now, defensive end stands above the rest as a position in need of addressing.