Cowboys Patient To Start Free Agency, But Not Done Improving The Roster

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Stephen Jones explained the Cowboys' general approach to free agency last month at the NFL Scouting Combine. More often than not, it's not splashy.

Still, he understands fans' consternation about the team's deliberate start to the league's signing period since it began on March 9.

"I understand that and I get that," Jones said Sunday night from the 2016 NFL Annual Meeting here in Boca Raton. "One of the things we're counting on is improving our team and we haven't stuck our head in the sand. We've got to improve our football team."

The Cowboys have done exactly what they said they'd do a month ago: they've let the market come to them. Two weeks into the New League Year, they've signed one outside free agent, defensive tackle Cedric Thornton, and signed restricted free agent defensive end Benson Mayowa to an offer sheet. (The Raiders have the right to match the deal by Wednesday.)

The rest of the Cowboys' moves have been retaining their own players. Seven, to be exact: linebacker Rolando McClain, cornerback Mo Claiborne, running back Lance Dunbar, tight end James Hanna, linebacker Kyle Wilber, offensive tackle Charles Brown and cornerback Josh Thomas. Restricted free agents Ronald Leary and Jeff Heath received one-year qualifying offers.

Not to say the front office stubbornly folded their hands those first couple days as the biggest free agents took big guaranteed money elsewhere. They have, however, avoided bidding wars when they felt the value wasn't right.

"You can't just reach," Jones explained, "or you end up in a bad situation."

The Cowboys have cleaned up their salary cap in recent years, ridding themselves of bad contracts and virtually eliminating all dead money. They recently gained about $14 million in extra cap space by restructuring the contracts of Tyron Smith and Tyrone Crawford, some of which will go towards signing their upcoming draft class.

Jones has said many times that player acquisition is 365 days a year. That certainly remains the case two weeks into the signing period. Monday, unrestricted free agents Alfred Morris and Patrick Robinson are scheduled to visit Dallas. Jones, team owner/general manager Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett have commitments at the league meetings here in Florida but have remained engaged in the free agent process remotely.

The team will continue to look for opportunities in free agency, and there's also the draft in five weeks' time. The Cowboys hold the fourth overall pick – the result of a 4-12 record – and nine selections overall.

Getting Tony Romo and Dez Bryant and Orlando Scandrick back healthy should help spur improvement. But the work on the rest of the roster continues.

"I get why people are concerned," Jones said. "But if they think we think that just because of injuries we went 4-12, that's not what we believe. We think we've got to improve our football team in a big way through the draft."

And by remaining active in these next waves of free agency.

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