INDIANAPOLIS– Cowboys coaches, executives and personnel staff are arriving in Indianapolis this week for the NFL Scouting Combine, a major landmark in the evaluation process leading into late April's NFL Draft.
While the team's immediate order of business in Indy is scouting the nation's top college prospects, the start of free agency is also a mere nine days away.
The Cowboys are unlikely to be splashy spenders when the market opens on March 9.
"I don't expect us to be big players for other team's players, but obviously we want to see where our guys are and they've got to see where they are in terms of what their market may be," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Tuesday. "That certainly will influence whether we can sign some of our guys back. It'll depend on what their market is."
For years, the team has been careful with their free-agent dollars despite a dated reputation as big spenders.
Last year their most expensive signing was defensive tackle Cedric Thornton to a four-year, $18 million deal. They also signed running back Alfred Morris (two years, $3.5 million) and defensive end Benson Mayowa (three years, $8.25 million) to salary-cap friendly contracts.
The organization's last true blockbuster signing might be cornerback Brandon Carr's five-year, $50.1 million deal back in 2012.
Carr is now one of 20 free-agents-to-be on the Cowboys' roster. The club has decisions to make on that group, which includes several starters: Carr, cornerback Morris Claiborne, safety Barry Church, guard Ronald Leary, defensive tackle Terrell McClain and wide receiver Terrance Williams.
The Cowboys have shown an inclination to re-sign their own players, which typically is a sign of solid drafting. Jones emphasized again Tuesday that extending the contract of All-Pro right guard and 2014 first-round pick Zack Martin at some point is a "No. 1 priority."[embeddedad0]
"That's why it's so important to draft well and make good decisions," Jones said. "You're not ever going to be perfect in the draft. You're going to make mistakes, as you do in any type of player acquisition, but you certainly want to be as good as possible especially in the draft, because that leads to being able to sign guys and you know what you're going to get. When you sign another team's player you don't necessarily know what you're going to get.
"I've said it always about free agency: Sometimes you're required to use it, but you better go in with your eyes wide open that you're overpaying. You're going to pay good players like they're great, average players like they're good, below average players like they're average. It's just not a great way to build a football team. But sometimes there's situations that do present themselves and you've got to be ready to do that if you see the right value there. Not a huge fan of having to go out and pay guys a lot of money, filling in big needs through unrestricted free agency. We'd rather build through the draft and then pay our own players."