Editor's Note: The Cowboys currently have 20 players slated to enter free agency when the league year begins in March. Some of those players are key contributors, while others are role players. In this series, Bryan Broaddus will take a look at all 20 free agents, assessing how they performed in 2015 and how they might fit into the Cowboys' future.
IRVING, Texas – Offense dominated the headlines as the Cowboys headed toward free agency last season – and for good reason. Dallas had a franchise receiver and an NFL rushing champion seeking new deals at this time last year.
As we have discussed, there are offensive free agents this time around, but the biggest questions on this Cowboys roster all seem centered on defense in 2016. For my money, it seems fair to say that all the team's most talented free agents fall on the defensive side of the ball.
We talked about one of them in Greg Hardy earlier this week. The other key question is obviously Rolando McClain, who is once again in flux after playing on a one-year contract for the second-straight season. McClain headlines today's free agency preview, along with a few other names worth noting.
Let's take a look:
2015 Performance:McClain came back from his four-week suspension and had a nice start against New England, but he played slow and lethargic until the Tampa Bay game several weeks later. He went on a four-game run where he was outstanding. Paired with Sean Lee, this was as good of a combination of linebackers in the league. When he is on, you see the passion for the game along with the physical toughness – but when he's not on, you see that too. Does not get nearly enough credit for his football intelligence.
2016: Forecast:The decision to re-sign him will come down to whether the front office and coaching staff can live with the lack of consistency in his game. There will always be a questions of his reliability and stability. You'd like to believe that, with the support group the Cowboys have in place, you could live with these issues -- but even with that, the job might be too tough.
2015 Performance: He has been nothing but a team player since being drafted in 2012. Was drafted to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but that scheme went out the window after his rookie year. Despite that, he has managed to adapt to wherever they have asked him to play. He is best when he can play on the strong side near the line. Does a nice job of setting the edge and working to make the play. He will always be limited in coverage, but he did make improvements from what he showed in 2014. Is always around the ball, whether on defense or special teams.
2016: Forecast: Wilber is the "tight kind of guy" that you hear so much about -- high character and work ethic. Smart, heady player that is steady in the way that he goes about his job. He's a lot like James Hanna in that he does those things that don't always get him noticed but add up in the end. I could see a situation where the front office allows him to walk and works to give Damien Wilson and Mark Nzeocha more of an opportunity to step up in his role.
2015 Performance: Walker was active for the Buffalo and Washington games to end the season. He was brought on to try and give Nick Hayden and Tyrone Crawford a break at one-technique. From what I've heard, he appeared to practice better than he played during these two games. There were too many times where he was just not a factor. I would have liked to see him get off blocks quicker, but it just didn't happen. For a player his size, he needed to do a better job of playing with power. Was single-blocked entirely too much.
2016: Forecast:There are plenty of one-techniques in this draft to consider bringing him back at this point. Upgrade is needed.
Rodney SmithHeight: 6-5
2015 Performance:He was on the practice squad until the final week of the season. Was called up on the roster for the Washington contest but was inactive. Size and physical traits are impressive. In talking to scouts that watched practice each day, he was dependable with his hands and route-running -- which improved throughout the season. Was able to make several receptions a day during practice by winning matchups against the starting cornerbacks.
2016: Forecast:Might not be the fastest or quickest receiver but the hands are there to work with. Would not be surprised if they make an effort to work to bring him back to training camp to let him compete for a spot.