With the NFL offseason now officially underway, it's never too early to start focusing on the next order of business, which is free agency. The Cowboys have 20 unrestricted free agents who can sign with other teams starting on March 9, unless they strike a new deal with the Cowboys before then.
Over the next two weeks, DallasCowboys.com staff writers will break down each free agent, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses and the possibilities of a return in 2017.
Today, we'll continue the series with safety Barry Church.
What's The Deal: Originally an undrafted free agent out of Toledo in 2010, Church went from long shot to starter to being one of the team's defensive leaders. Ranked as the league's 11th best safety in 2016 by Pro Football Focus, he topped 100 tackles (based on coaches' film) for the fourth straight year, finishing with 109 takedowns despite missing four games due to a broken right forearm. That's the longest such streak for a Cowboys' defender since linebacker Bradie James posted six straight 100-tackle seasons from 2005-10. Against the Eagles on Oct. 30, Church also surpassed 500 tackles for his career. He did produce two interceptions this past season, which led the team, but has only five picks total in his seven years in the NFL. Still, Church's presence and impact on the Cowboys is felt as much in the locker room as it is on the field.
Cowboys Highlight: Already 0-1 on the 2016 season with uncertainty surrounding their rookie quarterback, the Cowboys were down 23-20 heading into the fourth quarter in Week 2 at the Redskins. Even worse, Kirk Cousins had his team at the Dallas 6-yard line, ready to add to its lead. But on third down, the Washington quarterback tried to find receiver Pierre Garçon in the middle of the end zone, only to have Church jump in front, securing the interception. Given new life, Dak Prescott then marched the offense 80 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown to give the Cowboys a 27-23 victory. Church's timely pick avoided a stumbling 0-2 start, and instead provided a shot of confidence in what proved to be a launching pad for a magical 13-3 season.
Argument to Keep: Given his experience, there's no doubt that Church knows the system and there are few safeties in the game stronger against the run. Perhaps even more valuable, though, is that he's a respected leader, having been voted a team captain in each of the last three seasons.
Argument to Let Go: There's no shaking it – the NFL is a young man's game. Do the Cowboys want to invest heavily in a player who will turn 29 on Feb. 11? Especially one who has taken the hits that Church has? With plenty of other needs on the defense, the Dallas brass may want to pair someone younger at safety alongside up-and-comer Byron Jones.
Bryan Broaddus' Scout's Take: Have always felt like Barry Church doesn't get the credit he deserves from the fan base for his play. Other than Sean Lee you would be hard pressed to find a player on this defense that has the character, work ethic and passion for the game than Church. His physical and mental toughness is his strength and helps him overcome his skill issues. Church might not have ideal playing speed but his short area quickness and lateral agility is good. His playing strength, explosiveness and ability to strike is outstanding. He's a disciplined player in run support. His toughness allows him to play down in the box as an extra linebacker. He's a nice scheme fit in this area especially as a sub player (nickel/dime). Where Church is also vital to this defense is in his ability to create turnovers. There is no question in games where he is out of the lineup, the defense struggles in this area. Barry Church puts himself in position to make those plays.
Free Agency Overview