IRVING, Texas– One week into free agency, and the Cowboys' variety of moves feel quite similar in nature to last year's.
If you'll remember, Dallas parted ways with DeMarcus Ware and allowed Jason Hatcher to re-sign elsewhere – a division rival, in fact – all within the first few days of the league year starting. Concerns about the team's talent level were not quelled when the Cowboys responded by signing Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain, a pair of journeymen whose abilities were highly criticized.
Two months later, they raised eyebrows when they made a minor trade for a failed top-10 draft pick in Rolando McClain.
That's got to feel familiar to the news that's hit since this year's free agency window opened. Valuable pieces like Bruce Carter and Justin Durant, not to mention Dwayne Harris, have signed with other clubs. Of course, the NFL rushing champion and NFL Offensive Player of the Year signed with the rival Philadelphia Eagles.
The Cowboys' response to all of this hasn't looked impressive to this point. They filled Murray's spot on the roster with Darren McFadden, the oft-injured and mostly disappointing No. 4 overall draft pick. In front
of him were two less-heralded fullback signings in Jed Collins and Ray Agnew.
Two linebackers have been brought in to offset the loss of Carter and Durant. The Cowboys signed six-year veteran Jasper Brinkley – primarily a middle linebacker – last week, and they brought in special teams ace Andrew Gachkar on Sunday afternoon. Those two moves go along with the decision to sign former first-round draft pick Keith Rivers back before free agency opened.
On top of that, they bolstered their numbers at cornerback by claiming Corey White, who started 19 games and picked off four passes during three seasons with the Saints.
None of these moves are going to make anyone feel great about the fact that Murray is being handsomely paid by one of the Cowboys' chief rivals for the foreseeable future. In the same way, the decision to sign Mincey last spring didn't make anyone feel better about losing the franchise's all-time sack leader to Denver.
This is the part where I have to admit that Mincey and McClain didn't exactly light the world on fire in 2014. Mincey was one of the most valuable players on the defensive line, but his team-leading sack total was only six. McClain showed flashes, but he only cracked the starting lineup once and finished with just 19 tackles.
The other McClain, though – Rolando – blossomed into one of the bright spots of the Dallas defense and one of the more interesting stories on the 2014 Cowboys. Despite battling various injuries – not to mention the fact that he sat out of the 2013 season – he was second on the team in tackles and led the defense in tackles for loss. He made a strong enough impact that there is a loud call for the Cowboys to re-sign him as the team's middle linebacker going forward, moving Sean Lee to an outside spot in the process.
It's not hard to piece the plan together at this point. The Cowboys have eschewed the drastic, big-money signings and are instead trusting in themselves to squeeze production out of unlikely sources. Even big-name additions, like perhaps Adrian Peterson or Greg Hardy, would be gambles for a variety of reasons – and they'd likely have to come at a discount.
That splashy signing might not ever come, but the Cowboys have added depth to their roster. Of these signings, I'd imagine four of them – McFadden, Collins, Rivers and Brinkley – will have a chance to grab a starting spot. The others provide value as added depth and specific role players.
On top of that, they can bridge the gap while this team develops draft picks. The most promising pieces on the current defensive line aside from Mincey are homegrown names in DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford. As much as free agent signings might help the linebacker corps, the highest hopes rest on Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens – two Dallas draft picks.
It might not be exciting, but it fits the blueprint. Given how well the blueprint has worked in the last two or three years, it's a plan that deserves the benefit of the doubt.