IRVING, Texas – It's been a long, uneventful wait since the end of the regular season, but the free agent landscape looks like it's rounding into focus with just eight days until the market opens.
With Tuesday afternoon serving as the deadline for teams to use the franchise tag on impending free agents, the NFL saw a flurry of activity among some of the league's biggest names. On top of that, with the looming deadline to meet the NFL's 2016 salary cap, several clubs cut well-known players in an effort to shed salary.
The headline-grabbers are big names. The Broncos tagged Von Miller, while the Panthers tagged Josh Norman and the Chiefs tagged Eric Berry. The Redskins have franchised Kirk Cousins while they attempt to work out a longer contract for the quarterback.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are several big names that'll be looking for new employers in the weeks to come. The Rams released Chris Long and James Laurinitis last month. The Saints cut Marques Colston, their all-time best receiver, on Monday, and the Bills released Mario Williams among several others on Tuesday morning.
What that means for the Cowboys is hard to forecast, though team owner/general manager Jerry Jones did say on Saturday that he expects to be active in the coming weeks.
"That is strategy. And I wouldn't want to address that. But we are competitive with where we are with our cap, our dollars, our room," he said.
After the drama of last offseason, it's a bit odd not to see the Cowboys among the list of teams involved in high-stakes negotiations. Last year's contract disputes with Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray were two of the biggest offseason storylines in the league. This year, the Cowboys are content to sit tight until the signing period begins – and even then it's doubtful they'll be too interested in breaking the bank.
Case in point: teams around the league showed today how expensive it's going to be for the Cowboys to make a splash in free agency this year. On Tuesday morning, the Miami Dolphins placed the transition tag on pass rusher Olivier Vernon, allowing them to match any free agency offer he receives from around the league.
The transition tag is set to pay Vernon $12.7 million in 2016, which means any contract offer he gets would have to be a big one if the Dolphins are going to decline to match. Vernon was talked about among fans and media as a possible Cowboys target, and he still could be – though it's significantly harder to see that now.
At the same time, the Rams tagged Trumaine Johnson to the tune of a whopping $13.9 million. Reports surfaced earlier in the week that they offered fellow corner Janoris Jenkins a five-year, $45 million contract, which he turned down.
In a year where the cap is increasing by its widest margin in a decade, it's going to take some serious spending money to come away with any true difference-makers. Even if the Cowboys move some money around to open up spending room, they'll still be competing with several teams that boast cap space north of $50 and $60 million.
"You got some people in this league that got three times what we got," Jones said at the NFL Combine. "We can get more and create more, but we know that could fall short. I've got a good feel for how the cap is going to grow over the years, and we try to factor that in when making these contracts."
None of this is to say the Cowboys can't accomplish their goals during free agency. There will be worthwhile options at a variety of positions. But with the size of the spending spree that's about to begin, it's hard to imagine Dallas doing anything too drastic.