Writers Debate Which Departing Free Agent Impacts The Cowboys' Roster Most

FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys have signed nine players since the March 9 start of free agency, including newcomers Nolan Carroll, Stephen Paea and Damontre Moore.

They've also said good-bye to several contributors from their 13-3 season: cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne; safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox; guard Ronald Leary; and defensive linemen Terrell McClain, Jack Crawford and Ryan Davis all left via free agency.

That's a lot of turnover in less than two weeks, but that's also the nature of the NFL in the salary-cap era.

The DallasCowboys.com staff discusses which departure impacts the roster most:

Bryan Broaddus: I have always had a great deal of respect for Ronald Leary as a player. Never much fanfare but steady and consistent in his approach. Could have come in out of shape and just collected a check after his demotion but instead worked hard to remake his body. Felt like he played better this year than he did in 2014 and the club looked smart in holding onto him. The Cowboys are going to miss his professionalism and toughness, but the bottom line was he going to be paid but it just wasn't here.

Rob Phillips: Let me start with this: the draft is six weeks away and free agency is 10 days old. With time, there will be replacements for all the guys who left. However, at this moment, I think Barry Church signing with Jacksonville is the Cowboys' biggest free-agent loss to date. He was a defensive co-captain who ranked near the top in tackles year after year, and I believe his presence on the field contributed significantly to the Cowboys' reduction in big plays allowed last season. His loss is magnified right now by J.J. Wilcox also departing for Tampa Bay. That's a starting safety and a reserve safety with starting experience both gone in the same week. Jeff Heath has been productive in his role, but if he replaces Church in the starting lineup, how does that impact the special teams? Heath has been a steady contributor there for years. Perhaps last year's sixth-round pick, Kavon Frazier, can take a step forward in his second year. But I wouldn't rule out safety as a draft focus.

Nick Eatman: I've said all offseason that Ron Leary would be my top priority free agent to re-sign. So the fact he left makes this an easy answer to me. Sure, he'll be replaced by someone – probably La'el Collins at first. But I think Leary gave this offensive line an added boost from a physical standpoint. The Cowboys couldn't pick up short-yardage situations in 2015 but were dominant up front last year. Was that all about Zeke? I don't think so. I really believe Leary played a big part of that and him being gone will hurt. That's the one move the Cowboys need to figure out right away. Sure, the defensive backs have lost some depth but none of those guys individually should be a big loss.

David Helman: Maybe I just got too accustomed to seeing him out on the field, but I'm awfully curious about how the Cowboys will fare without Brandon Carr. It's not a question of depth, given that they signed Nolan Carroll to help replace Carr. The trio of Carroll, Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown is serviceable, if not great. But I think there's a lot more to replacing Brandon Carr than simply signing a new cornerback. For starters, the guy has never missed a game in his entire NFL career. That simply doesn't happen often. Carroll missed five games in 2015 with a broken ankle, while Scandrick missed the entire 2015 season and a chunk of 2016 with various injuries. Carr wasn't exactly a playmaker during his time in Dallas, but he was always available. On top of that, he was a leader and a respected guy in the locker room. On a defense that was lacking in established playmakers, Carr was right alongside Sean Lee and Barry Church as a guiding presence. Carr was often criticized during his time in Dallas, but he was a level-headed leader who was always available on Sunday. That's harder to replace than I think a lot of people are giving credit for.

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