FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have been up front about their intentions regarding free agency. They want to keep their own players.
So who's next?
It should be defensive end David Irving, and he is a restricted free agent so it's up to the franchise if they want to keep him. The Cowboys are expected to place the first- or second-round tender on Irving at some point Tuesday, which means he could make $4.1 million (first) or $2.9 million (second) if another team does not sign him to an offer sheet.
With the legal tampering period opening Monday and the signing period coming Wednesday, the Cowboys are not on the verge of keeping any of their remaining unrestricted free agents off the market.
Of the Cowboys' remaining unrestricted free agents, only linebacker Anthony Hitchens would be considered an early-market player.
At this point, however, the best the Cowboys might be able to do is match an offer made to Hitchens, but even that will likely be too high. Consider Hitchens the Barry Church of this year's free-agent class. The Cowboys wanted to keep Church. He didn't necessarily want to leave. He could not pass up the offer made by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Cowboys want to keep Hitchens. He might not want to necessarily leave. But he can't pass up an offer, say, from the Indianapolis Colts, that will pay him millions more a year or possibly over the course of a few years.
Jonathan Cooper started 13 games at left guard but suffered a knee injury in the season finale that required postseason surgery. He played well enough -- but not well enough for the Cowboys to make a serious push to keep him off the market. The knee injury could scare off teams that thought a 2013 top-10 pick might have finally turned the corner after a disappointing start to his career.
Snapper L.P. Ladouceur is the second-longest tenured player on the Cowboys' roster to Jason Witten. He joined the Cowboys in 2005; Witten has been a Cowboy since 2003. Ladouceur has not had a bad snap in his career. Kicker Dan Bailey and punter Chris Jones look at him the way the Peanuts cartoon's Linus looks at his blanket.
The Oakland Raiders could be a thorn in the Cowboys' side with former special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia now coaching for Jon Gruden. The Cowboys have made it known they want to keep Ladouceur, but with his minimum base salary already over $1 million they might want to keep Ladouceur on a year-to-year basis; not with a multi-year contract.
Of course, if Ladouceur leaves via free agency and his replacement costs the Cowboys a game that keeps them out of the playoffs, being caught up in the wash over a pittance (at least in NFL terms) might be foolish.
Cornerback Bene Benwikere did not make much of an impact on the field after a trade from the Cincinnati Bengals at the start of last season, but he could be among the first players the Cowboys keep. The Cowboys want to go with youngsters Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods as their top three corners with Anthony Brown in reserve, but Benwikere could find his way into the lineup considering the injury issues Awuzie and Lewis battled as rookies.
Running back Alfred Morris and wide receiver Brice Butler had moments in 2017 but might find a better chance to have more opportunities elsewhere in 2018. Butler's odds of returning improve if the Cowboys decide to part ways with Dez Bryant. With Rod Smith ready to be the No. 2 back to Ezekiel Elliott and the chance to add a back in the draft, there does not appear to be a path for Morris to return.
Joe Looney spent the past two seasons as the Cowboys' interior line backup, playing guard and center. Cooper could fill that role if he returns and the Cowboys find a starter in free agency (low-priced, of course) or the draft. If not, Looney could return. And his jovial style in the locker room shouldn't be overlooked either.
Linebacker Kyle Wilber and tackle Byron Bell could be looking for better opportunities as the Cowboys look for cheaper replacements. Like Ladouceur, Wilber could be a target in Oakland because of Bisaccia. He is a solid special-teamer and can play a couple of roles on defense. Bell served most of last season as the swing tackle after Chaz Green's struggles filling in for Tyron Smith. The Cowboys aren't ready to give up on Green and now concede allowing him to compete for a guard spot might have hurt him more than helped.
The Cowboys want to keep their own, but if it's not Hitchens or Ladouceur, the rest are, to steal a Jerry Jones phrase, fungible.