IRVING, Texas -- Bill Polian was a successful personnel man with the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts. He is now an ESPN Insider and has offered up a dos and don'ts list when it comes to free agency.
Basically, Polian, who is among Jerry Jones' circle of trust outside Valley Ranch, subscribes to the theory that a free agent can be a useful tool if you spend wisely, but the economic risk almost always outweighs the on-field production.
Let's highlight a couple of Polian's positions from the Insider story.
2. Don't sign a player and change his techniques.
It is hard enough for players to adapt to a new team. For example, don't take a Tampa 2, 3-technique and expect him to become a Parcells/Belichick 3-4 DE. Those are totally different techniques, and players who have to make that type of adjustment don't make the transition well. Adapting and then trying to learn a new role on top of that adds complications that can ruin your investment. You could have a relatively brief window of return, so retraining shouldn't be a big part of it.
Cowboys' take: Dallas invested heavily in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in free agency and the draft in 2012 and moved away from their supposed strengths -- man coverage -- to play mostly zone when they switched to Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme. The Cowboys need to find a way to blend their coverages more to play to the strengths of Carr and Claiborne.
7. Don't pay a player above his grade.
Don't give A-money (or years) to a B-player, and so on down the line. As discussed at the start of this article, the free-agent market as a whole is almost always a losing investment. Just because another team is willing to give a player a certain contract doesn't mean he's worth that price to your team. There is no universal price for a player because every player has a different value to each team. You need to trust your internal valuations and proceed off those figures, not the market.
Cowboys' take: Let's stick with Carr again. The Cowboys overpaid for him (five years, $50 million) but that was the market for free-agent corners. The St. Louis Rams paid Cortland Finnegan the same amount and will cut him once the league year starts. At the time of the signing, the Cowboys were not criticized for signing Carr, who has not missed a game in his career and was young. But they have yet to see the on-field production for their off-field pay out.
11. Do beware of players whose production dramatically increases in their contract year.
If a player is lousy for three years and then spikes in Year 4 and becomes a world-beater, be careful. You're more likely to get the production from those first three seasons, but you'll be paying for the results of the fourth. It's not a knock on the effort of the first three years, it's a trust in the bigger sample size.
Cowboys' take: It's not that Jason Hatcher was lousy, but he never produced more than 4.5 sacks in a season before 2013. Polian also has a 'don't pay age' axiom, which could affect Hatcher, who turns 32 in July, but could teams be worried about his 11-sack spike in a contract year?