Cowboys looking for best returns in free agency

INDIANAPOLIS -- Every year the same thing happens when it comes to free agency: see a big name and link said player to the Dallas Cowboys.

It’s happened with Ndamukong Suh. It’s happened to a degree with Jason Pierre-Paul. It’s happened with Justin Houston.

“I would continue to say shopping in free agency, especially on big-priced players, has not historically been good returns,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

In 2012, the Cowboys gave Brandon Carr a five-year, $50 million deal. If Carr wants to have a fourth season with the Cowboys he will likely have to accept a pay cut from his $8 million base salary. In 2007, the Cowboys signed Leonard Davis to a monstrous $49 million deal with $18 million guaranteed. He played at a high level for two years and was released after the 2010 season.

The Cowboys’ focus is to keep their own, like Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Doug Free, Rolando McClain and some others. But even that has not had the best returns, despite the intimate knowledge of the players.

If the Cowboys go outside the building for help, they will look to get bargains (see Jeremy Mincey last year) in the free-agent market as opposed to loading up on one star player.

“A lot of times you think it’s the player [to make the difference] and it’s usually not,” Jones said. “Usually the ones that are free out there, they’re out there free for a reason, and you end up overpaying for guys that you probably shouldn’t be paying that kind of money. I think that’s the big question: Is the guy really worth what you’re going to step up to pay?”

The NFL has yet to finalize the 2015 salary cap. The Cowboys can work off their best guess at this point, but that makes it difficult to “put our best foot forward,” in talks with Bryant and Murray, according to Jones. He said the team has made progress on the smaller deals for some of their unrestricted and restricted free agents.

In recent years the Cowboys have had to restructure contracts of a number of players just to get under the salary cap. That won’t be the case this year. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cowboys are roughly $4 million under a proposed $140 million cap. That does not include the roughly $15 million gained by declining to pick up Henry Melton’s option and the expected voiding of Free’s contract.

They can gain more room by reworking Tyron Smith’s contract as well as other players. They could gain about $8 million in room by designating Carr a June 1 cut should he not accept a pay cut.

But just because the Cowboys will have the room doesn’t mean they have to spend it or will spend it.

“We’re usually able to get accomplished what we want to get accomplished,” Jones said. “The question becomes strategy. Do we want to push money out in order to have money now? Sometimes that necessarily hasn’t worked great for us. We’ll just have to make good, sound decisions. You always feel like you can get things done that you need to get done, but at the same time you have to make sure it’s the right thing.”