Cowboys fans quick to panic over team's slow start to free agency

The Cowboys brain trust knows there are many holes to fix after a 4-12 season. AP Photo/James D Smith

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' chances of winning in 2016 came to an end Wednesday. They don't play a real game until September, but they have no chance.

At least that’s how many fans feel.

The New York Giants committed more than $100 million in guaranteed money to three defensive players in cornerback Janoris Jenkins, tackle Damon Harrison and end Olivier Vernon. The Philadelphia Eagles were able to shed Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray, three of their top acquisitions in 2015, and add safety Rodney McLeod, guard Brandon Brooks, cornerback Leodis McKelvin and backup quarterback Chase Daniel.

The Washington Redskins kept backup quarterback Colt McCoy as well as defensive tackle Kedric Golston and linebacker Mason Foster. But the Redskins are coming off a division-winning season so the perception is they don’t need to do much.

It wasn’t just what happened in the division. Fans had thoughts of Lamar Miller or Chris Ivory or Doug Martin dancing in their heads, but there was no chance the Cowboys were going to pay a running back more than $6 million a year.

The Cowboys drew their line on running backs in 2015 when they didn’t pay Murray. They weren’t going to cross it a year later.

Coming off a 4-12 season, the Cowboys have needs everywhere, which they have acknowledged. But they have also acknowledged they are not going to pay exorbitant prices for free agents when there is no guarantee for success.

They have done that in the past without sustained success in signing players such as Brandon Carr and Leonard Davis, and to a lesser extent the likes of Nate Livings and Igor Olshansky.

Despite the warnings of inactivity on the opening day of free agency, the reactions by Cowboys fans ranged from erratic to apoplectic.

This is not to say the Cowboys’ approach to sit out the first day is correct even if the odds say most of these teams who paid top dollar will regret these contracts two or three years down the road.

The angst is because of the 4-12 finish. When teams in the division throw around cash the way the Giants and Eagles did as the fans' favorite seemingly sits on its hands, it can be frustrating. That doesn’t mean the season is over.

The Cowboys are trying to play this both ways. They remind us that injuries were no excuse for the failures of 2015 while also reminding everybody Tony Romo played two full games and Dez Bryant played nine.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said from the scouting combine the Cowboys’ personnel are excellent. So if last season wasn’t about injuries or players, then it had to be coaching. The biggest changes on Jason Garrett’s staff came with Matt Eberflus becoming the passing-game coordinator for defense, Joe Baker moving from safeties coach to secondary coach and Greg Jackson being named safeties coach.

How does Jones sell people that things will be different in 2016?

“Well, I can be trite and say we’re going to have Romo and Dez Bryant to help on the offense, and we, at this time last year, didn’t have, on campus, at least two parts of what we thought we had really done well to create some pressure,” Jones said from the scouting combine. “We didn’t have [Greg] Hardy and we didn’t have [Randy] Gregory. So as we sit here today, I know that 90 days from now has a good chance to not look like today in some way. So if you take that possibility, then I feel good about what we can do about the defense. I may not be as happy with what I thought it was last year, which I’ve said. But I do know more will happen, and I do know more will happen with the idea in mind, at the time, that we’ve improved things. We will have spent some money, we will have spent some draft picks. We will have done some things to help our defense. I’m confident of that. It has to be that way, and it is that way.”

Day 1 of free agency was displeasing to many Cowboys fans, but as team executive Stephen Jones likes to say, the player-acquisition business is 365 days a year.

The Cowboys are hoping their best presents come after the busiest shopping day of the year.