Top five picks in 2016 draft: Cowboys take low-cost approach to free agency

Jerry Jones, center, and the Cowboys' brain trust believe the draft is the best, and most cost-effective way to improve the team. AP Photo/James D Smith

Periodically, the five of us who cover the teams with the top five picks in this year’s NFL draft will examine an issue collectively.

Today, we take a closer look at where those teams sit in terms of the salary cap a month from the draft:

1) Tennessee Titans: According to the NFL Players Association database, the Titans have about $32 million in remaining salary-cap money. Some of it will still be used on free agents, and a share of it is the team’s rookie pool. But they have a good deal of flexibility and might wind up in position to carry over cap dollars to 2017 to ensure they are in position to make the sort of big move or moves they need to in free agency to find a guy or guys who they believe can get them to the next level. They wouldd also be wise to re-up tight end Delanie Walker, and could have room to front-load the deal. -- Paul Kuharsky

2) Cleveland Browns: Salary-cap space has never been an issue for the Browns. They have plenty of space -- about $36 million, even with the signing of Robert Griffin III. Cleveland started free agency with a ton of cap space. It still has a ton of cap space. The issue has never been cap space. How they choose to use their cap space has been the issue for the Browns. -- Pat McManamon

3) San Diego Chargers: General manager Tom Telesco did not rule out adding a player in free agency before the draft. The Chargers have about $13.4 million in salary-cap space, according to the NFL Players Association database. So San Diego has room to add a mid-level free agent. The Chargers already have spent about $36 million in guaranteed money in free agency, which puts them at No. 11 in spending in the NFL. So the Chargers were active in free agency this year. But Telesco still favors a draft-and-develop approach to building a roster. San Diego has eight picks in this year’s draft. "There’s nothing that we’ve done in free agency that would preclude us from taking someone in the draft," Telesco said. "And that was the goal. Do we want to sign more guys in free agency before the draft? I don’t want to, but we could." -- Eric D. Williams

4) Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys have about $6.5 million in cap room. They will need more to sign their rookie class, and can create room by either cutting or re-working the deal of cornerback Brandon Carr or restructuring other contracts -- although they do not want to touch the contracts of Tony Romo or Dez Bryant. The Cowboys will need a good chunk of space for their draft picks. The Cowboys have taken a low-cost approach to free agency, because they believe the draft is the best, and most cost-effective way to improve the team. They were not going to overpay for free agents, and Cedric Thornton (four years, $17 million) is their largest deal to date. They are signing players at their prices, not the player’s price. It’s more important for them to have space in the future to spend on players like Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and DeMarcus Lawrence. The draft gives them a chance to do that. -- Todd Archer

5) Jacksonville Jaguars: The team has the second-most cap space available, according to ESPN Stats & Information ($54,548,876) behind San Francisco ($55,011,481). The Jaguars would have liked to have less available, though, because it would have meant they signed defensive end Olivier Vernon instead of losing out to the New York Giants. Vernon is on record as saying he didn’t think he would feel comfortable in the city of Jacksonville and preferred New York. But had the Jaguars offered enough money, he might have changed his mind. Still, the Jaguars are happy with where they sit cap-wise, because they are faced with re-signing some of their younger players -- such as receiver Allen Hurns, receiver Allen Robinson and linebacker Telvin Smith -- to second contracts before the 2017 season. That will certainly eat into that cap space and reduce the amount they can carry over into next year. -- Michael DiRocco