Cowboys take prudent approach

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys haven't lost a single player this offseason they weren't prepared to lose.

Yes, that includes running back DeMarco Murray.

Thus far, based on what they wanted to accomplish, the Cowboys' offseason is going according to plan.

These Cowboys move deliberately in free agency, eschewing the big-ticket, gaudy purchases for sensible selections from the discount bin. This is the Cowboys' new reality, and it's taking time for some of y'all to accept it, but it's the proper approach for a team trying to build a sustained winner.

Don't forget that last spring the Cowboys cut star DeMarcus Ware and let Jason Hatcher walk after an 11-sack season, and they still found a way to go 12-4, win the NFC East and win a playoff game for the first time since 2009.

Understand, the Cowboys didn't want to lose Murray, but once they allowed him to reach free agency they knew it was a possibility. They took a calculated gamble that the combination of Murray's workload (392 carries), age (27) and price (he wanted $8 million per year) would scare away other teams. It didn't.

The Cowboys chose right tackle Doug Free over Jermey Parnell, who signed with Jacksonville, and receiver Cole Beasley over Dwayne Harris, who signed with the New York Giants. They declined the team option on defensive tackle Henry Melton, an average player at best for much of last season, didn't offer linebacker Bruce Carter a contract and refused to tender cornerback Sterling Moore a contract. All three signed with Tampa Bay.

The Cowboys wanted linebacker Justin Durant to return, but they weren't prepared to give him anything close to the three-year, $10.8 million deal that included a $1.25 million signing bonus he received from the Falcons, which makes perfect sense. Durant really played well in two seasons with the Cowboys. He plays with considerable heart and effort, but the undersized 29-year-old has missed 16 of the past 32 games.

Smart organizations don't pay age because this is a violent game. Old players tend to get hurt more often and take longer to recover. This is a young man's game, which is why head coach Jason Garrett has been obsessive about making the roster younger.

In 2010, the Cowboys were the seventh-oldest team in the NFL with an average age of 28.13 years. Last season, the Cowboys were the NFL's second-youngest team at 26.2 years old. It's among the reasons the Cowboys didn't fade in December the way they have in so many other years. The Cowboys won their last four regular-season games and outscored their opponents 165-70.

These Cowboys are pragmatic in their approach to the roster -- and they're not really willing to be all that flexible. If middle linebacker Rolando McClain wants to play for close to the minimum of $745,000, then he'll be back. If he doesn't, then he won't. If defensive end Anthony Spencer wants to sign a team-friendly deal for one or two years, then he'll be back. If not, he won't.

It's not complicated these days. The Cowboys have a plan and they're executing it, which is why they weren't panicking on the first few days of free agency as other clubs overspent on free agents.

Adding controversial defensive end Greg Hardy was part of the Cowboys' plan to improve their team and maintain flexibility In the draft. Signing the elite pass-rusher means the Cowboys can follow their draft board instead of feeling pressure to draft a defensive end.

These Cowboys still have more than enough holes that they can take the best player with the 27th pick, whether it's a defensive end, a cornerback, a running back or a linebacker.

Four of the Cowboys' past five first-round picks have been to the Pro Bowl, so they're doing a much better job drafting than they did earlier this millennium. All they need to do is draft a player who will contribute significantly as a rookie.

It may take some time to get used to it, but your Cowboys are operating the way smart teams do it these days. Relax and admire it.