FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys have added their most complete free agent class in franchise history in 2021.
It’s very comprehensive. Cheap.
The Cowboys signed eight unrestricted free agents. The team’s previous record since free agency began in 1993 was in 2012, when linebacker McKenzie Bernado, running back Nate Livings, cornerback Brandon Carr, linebacker Dan Connor, quarterback Kyle Orton, running back Brodney Poole and running back Lawrence Vickers joined the team.
This year, the Cowboys added underdog Jake McQuade, tackle Ty Nsehe, safeties Keanu Neal, Damon Keesey and Jaron Kearse, linebacker Tarell Basham and defensive linemen Carlos Watkins and Brent Urban.
In total, this group will bring in $12.712 million in salary. Neal has the largest signing bonus of $3 million. Basham has the highest value at $2.5 million. Kearse, Kazee and McQuaide are under contract with minimum payments.
Maybe there will be additions in the offseason, but the question is now: Have the Cowboys gotten better with their new acquisitions?
Answer: Maybe, but there are a lot of ifs and buts.
If Neal, 25, is healthy, the Cowboys have gotten better at safety, linebacker or any other position he plays. Every time the Atlanta Falcons played a full season (or close to it) in the first round in 2016, he had 100 tackles. But he missed most of the 2018 and 2019 seasons with knee and hamstring injuries. The Cowboys were able to contract him in part because of his injuries. Without him, more teams would have made a financial commitment to him.
Safety Keanu Neal played under Cowboys coordinator Dan Quinn in Atlanta and finished three seasons with 100 offensive yards before making it to the Pro Bowl in 2017. William Purnell/Icon Sportswire
If Kaze, 27, can get back into shape, the Cowboys will have a playmaker at the safety position. In 2018, he threw seven interceptions. The Cowboys haven’t had a quarterback with more than six interceptions in a season since Everson Walls had nine in 1985. But Kaze played just four games for Atlanta last season due to a torn Achilles tendon.
Kearse, 27, can also play a hybrid role like Neal and contribute on special teams.
Although coach Mike McCarthy has not yet closed the door on the return of linebacker Aldon Smith, it appears the Cowboys have traded Smith for Basham, who had a record number of sacks last season with the New York Jets. Basham had 3.5, a half game more than Smith in Week 3 last season against the Seattle Seahawks. One wonders if the Cowboys regret not trading Smith to the Seahawks when they had the chance at the trade deadline.
Watkins, 27, is the latest addition to the Cowboys’ defensive line from the Houston Texans. Dallas has added Terrell McClain and Christian Covington in recent years and acquired Eli Ancoe last season. If Watkins can be as good as McClain, the Cowboys have found a matchup. If he plays more like Anku, he might not make the final team.
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Urban, 29, is expected to replace defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford, who recently retired after nine years with the Cowboys. Crawford’s versatility has been an asset, and Urban also happens to be able to play at multiple positions on the front line. Last season, the Chicago Bears recorded a career-high 2.5 sacks and Crawford had two sacks in 2020.
With injuries to offensive linemen Tyrone Smith and La’el Collins last season, the Cowboys wanted a veteran at the offensive tackle position. Nseh turns 36 in October, so he has experience, and the Cowboys think he still has plenty of room to run. Nsekhe should be better than Brandon Knight and Terence Steele, who started the most games last season for Smith and Collins, respectively.
McQuade, 33, may have the most shoes to fill at the long snapper position, and all he has to do is be perfect to match what his predecessor, L.P. Ladouceur, did for 16 years. If it’s a one-way street, one will wonder if the Cowboys have Ladouceur for his 17th consecutive start. The season should have been brought back.
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