Breaking down the Cowboys’ free agent signings so far …
Terrance Williams, wide receiver (4 years, $17 million): It was a surprise that Williams, the fifth-year receiver, would come back home. Williams, a Dallas native who went to Baylor, didn’t receive the big offers he was seeking after the first day of free agency and decided to go with familiarity. Williams has never averaged less than 13.5 yards per catch, that number coming last season, so he produces a lot of big catches. Williams will never be a No. 1 receiver, which was proven when Dez Bryant went down in the 2015 season and the offense collapsed. The “Body Catcher” also tends to drop some passes since he allows the ball to hit his body. But Williams is still only 27 and a nice option opposite Dez. He comes reasonably priced for a starting wide receiver. Only the first two years are guaranteed so if he disappoints, they can cut him with minimal repercussions.
Brice Butler, wide receiver (1 year, $1.1 million): Butler appeared to be the de facto starter when he signed this deal at the start of free agency. But then the Cowboys kept the whole receiving gang together by signing Williams the next day. Butler, like Williams, has his warts. He drops the easy passes and makes the difficult ones. He has a high upside and hasn’t reached his potential. He’s also a bargain for a fourth receiver. The signings of Williams and Butler will allow the Cowboys to pass on drafting a receiver in the draft if they feel so inclined.
Nolan Carroll, cornerback (3 years, $10 million): I’m pretty disappointed with this signing. I was not impressed with Carroll when he played opposite the Cowboys in Philadelphia last season. Pro Football Focus agrees, ranking him 92nd out of 112 cornerbacks in 2016. Carroll has fine size, 6-foot-1, but gives up a lot of plays. The good news is the Cowboys hold an option on Carroll for 2018 and 2019, when he will make $3 million both years. If he’s lousy, they’re only out $2 million in signing bonus money. His signing likely signals the end of the Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne era in Dallas,. though the Cowboys still need at least one more cornerback. I’d still like to see Dallas use a high draft pick on a cornerback to pair with Anthony Brown for a few years.
Stephen Paea, defensive tackle (1 year, $2 million): Paea played under Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli for his first two seasons in Chicago. Paea has been around the block with the Bears, Redskins and Browns in six seasons, but he will fit the hole vacated by Terrell McClain. Paea is a very strong, high-energy guy who will give Marinelli all he can at the 1-technique defensive tackle position. He will tie up a couple blockers, allowing playmakers such as Maliek Collins and David Irving to thrive next to him. I would have liked to have seen the Cowboys make a run at Bennie Logan, but they don’t have the 8 million per year to splurge yet.
Damontre Moore, defensive end (2 years, $1.65 million): The Cowboys are hedging their bets that the 2013 third-round pick by the Giants will give their pass rush a boost. Moore did have a career-high 5.5 sacks in 2014 with the Giants so he’s capable. The Cowboys are hoping the 24-year-old Texan has matured after being with four other teams. His tenure with the Giants ended after an altercation with defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins over some headphones. He doesn’t have a lot of tread on his tires. The hope is that after four unfruitful seasons in the NFL, he’s gotten the message to grow up/
Jonathan Cooper, guard (1 year, terms not known): The guard is not the same player who was picked No. 7 overall in the 2013 draft by Arizona. He, like Moore, has bounced around with three other teams. But he doesn’t have a lot of mileage and will be essential to the Cowboys’ depth with Ron Leary signing a big deal to go to Denver and oft-injured La’el Collins now the starter. He could become a starter if Collins is moved to right tackle for retiring Doug Free. The Cowboys have good depth at guard for 2017 with Cooper and Joe Looney as backups.
Darren McFadden, running back (1 year, $980,000): The Cowboys on Thursday swooped in and re-signed McFadden hours after losing backup running back Lance Dunbar to the Rams. Terms aren’t known yet, but McFadden gives the Cowboys huge insurance behind starter Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott could be facing an NFL suspension after pulling down the top of a female friend at a recent St. Patrick’s Day party. Yes, Dallas has Alfred Morris under contract for 2017, but there are rumors floating around the former Redskin will be cut. McFadden was a 1,000-yard rusher during the disastrous 2015 season and offers a nice burst still at age 29. The Cowboys still need to find a long-term backup running back in the draft behind Elliott after inexplicably putting promising rookie running back Darius Jackson on waivers late last season.