Cowboys can't afford free-agent misses as they look for value deals

Signing Cameron Fleming would give the Cowboys some flexibility on the offensive line. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

FRISCO, Texas -- As free agency enters its sixth day, most of the big-money signings are off the market, although a few remain.

The Dallas Cowboys are the only team not to have signed an unrestricted free agent now that the Pittsburgh Steelers signed linebacker Jon Bostic on Sunday.

That’s not to say the Cowboys haven’t been involved in free agency.

They made their biggest signing before the market even opened by placing the franchise tag on Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence to the tune of $17.143 million. They also made it difficult -- if not impossible -- for a team to sign away restricted free agent defensive lineman David Irving after placing the second-round tender on him. On Monday, long snapper L.P. Ladouceur will re-sign with the Cowboys on a one-year deal.

The Cowboys lost linebacker Anthony Hitchens to the Kansas City Chiefs on a five-year, $45 million deal that included a $14 million signing bonus. The Oakland Raiders signed away fullback Keith Smith and linebacker Kyle Wilber to give former Cowboys special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia some familiar faces in the Bay Area. The Cowboys also cut veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick on Saturday but they have been prepared to go with their young corners Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis and plan to move Byron Jones to corner from safety.

As the second wave of free agency begins, the Cowboys could become priority shoppers.

Offensive linemen Cameron Fleming, Marcus Martin and LaAdrian Waddle are expected at The Star this week. Wide receivers Dontrelle Inman and Justin Hunter are also expected to visit.

If they sign any of those players, it would not necessarily swing the power balance in the NFC East but they would give the Cowboys flexibility and fill some holes.

Fleming and Waddle split time at right tackle for the New England Patriots last season after Marcus Cannon went down with an injury. Fleming started Super Bowl LII. Waddle started the Patriots’ divisional round win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

If either signs, then it could allow the Cowboys to move La'el Collins back to left guard. Collins spent his first two seasons at left guard before moving to right tackle in 2017. He was signed to a two-year, $15 million extension last summer but the Cowboys could prefer him at guard, which would help Dak Prescott perform better.

Martin could serve as the backup at guard and center on game day, a role filled by Joe Looney the last two seasons. Jonathan Cooper started 13 games at left guard for the Cowboys in 2017 but he is a free agent and coming off knee surgery.

The Cowboys were in on the Sammy Watkins' chase, but he opted to sign with the Chiefs. If the Cowboys signed Watkins, then that almost certainly brought an end to Dez Bryant's time with the Cowboys. Adding Inman or Hunter would not have the same impact on Bryant. Neither has been a No. 1 receiver but the Tennessee Titans made Hunter a second-round pick in 2013 and the Los Angeles Chargers put the second-round tender on Inman a season ago.

Hunter has never had more than 28 catches in a season. Inman had 58 catches for 810 yards and four touchdowns in 2016 during his best season.

Free agency has not been kind to the Cowboys in recent years. Their most productive signing in the past five years might be Jeremy Mincey, who signed a two-year deal in 2014. He led the Cowboys in sacks in his first year but did not have a sack in 2015. The biggest name free agent the Cowboys have signed is defensive end Greg Hardy, who had six sacks in 12 games after missing the first four games that year because of a suspension.

Defensive tackle Cedric Thornton signed a four-year, $17 million deal in 2016 but never started a game and was among the final cuts last season. Cornerback Nolan Carroll signed a four-year, $10 million contract last year but played in only two games before he was released. None of the Cowboys’ free-agent signings a year ago made it to November on the roster.

“Obviously it didn't work out for us, and we missed,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said at the NFL scouting combine. “You certainly want to be better. That's one thing I admire about Will and our staff, is certainly since it didn't work -- why not? And how are we going to fix it?”

The Cowboys need to fix it starting this week.