Sports Outside the Beltway

Cowlishaw: Cowboys Falling Behind in Free Agency

Tim Cowlishaw is getting a little panicked watching the other teams in the NFC East sign up big name free agents while the Cowboys nibble at more affordable players.

The NFL’s free-agency signing period is barely under way and already the Washington Redskins have taken significant steps in moving toward Seattle as the cream of the conference. Their local rivals also have taken steps, it would seem, toward becoming the second-most relevant professional team in Texas.

Let’s see if we have this straight. The Redskins get the multitalented Antwaan Randle El, an impressive receiver-return man whose touchdown pass to Hines Ward broke open the Super Bowl for Pittsburgh. For a couple of mid-round draft picks, the Redskins get 49ers receiver Brandon Lloyd, who set career highs in catches and yards last year pretty much by burning Cowboys corner Anthony Henry (albeit an injured Henry). The Redskins get Pro Bowl safety Adam Archuleta from St. Louis either as insurance against Sean Taylor spending time in the iron hotel for assault charges in Florida or to team with Taylor as the NFC’s best pair of safeties.

The Cowboys get Kyle Kosier, a guard from Detroit, which could lead to the release of the most unloved 10-time Pro Bowl player in league history. If Larry Allen goes, and with La’Roi Glover already released and scooped up by the Rams, the Cowboys may have their eye on the league mark for Pro Bowl trips released in one off-season. The Cowboys also signed linebacker Akin Ayodele from Jacksonville to replace Dat Nguyen, who has retired. Or Scott Fujita, who is a Saint. But not both.

Right now there’s more talk around the country about the Houston Texans and what they will do with Reggie Bush and his impact on that team than there is about what Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells are up to as they approach Year 4. If they don’t get moving, the Cowboys also are approaching Year 10 without a playoff victory. This already is a franchise record for longest lull between postseason wins.

Maybe it’s not as bad as it looks for the future Arlington’s Team. It is early in the signing period. Undoubtedly, the Cowboys will be players at some point, although one has to say the $28 million splash on Henry, Marco Rivera and Jason Ferguson did not achieve its intended result.

It’s simple. The Cowboys missed the playoffs (again) because they weren’t as good as Washington. A split with the Redskins would have put Dallas in and Washington out. [...] A year ago, the Redskins lacked explosion on offense outside of Santana Moss, who developed into a Pro Bowl wide receiver. The additions of Randle El and Lloyd (four catches for 142 yards against Dallas) change that. Now, Washington has more speed at receiver than Dallas in addition to a better running game with Clinton Portis more reliable than Julius Jones. The Redskins were slightly better than Dallas on defense in 2005. The addition of Archuleta on one side and subtraction of Glover on the other certainly has done nothing to change that.

Cowlishaw could certainly prove right here. I have to admit, I’ve been a little nervous watching the other teams, especially the Skins, sign up these big names while the Cowboys signed two guys I’d never heard of while letting some key players go.

But the truth of the matter is that the Redskins are grossly overpaying for players. Randel El is certainly a player I’d have liked to see on the Cowboys. But he’s not a #1 receiver. He’s not even a #2 receiver. But the Skins payed him as if he were the second coming of Jerry Rice. So far, that strategy has not worked out so well.

The Cowboys were a decent kicker and a healthy Flozell Adams away from a playoff berth, and maybe even a division title, last year. And that was with a team with several rookies in key positions. They have gotten younger and healthier at linebacker and offensive line, signing two youngish, proven players to affordable, long term contracts. That–and good drafting, year in and year out–is how you build a champion.

It’s just too early to panic.

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I think they radically overpaid for Randle El.

He only caught 35 balls last season. Indeed, that signing strikes me as a “Larry Brown”: i.e., a wealthy owner is impressed with a Super Bowl performance and shells out waaay too much cash.

Dallas was sufficiently smart (although neither fast nor flashy) last season with the FA market, that I am not in panic mode as yet.

Posted by Steven Taylor | March 14, 2006 | 01:07 pm | Permalink

Do I hear “overpaid”?

Perhaps Cowboys fans can take comfort in the Steelers – few big free agent aquisions over the years, just solid players and a good eye in the draft have put my team on the top of the NFL right now. There’s a reason we let Burress and Randle-El go – we’re not paying that much for a number 2 reciever.

Posted by B. Minich, PI | March 14, 2006 | 05:02 pm | Permalink

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