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NFL Free Agency: What Are the Cowboys Waiting For?

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The Cowboys franchise-tagged DeMarcus Lawrence earlier this month but could end up using approximately 10% of their 2018 salary cap to pay him. Getty Images

The NFL’s free-agency window opened just a week ago but blockbuster moves have already been completed.

High profile players have moved teams, eye watering contracts have been signed, Richard Sherman has negotiated a deal without an agent and franchises have tried to address holes in their rosters.

The Dallas Cowboys, meanwhile, have sat by and simply watched it unfold.

Since placing a franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence on March 5 and releasing Benson Mayowa and Joe Vellano three days later, the Cowboys have done absolutely nothing in the free-agent market. Not joining the free-agency merry-go-round in its first week is not a bad thing per se, assuming the franchise in question has a strong enough roster to cope without major additions.

That, however, is not the case for the Dallas Cowboys, who have gaping holes in their ranks. Those deficiencies were exacerbated by the departures of linebacker Anthony Hitchens and cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who moved to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Redskins respectively.

The Cowboys’ reluctance to get involved is not entirely surprising, given Dallas has traditionally preferred to do business in the second week of free-agency when players tend to be cheaper.

However, the Cowboys entered the NFL’s calendar year with only $2 million worth of salary cap room, less than any other franchise. Data compiled by Spotrac.com shows Dallas is ranked fifth in the NFL in terms of cap space occupied by players no longer on the roster.

The Cowboys are paying $14.8 million in so-called “dead money,” only behind the Buffalo Bills, the Arizona Cardinals, the Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers.

Crucially, however, those four franchises still have enough cap room to compete at the high end of the free-agency market, while the Cowboys do not.

GettyImages-900095406 Cowboys' quarterback Dak Prescott could soon command a lucrative contract extension. Getty Images

Hitchens moved to the Chiefs for a five year deal worth $45 million, which was out of the Cowboys’ reach, while wide receiver Sammy Watkins, the only high-profile free-agent the Cowboys were interested in, also moved to Kansas.

The “dead money” issue is glaring in the case of Tony Romo, whose six year contract was worth $108 million and was restructured at various stages after he signed in 2013. Romo was forced to retire last year following a 2016 injury, but Dallas is still paying $8.9 million against the cap this year.

Unfortunately for Cowboys’ fans, reasons for optimism are few and far between, at least in the short term.

As reported by Sporting News, the Cowboys could end up using approximately 10 percent of their 2018 salary cap by paying Lawrence, unless they can reach a multi-year deal.

The Cowboys chose to franchise-tag the defensive end to prevent him from exploring the free-agent market but have until July 15 to negotiate a deal spanning over a few years to alleviate the burden on their cap.

Zach Martin is entering the final year of his deal, and Dak Prescott and Ezekel Elliott will be eligible for renewal at the end of the season.

However, there could be some light at the end of the tunnel. Mother Nature might have helped the Cowboys as the nor’easter battering New York has forced Allen Hurns to postpone his visit to the New York Jets, in favor of the Cowboys.

According to a league source cited by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, Hurns, who was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this week, will visit Dallas first as his flight to New York was cancelled.

Meanwhile, CBS Sports reported Dontrelle Inman and Justin Hunter will also visit the Cowboys, who have already met several wide receiver prospects ahead of the draft.

Per Overthecap.com, the Cowboys must have at least $7.7 million in cap space before the draft to sign their rookie class of 10 picks.

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