Cowboys make smart free-agent decisions

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
10:00
AM ET
The weekend signing of defensive end Anthony Spencer is the latest example of how the Cowboys are trying to upgrade their roster even though they have little salary-cap room.

When the free-agency period started, the Cowboys were near the bottom of the league in available salary-cap space with roughly $2 million.

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After they released DeMarcus Ware and restructured some contracts, the money didn’t flow, it just opened up slightly and allowed Jerry Jones -- yes, Jerry Jones the general manager -- and executive vice president Stephen Jones to make smart decisions.

Spencer’s signing came on the cheap, a team-friendly deal for a player coming off microfracture surgery with no guarantees he’ll be ready for training camp.

Spencer didn’t receive a signing bonus and his base salary will be $1.25 million. The deal jumps to as much as $3.5 million with incentives.

So basically, Spencer has to earn his money.

The highlight of the free-agent class is defensive end Henry Melton, who is also recovering from an injury. Melton played in just three games last season before tearing his ACL. Melton is on the road to recovery and Cowboys officials are confident he’ll participate in the first training camp practice in late July.

Melton basically got a one-year deal worth $2.25 million which can increase if certain incentives are met.

However, Melton also can make nearly $29 million over the next four seasons if he’s on the roster by the start of the league year in 2015.

If Melton struggles in 2014, the Cowboys can get out of it having spent probably no more than $3.5 million on him.

The Joneses made other smart decisions in free agency this spring.

They needed a backup quarterback, and coach Jason Garrett liked Brandon Weeden, a 30-year old quarterback who's still inexperienced when it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL.

So the Cowboys signed him to a two-year deal worth $1.23 million with no signing bonus. And with Kyle Orton deciding to take an extended vacation while he contemplates his future, adding Weeden and another backup quarterback, Caleb Hanie, to a one-year deal was an intelligent move by a franchise looking to reach the postseason.

With the defensive line having depth issues, the Cowboys signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey to a two-year deal worth $4.5 million. Mincey got $500,000 to sign with the Cowboys and will get a base salary of $1 million this season.

Terrell McClain was also signed as a quality defensive tackle to provide depth. McClain’s three-year deal is worth $3.05 million. McClain got $300,000 to sign and will get a base salary of $750,000.

The financial commitment is small in most if not all of these deals, and outside of the Melton signing, none of these players wow you with the expectations they will provide the difference between reaching the playoffs or not.

But when you don’t have a lot of money to play with, you need to make smart decisions and this spring the Cowboys did that.
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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