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Cowboys and Eagles – A Tale of Two Franchises

Cowboys Free Agency

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” This famous Dickens line could very well describe the mood inside AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving Day, 2014. The Eagles had dismantled and dominated the Cowboys. Philadelphia had just put a strangle hold on the division and all signs pointed upward for Chip Kelly and his high-flying Eagles. The Cowboys were left for dead, especially considering that they faced a daunting final stretch with little hope of salvaging their season. Yet something happened following that game.

Despite the embarrassment, the Cowboys never faltered in their belief in the process. A process that acknowledges there will be days like the one they suffered that Thursday afternoon. Without resorting to panic, Dallas maintained their poise and stuck to the game plan. They won their final four games in dominating fashion, clinching the division and a home playoff game. The Eagles, perhaps giddy about their turkey day performance, promptly acted like turkeys. They were manhandled at home in successive weeks by the Seahawks and Cowboys, before inexplicably cowing down to the Redskins. In the span of three weeks, the mood for both franchises and their fan bases shifted 180 degrees.

Enter the 2015 off-season. The approach taken by by each team is a direct correlation of their season. The Eagles, seeking to quickly shift their trajectory, decided to make massive and dramatic overhauls to their roster and salary structure. Perhaps egged on by the rampant rumors that Kelly was inclined to trade his entire stock of draft picks for the right to move up and take his former college quarterback Marcus Mariota, that excitement carried over into the team’s decision-making.

The opening of free agency heralded the beginning of a whirlwind of trades and signings by the Eagles. Many of these were met with head scratching and question marks. Star running back LeSean McCoy was shipped out to Buffalo for former Kelly pupil Kiko Alonso. The rationale was that by moving McCoy, vital cap space could be created for use at other positions. Then the quarterback carousel started. Nick Foles and two draft picks were traded to St. Louis for Sam Bradford and a pick. While Bradford is undoubtedly more talented than Foles, his injury history is very troubling. Not to mention, the cap space gained by trading McCoy was instantly abolished by Bradford’s salary. Two splashy, big contract signings at cornerback will surely improve a miserable secondary. However, the value probably will not match the price tag.

Then came the run on running backs. The Eagles entered the DeMarco Murray sweepstakes late, after being spurned by Frank Gore and agreeing in principal with Ryan Mathews. Philadelphia inexplicably bid against itself while awarding Murray with a 5 year, $42 million contract. Despite paying Murray lead back money, Mathews was also added. The reasoning behind that signing was that Mathews would lessen the workload of Murray. Once again, it is curious at best to pay a running back in excess of $8 million per season to be in a committee approach.

Meanwhile, in Dallas, the Cowboys entered the off-season with a measured and calculated approach. It is the same approach they followed as a team at the end of the season last year. They mapped out what they needed to do in the off-season versus what they wanted to do. They needed to secure certain players they felt were crucial to the team’s success going forward. Dez Bryant was given the franchise tag as they continue to work towards a long term deal, while slot receiver Cole Beasley and right tackle Doug Free were resigned to logical and economical contracts. These were the players they deemed necessary.

One of the dangers of free agency is overvaluing your own players. Jerry Jones and the Cowboys have have been among the worst offenders in the past. But, they have been much more disciplined in recent years. Dallas had multiple players become free agents following their successful run in 2014. Instead of reaching and overpaying for luxury players like Dwayne Harris, Jeremy Parnell and Bruce Carter, they remained calm and let them go to other teams on bloated contracts, while potentially filling their spots with equal talent on cheaper contracts later in the free agency period.

Which brings us to Murray. To many Philly fans, who literally days before said McCoy was replaceable, Murray is now being touted as an indispensable and a crucial player. While it is true that he played an enormous role on the Cowboys both on the field and in the locker room, his position has proven to be one of the most replaceable in today’s NFL. History shows that running backs who carry a load as heavy as the one Murray did last year never reach that pinnacle again. The Cowboys did their due diligence and determined that they would side with history. It is very doubtful that Murray will come anywhere close to what he accomplished last year. Their estimation was that he could return and possibly provide a smaller percentage of his production from 2014. For them, that would be worth around $5 million per year. This is what they offered and to their credit, they stuck to it. Instead, they signed Darren McFadden, who is less than a year older than Murray to a very small contract with the hopes that he will show drastic improvement running behind the NFL’s top offensive line. If he is unable to do that, he costs next to nothing. They will also give every opportunity to Ryan Williams to help fill the void created by Murray’s departure. And then there is the draft, which boasts a number of talented runners. The Cowboys plan has always included ways to fill Murray’s role.

The 2015 off-season is a perfect example of how different teams approach team building. The always enticing free agency period tempts every team to jump into its deep waters. The best teams have been the ones who carefully gauge the market, make calculated additions to fill holes and build with young talent through the draft. The teams that show up with their wallets open and buy toys that tickle their fancy are generally the ones that suffer buyers remorse sooner rather than later. The Eagles and the Cowboys are at polar ends of this spectrum this off-season. Time will tell which made the correct moves. For the Eagles, that time will be much sooner.

Ben Hammons



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