Let this quote from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones marinate in your mind for a minute.
“The truth is most anything that I’ve ever been involved in that ended up being special, I overpaid for, every time, to the end,” Jones said last month. “Anytime I’ve tried to get a bargain, I got just that, it was a bargain in a lot of ways and not up to standard.”
Jones made this statement upon signing quarterback Dak Prescott to the most lucrative contract in franchise history while making him the second-highest player in NFL history.
If Jones feels that way about Prescott then what does it say about what the Cowboys have done in free agency since?
The Cowboys added a franchise-record eight unrestricted free agents, including defensive linemen Tarell Basham, Carlos Watkins, Brent Urban, safeties Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse, tackle Ty Nsekhe and deep snapper Jake McQuaide.
But all came at bargain basement prices.
Consider that Prescott’s four-year, $160 million contract includes a first-year take of $75 million in 2021.
The eight unrestricted free agents combined will count just $12.712 million against the salary cap in 2021.
It brings us back to Jones’ kicker quote: “Anytime I’ve tried to get a bargain, I got just that, it was a bargain in a lot of ways and not up to standard.”
And that begs the question, how much better are the Cowboys now than they were at the end of the disappointing 6-10 season in 2020?
It’s understood the Cowboys still have opportunity to improve the team dramatically in the 2021 NFL Draft with the 10th overall pick and a total of 10 picks overall.
But, as of now, the Cowboys got the quality overpay in Prescott and a bunch of maybes.
There is no question that the Cowboys are better off just with Prescott alone. He missed the final 11 games with a fractured ankle after throwing for more yards than any quarterback in NFL history the first five games.
Add in the returns of guard Zack Martin and tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, who all ended the season on injured reserve, and the Cowboys’ offense should once again be one of the most explosive in the NFL. They have a great chance to claim their first NFC East crown since 2018.
But defense is where the Cowboys needed the help the most, as evidenced by the six free-agent additions on that side of the ball.
And that is where questions remain.
The team believes the change in coordinators from Mike Nolan to Dan Quinn will have the biggest impact on a unit that set a team record for points allowed in 2021 and gave up the second-most yards and rushing yards.
But players matter most.
And, on paper, the Cowboys aren’t appreciably better off talent wise on defense than they were a year ago, if at all.
Basham had 3.5 sacks last season. He will replace Aldon Smith, who had five sacks in his first season in the NFL since 2015.
Urban, 29, and Watkins, 27, bring more size and youth to the defensive line rotation. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, 33, the top free-agent signee of 2020, didn’t make it out of training camp.
Nose tackle Dontari Poe, 30, was cut after seven games. And Tyrone Crawford, 31, retired after the season.
Neal, a 2016 first-round pick of the Falcons who has overcome a torn Achilles and a torn ACL, is being moved to linebacker where the Cowboys lost Joe Thomas free agency and Sean Lee is contemplating retirement.
Neal will also spot play at safety. He is a hard hitter and good tackler but he is a liability in coverage, with all of the injuries prompting the move to linebacker.
Kazee, who had 10 interceptions in 2018-19, is coming off a torn Achilles in 2020. Kearse has 12 career starts but is primarily a special teams player.
All three will supplant the-departed Xavier Woods in a rotation at safety with Donovan Wilson.
The fact that Kazee and Kearse signed prove-it deals for the veteran minimum shows that the Cowboys aren’t sold on them, either.
There still remains a huge hole at cornerback opposite Trevon Diggs. The Cowboys most certainly will address that at the top of the draft.
What is known for sure right now is that the Cowboys are better because Prescott.
But better than last season and better than rest of the teams in a bad NFC East are not the goals for a team that’s trying to get back to the Super Bowl for first time in 25 years.
Everything else is a hope and maybe.
Or we can just let Jones tell it, he is about to get what he paid for.
2021 NFL Mock Draft: Trades shake up first round
1. Jacksonville (1-15) — Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson, Jr.
2. N.Y. Jets (2-14) — Zach Wilson, QB, BYU, Jr.
3. San Francisco from Miami through Houston (4-12) — Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota St., So.
4. Atlanta (4-12) — Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida, Jr.
5. Cincinnati (4-11-1) — Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU, Jr.
6. Miami from Philadelphia (4-11-1) — Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama, Jr.
It’s scary that a 10-win team with such a good coach and plenty of young talent also has four picks in the top 50. The Dolphins are desperate for wide receivers who can get open and it’s clear that will be the target here (or they wouldn’t have made this deal with the Eagles). Miami mimics Cincinnati by reuniting a top receiving prospect with his old college quarterback. A healthy Waddle is the most explosive all-around athlete at receiver in this class and his addition will only expedite former Crimson Tide teammate Tua Tagovailoa’s development. Top needs: WR, RB, LB
7. Detroit (5-11) — Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon, Jr.
In most drafts, Sewell would be the consensus No. 1 overall pick and he’d pair nicely with Taylor Decker, giving the Lions bookend tackles. The 2019 Outland Trophy winner — he opted out last season due to the threat of COVID-19 — isn’t flawless, but his ceiling is as high as they come (he’ll only be 21 in October). Top needs: WR, LB, DB
8. Carolina (5-11) — Justin Fields, QB, Ohio St., Jr.
9. Denver (5-11) — Micah Parsons, LB, Penn St., Jr.
A classic Vic Fangio defense usually features a playmaking linebacker at its core. Parsons is another elite prospect who opted out of the 2020 season, citing “the potential risk to the health and well-being” of his young son due to COVID. He recently dazzled scouts with a 4.39 40-yard dash at his pro day. This would be the first time in my lifetime the first defensive player off the board lasts this long. Top needs: Edge, OT, LB
10. Dallas (6-10) — Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama, Jr.
11. N.Y. Giants (6-10) — Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan, Sr.
The Giants are in need of another pass rushing threat to go opposite Leonard Williams. Paye is already an impressive run defender against the spread offense, which is becoming increasingly important in the NFL, and there are athletic indicators he will continue to improve as a pass rusher. Top needs: OL, Edge, LB
12. Philadelphia from Miami through San Francisco (6-10) — DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama, Sr.
Is it me or does it seem like the Eagles are always in need of help at receiver? The Heisman winner took his game to another level after Waddle was sidelined in 2020 — he had 1,300 yards on 72 receptions and 19 touchdowns in his last eight games. The only blemish is his size. Top needs: WR, CB, LB
13. L.A. Chargers (7-9) — Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern, Sr.
Signing All-Pro center Corey Linsley is a step in the right direction for a very bad offensive line. Slater opted out this season due to COVID, but handled the mighty Chase Young as a junior while playing left tackle and didn’t allow a single sack his last season. He’s versatile and talented enough to play all five offensive line positions. He did nothing during his pro day to hurt himself. Top needs: OL, CB, DL
14. Minnesota (7-9) — Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech, Sr.
Coach Mike Zimmer didn’t hold back when he called his defense the “worst one I’ve ever had,” but the offensive line is priority here considering the Vikings don’t have a pick in the second round. Darrisaw would be the first Hokie offensive lineman to be drafted in the first round since 2008 ( Duane Brown). Top needs: OL, S, Edge
15. New England (7-9) — Mac Jones, QB, Alabama, Jr.
16. Arizona (8-8) — Najee Harris, RB, Alabama, Sr.
If you’re a fantasy player who is excited about Chase Edmonds’ potential as a featured back now that Kenyan Drake has moved on, don’t get your hopes up. Harris has evolved into an all-around threat. Of course, he’s a powerful runner with his size (6-foot-2, 230 pounds), but he’s also developed into a great receiver out of the backfield and he’s improved significantly in pass-protection. Top needs: CB, RB, OL
17. Las Vegas (8-8) — Trevon Moehrig-Woodard, S, TCU, Jr.
The Raiders must address their atrocious secondary. Moehrig-Woodard’s skillset is scheme-proof. He’s a hard hitter who led all safeties in pass breakups in each of the past two seasons. Top needs: OT, S, LB
18. Miami (10-6) — Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson, Sr.
One way to alleviate the pressure off of a young quarterback is to give him a dynamic running back who is a three-down threat and capable of scoring every time the ball is in his hands. Etienne, a three-time All-American and the ACC’s career rushing leader, fits the bill perfectly. Top needs: WR, RB, LB
19. Washington (7-9) — Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame, Sr.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Taylor Heinicke isn’t the quarterback of the future for the Football Team — or Ryan Fitzpatrick for that matter — but there’s not a QB on the board worthy of this pick. Owusu-Koramoah is an explosive athlete who can make plays from sideline-to-sideline. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year also won the Butkus Award (nation’s top linebacker) and was a consensus All-American. Top needs: QB, LB, Edge
20. Chicago (8-8) — Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech, Jr.
21. Indianapolis (11-5) — Azeez Ojulari, Edge, Georgia, So.
I expected the Colts to be aggressive seeking their next quarterback in the trade market and they didn’t disappoint. The next biggest priority is to continue building their pass rush. Ojulari was a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award (the nation’s top defensive player) with 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and 25 quarterback hurries. He’s only scratching the surface of his talent. Top needs: Edge, OT, CB
22. Tennessee (11-5) — Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina, Jr.
The Titans will need to address their secondary (after releasing Kenny Vaccaro and Malcolm Butler) in a major way. Horn — his father Joe was a Pro Bowl wide receiver — is a very talented, uber-aggressive press corner with elite speed, good size (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) and can make plays in run support. Top needs: WR, CB, DT
23. N.Y. Jets from Seattle (12-4) — Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami, Jr.
If past is prologue, once head coach Robert Saleh has his quarterback situation figured out, he’ll focus on building a pass rush. Phillips stepped up in Gregory Rousseau’s absence after transferring from UCLA. The former highly-touted recruit is a relentless pass rusher who produced eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in 10 games as a Hurricane. Top needs: QB, OT, LB
24. Pittsburgh (12-4) — Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC, Jr.
The Steelers are facing difficult decisions at almost every major position after this season, but it’s clear the offensive line has to be a priority. Vera-Tucker was one of the best offensive tackles in the country, but could also shine on the interior in the NFL. Top needs: OT, RB, LB
25. Jacksonville from L.A. Rams (10-6) — Jayson Oweh, Edge, Penn St., So.
26. Cleveland (11-5) — Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa, Jr.
The Browns need to upgrade their pass rush outside of Myles Garrett, but they also need to improve their linebacker corps. Collins has the size (6-4, 260), athleticism and positional flexibility that will cause most defensive coordinators to drool. He received the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded by the Football Writers Association of America to the top defensive player in college football. Top needs: LB, Edge, DL
27. Baltimore (11-5) — Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami, So.
Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon are gone. It’s been almost two decades since a Hurricane defensive end was taken in the first round ( Jerome McDougle in 2003). Rousseau finished with 15.5 sacks in 13 games as a redshirt freshman, but opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. Top needs: Edge, C, LB
28. New Orleans (12-4) — Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue, So.
Emmanuel Sanders’ release and no money for free agency might necessitate this move. Moore would be a nice fit opposite a healthy Michael Thomas. An impressive pro day should boost him into the back-end of the first round. Top needs: QB, DB, WR
29. Green Bay (13-3) — Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern, Jr.
30. Buffalo (13-3) — Jaylen Mayfield, OL, Michigan, Jr.
Offensive tackle Daryl Williams was resigned, but the Bills still need to address the interior. Mayfield features the versatility and athleticism to thrive in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system. Top needs: DL, G, CB
31. Kansas City (14-2) — Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas, Jr.
The greatness of Patrick Mahomes has made up for the mediocrity of his offensive line since he became the starter. Joe Thuney was a nice addition at guard. Cosmi is capable of starting at right tackle day one, but has the ability to protect Mahomes’ blindside eventually. Top needs: OT, LB, WR