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NFC East Free Agency Roundup: Dallas


With the initial wave of free agency washed away, it's time to take a look around the NFC East to see what changes have occurred elsewhere in the division. We'll start with the defending champions, the Dallas Cowboys …

2014 Record: 12-4 (1st)
2015 Non-Division Opponents: Atlanta, Carolina, New England, New York Jets, Seattle, at New Orleans, at Tampa Bay, at Buffalo, at Miami, at Green Bay

Goodbye: Obviously, the most noteworthy departure for the Cowboys this offseason was the exodus of the league's reigning rushing champion to greener pastures in Philadelphia. With a league-best 1,845 rushing yards and 2,261 yards from scrimmage, DeMarco Murray accounted for 78.4 percent of the Cowboys' rushing attack and 36.8 percent of their total offense in 2014. Though the starting offensive line remains intact, thanks to the re-signing of right tackle Doug Free, the Cowboys will have their work cut out for them in replacing Murray's production.

Beyond Murray, the Cowboys also said waved farewell to a few other contributors. Top backup offensive lineman Jermey Parnell departed for Jacksonville, putting more onus on the 31-year-old Free to stay healthy in 2015. The Cowboys also said goodbye to a pair of linebackers – 2011 second-round Bruce Carter, who made 32 starts over the last three seasons and eight in 2014, and Justin Durant, who made six starts last year. Rotational defensive tackle Henry Melton had five sacks for the Cowboys in 2014 and will now ply his trade in Tampa Bay. Finally, Murray was not the only former Cowboy to trade jerseys for another NFC East rival as return specialist and wide receiver Dwayne Harris signed with the New York Giants.

Still on the market, meanwhile, is middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who played well for the Cowboys in 2014 on a one-year deal after initially retiring from the game. Defensive back Sterling Moore and injury-prone pass rusher Anthony Spencer also remain unsigned.


Welcome:After finding success with veteran free-agent acquisitions at linebacker last year, Dallas tried to do the same with the addition of 29-year-old Jasper Brinkley, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, and 28-year-old KeithRivers, most recently of the Buffalo Bills. Former Chargers special teams standout and rotational linebackerAndrew Gachkarwas also signed. Dallas also claimed defensive backCorey Whiteoff waivers and signed fullbackJed Collins** to help the ground game.

The nominal replacement for Murray, meanwhile, is former Raiders running back Darren McFadden, he of the 3.3 yards per carry over the last three seasons.

The Cowboys' most important move of the offseason, aside from neglecting to keep Murray, was the franchise tag placement on wide receiver Dez Bryant, ensuring that one of the league's best receivers will stay in Dallas for at least another season, unhappy with the tag as he may be.

And then there's this, the hot-off-the-presses signing of former Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy. Two years ago, Hardy notched 15.0 sacks en route to the Pro Bowl. In 2014, the Cowboys ranked 28th in the league with only 28 sacks. But though the Cowboys are no strangers to media attention about off-field issues, the signing of Hardy will no doubt be met league-wide with some combination of cynicism and scorn after Hardy sat out all but one game in 2015 after a domestic violence conviction. He could earn up to $13.1 million for the Cowboys in 2015.

Draft Focus: Currently armed with eight draft picks, including their own selection in the first five rounds and three seventh-round picks, the biggest question for the Cowboys is when they'll address the running back position in what is considered a loaded draft at the position. Dallas owns the 27th pick in round one, which could be perfect time to pull the trigger on a player like Georgia's Todd Gurley, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon or whichever running back becomes the apple of Jerry Jones' eye (there are no draft-eligible running backs from Arkansas in the class). Elsewhere on the long-term needs front, the Cowboys will likely focus on improving a patchwork defense, especially in the secondary. Dallas' top two quarterbacks are also 34 and 31 years old, so that could be a position to address in the early rounds.

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