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Clarence E. Hill Jr.: Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys might wind up getting exactly what they paid for
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Clarence E. Hill Jr.: Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys might wind up getting exactly what they paid for

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Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy is pictured on the sideline during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49 ers at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, December 20, 2020.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy is pictured on the sideline during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, December 20, 2020.

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.

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