A lot of teams take pride in building a strong roster internally, meaning they drafted their star players and the coaches developed them into difference-makers on Sundays.
But there’s no shame in acquiring players through free agency and trades. Just last season, the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams were led by Matthew Stafford, Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr., none of which started their careers in Los Angeles.
Much to the dismay of fans, Dallas had a rather quiet offseason when it comes to free agency pickups. The headline signing was Anthony Barr, which was a great addition. Besides him, the biggest acquisitions were Dante Fowler and James Washington, not the sexiest signings.
Since Jerry Jones and the rest of the front office don’t seem intent on making any more splashy acquisitions, we’re going to rewind time and take a look at the five best Cowboys free agent signings of all time:
5. Deion Sanders (1995-1999)
Neon Deion brought loads of swagger to the Super Bowl champion 1995 Cowboys defense. In five seasons with Dallas, Sanders made five Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams.
Sanders’ made QBs think twice before rifling a pass into the secondary because Prime Time was a ballhawk, snagging 14 interceptions during his tenure in Dallas.
Sanders also built a career as an NFL journeyman, playing for five teams in his 14 years as a pro. But his time with the Cowboys is tied with the Atlanta Falcons for the longest stop of his career.
4. Leonard Davis (2007-2010)
Davis has a good six-year career with the Arizona Cardinals after going second overall in the 2001 NFL Draft. But his game spiked significantly once he joined the Cowboys.
Davis made the Pro Bowl in his first three seasons with Dallas after never being selected to the team during his time in the desert.
The Cowboys hit a lull after the 1995 Super Bowl, finishing at or below .500 six seasons before Davis joined the team. But Davis helped Dallas get back on track as the team finished above .500 in his first three seasons.
3. Terrell Owens (2006-2008)
Adding Owens to the Cowboys was a controversial move at first, as many fans hated him simply because he was with the Philadelphia Eagles. But Owens’ talent is undeniable, and the Dallas faithful would soon warm up to him.
In three seasons, Owens amassed 3,587 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns. The Chattanooga alumni’s best year came in 2007 when he caught 15 touchdown passes, which is the second-most in a single season in Cowboys history, trailing Dez Bryant’s 16 touchdowns in 2014.
Owens helped Dallas make the playoffs in consecutive seasons in 2006 and 2007, but both years ended in first round exits for Big D.
2. Jay Novacek (1990-1995)
Novacek was largely overshadowed by the Triplets on the Cowboys’ dominant 1990s teams that brought home three Lombardi Trophies, but the Martin, South Dakota-native deserves some recognition, too.
When Troy Aikman couldn’t find Michael Irvin, he often checked down to Novacek. But Irvin was open a lot, and adding Emmitt Smith to the mix didn’t allow Novacek to post many monster seasons statistically, but he played his role very well.
Novacek made five-straight Pro Bowls to end his career and was an All-Pro once.
1. Nate Newton (1986-1998)
While Newton’s spot on our list is subjective, there’s no denying his path to the Cowboys is the most unique of any player mentioned.
Newton was drafted by the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL in 1983 but instead opted to join the then-Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent. After he was waived from Washington during training camp, Newton opted to play with the Bandits for two seasons before the USFL closed shop.
That’s when Newton moved to Dallas and anchored the interior offensive line for 13 seasons. In that time, he won three Super Bowls, made six Pro Bowls and was a two-time All-Pro.
Newton’s career should provide hope for KaVontae Turpin, who was signed out of the USFL this offseason.