- Associated Press - Thursday, March 10, 2016

IRVING, Texas (AP) - The Cowboys added their first free agent Thursday, signing former Philadelphia defensive lineman Cedric Thornton on a four-year contract worth up to $18 million.

The addition from Dallas’ NFC East rival comes a day after the Cowboys re-signed middle linebacker Rolando McClain. The Dallas defense is looking for more impact plays after struggling to help the team during a 4-12 season played mostly without injured quarterback Tony Romo.

The undrafted Thornton has four career sacks, one in each of the past four seasons with the Eagles. The 27-year-old Thornton started 45 of 61 games in Philadelphia and is likely to be an interior lineman.

The Cowboys also signed cornerback Josh Thomas to a one-year contract. The fifth-round pick by Dallas in 2011 returned to the Cowboys late last season after spending time with five other franchises.

Thornton is the likely replacement for Nick Hayden, a steady if unspectacular three-year starter who never had a sack for the pressure-starved Dallas defense. The 6-foot-4, 309-pound Thornton will play alongside defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford but has flexibility the Cowboys seek in most of their defensive players.

Dallas will still need to address its pass rush, perhaps through next month’s draft.

The Cowboys are unlikely to bring back troubled defensive end Greg Hardy after a tumultuous lone season in Dallas related to his domestic violence case in North Carolina. Second-year end Randy Gregory will miss the first four games on a substance-abuse suspension.

Thornton spent most of his rookie season with the Eagles on the practice squad in 2011 before playing in all 16 games without a start a year later. He had his best season statistically in 2013, with career highs of 48 solo tackles and seven tackles for loss.

Dallas is still in the market for someone to compete with Kellen Moore to be Romo’s backup after Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel failed in that role last season. Former Miami quarterback Matt Moore, who spent his first training camp with the Cowboys in 2007, is among the candidates.

The Cowboys also reported on their website they have restructured Crawford’s contract to free up about $4.5 million in salary cap space. They started free agency with about $14 million in cap space.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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