The NFL offseason is now cruising by at a rapid pace. The news brings new developments on a seemingly daily basis, and I have been scolded by many of my readers for not weighing in each day on the developments. I do, but usually do so on twitter (@sportssturm) and can only break out full-length blogs when time permits. And guess what? Today, time permits. So, let's catch up by starting with the decision to franchise Anthony Spencer and comment on everything that has happened since:
ITEM: Anthony Spencer franchised by Cowboys for $8.8m in 2012.
Take: By now, you know my position on this, I should hope. If not, read this and this. The short conclusion is that the Cowboys had no choice. Unlike those who stop thinking through the issue after they declare Spencer is not worth $8.8 million, the Cowboys had to ponder the idea of finding someone to play the position without using all of their offseason resources to do it. Again, you are over-paying Spencer. But, that is a payment toward the sins of not drafting properly. But, in March of 2012, you either throw him away and hope Victor Butler can handle things, or you pay your penalty and move on. I expect that he will be extended if the price can be seen to drop the 2012 cap hit to $2-3m, but perhaps they are willing to make him play with no security beyond 2012 and look to find his replacement during the season. Although that would require the ability to find and groom his replacement, and if they could do that, then they wouldn't be franchising him in the first place.
ITEM: Cowboys penalized by the NFL $10m for 2010 cap infractions.
Take: This is maddening on a number of levels and I think the league may ultimately issue some level of compromise. In the meantime, the Cowboys cash strapped environment will be tested further by these alleged infractions. Frankly, the assertion that the Cowboys and Redskins were "cheating" is ridiculous and perhaps their only infraction is that they did not participate in an unspoken level of collusion. Regardless, challenging the authority of Roger Goodell is not a successful hobby for very many people in the NFL, and the Cowboys might have been made an example. One really has to wonder about the timing of the ruling. For instance, if the ruling had come down 1 week earlier, I don't think the Cowboys would have made the same decision with the franchise tag. That isn't to say that they would have given up on Spencer, but they might have worked harder to get a 3 or 4 year deal that would have spread out his cap hit. But now, they tied up a ton of money in Spencer and had the NFL take much of the rest. Even if the decision by the NFL is a righteous one, there is little basis for the announcement of an infraction from 2010 being given the day before free agency opens. That almost seems cruel and unusual.
ITEM: Cowboys cut Newman, Buehler; non-tender Fiammetta, Ogletree, Holley
Take: These moves help the team open up cap room to do deals that we will get to in a moment. The initial cuts of Newman and Buehler are both easy decisions. As much as anyone can love what Newman brought to the table for much of his career, he was always paid to be an elite cornerback. And the fact is for much of his career he was not elite. With annual money near $500k per game, the decision to cut him loose was delayed a year when they could not find his replacement last summer. But, this year, they realized that paying a guy like Brandon Carr $10m hurts, but not nearly as much if you consider he costs only $2m more than Newman. Buehler should have been gone last summer, too, but Jerry Jones seemed to be reluctant to admit that mistake. As for the tenders, it seems extremely curious to cut ties with Fiammetta when you were only talking about a $1.24m tender. After finding his replacement in free agency, they likely only saved about 200k, so I am not too sure the point to that. On the other hand, after the $5m cap penalty in 2012, maybe every 200k matters. Ogletree and Holley are lower level players that should be easily replaced by a warm body in camp.
ITEM: Cowboys get their #1 free agent target, Brandon Carr - 5 year/$50.1m
Take: Brilliant work by the Cowboys to target a player, find him to be their guy, and then pounce at 3pm on the opening day of free agency to get a signature. Yes, it is more than they wanted to pay, but you will not find sales when you shop on the opening day of free agency. Here is my full breakdown of Brandon Carr from last week here and here. He was quite expensive, but he now gives the Cowboys a top corner who is really strong in press coverage. And that is important because your defense is predicated on corners who can press and be physical and that wasn't really the specialty of Newman against big receivers. Now, the Cowboys should be able to get in your face on the edges and send more blitzes to make the defense really click. And, given his age, you can feel really good about his upside for the next 5 seasons. It is a ton of money, but I like the move and more importantly, I like the Cowboys having a plan and accomplishing said plan.
ITEM: Cowboys lose Laurent Robinson to Jacksonville for 5 year/$32.5m
Take: Really, all you need to know here is that somebody wanted Robinson so badly that they made him an offer over $30 million. He was great for the Cowboys in 2011, but let's not get carried away. 850 yards is a great trick, but nothing special. In fact, well over 30 receivers in football had that number last season, and due to the run on receivers in free agency where Pierre Garcon was paid well over value, it bumped everyone up. Robinson won the lottery, but that doesn't mean the Cowboys should get in on this type of over-payment for a 3rd receiver. If you think that he is better than Bryant or Austin, then the problems are actually bigger than we thought. But, I have no problem with the Cowboys offering him a fair price (4 year/$16m) and then seeing the bidding going crazy and moving on. The only losers here are guys like Jordy Nelson who signed an extension early with Green Bay (3 year/$13.5 million) and then lost out on the free agency bonanza. Nelson must think he missed out on $50 million if he would have hit free agency given what Robinson was paid. Good for Laurent who was cut just a few months back and now has hit the jackpot, but the Cowboys - regardless of the cap situation - could not bid in that area for a 3rd WR.
ITEM: Cowboys sign FB Vickers, LB Conner, FS Pool, G Bernadeau, QB Orton in free agency
Take: This is a lot of activity for a team with no cap room. Let's keep in mind that none of these players were clear starters on their own team. Pool played full time due to injury on the Jets. Conner is a guy who can be a full timer if he can stay healthy. And the rest of the players will play part-time roles. Orton is a big price to pay for a back-up, but at the same time, the Cowboys are wise to be fortified behind Tony Romo with quality. I would imagine some of these moves tell us what we need to know about Stephen McGee (gone?), Bruce Carter (not ready) and the interior offensive line. I expect that guard/center becomes a real high priority in the draft now, as Carl Nicks was never in the price range if the Cowboys could only afford one premium free agent.
Summary: Quite a week for the franchise, with plenty of work yet to do. They have done a nice job with little money, but are they better? They have not done anything to the biggest weaknesses on the team - the pass rush and pass protection in the middle of the line - save for the improved corner play that they expect Carr to bring. But, it is just March 16, so they have some time to figure things out.
Interesting items and they have accomplished a fair amount. Now, we begin to ponder what they have ahead of them with plenty of work left ahead.