Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Free Agency Shopping List

Free Agency is an expensive place to shop. And contrary to the popular belief around the league about the "crazy spending Jerry Jones", since the ground was broken on his new stadium in Arlington, the Cowboys have spent the bulk of their cash on re-signing their own free agents and the art work at the new palace (as well as tv repairs for the most expensive and over the top television in history).

A quick review of the last 5 seasons of free agency will show that the Cowboys have not stolen headlines since the purchase of "Bigg", Leonard Davis from Arizona, 5 years ago this week:

Leonard Davis - 3/4/2007 signed a 7-year, $49m contract
Ken Hamlin - 3/24/2007 signed a 1-year, $2.5m contract


Keith Brooking - 2/28/2009 signed a 3-year, $6m contract
Igor Olshansky - 3/6/2009 signed a 4-year, $18m contract
Gerald Sensabaugh - 3/9/2009 signed a 1-year, $1.75m contract


Kenyon Coleman - 7/30/2011 signed a 2-year, $3.75m contract
Abram Elam - 8/3/2011 signed a 1-year, $2.5m contract

When the signing of Igor Olshansky is the single biggest piece of free agency business that Jones has completed in 5 years, you know that he is itching to do something splashy in about a week when the window goes up for crazy spending around the league.

The Cowboys are not near the top of the league in available cap room, but they are among the short list of teams that think they are not too far from being able to compete. This logic could very well be faulty, but if you consider that the primes of Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, and Jason Witten is not going to last forever, you can understand an urgency to get this thing figured out in a very short period of time. The Cowboys cannot afford the patient approach without turning over the top of their roster. They will not and should not do that, so pushing some chips toward the middle of the table for the short term seems like a reasonable strategy.

As free agency and the draft arrive, it seems obvious to target the gigantic holes on the roster. This team desperately needs help at cornerback, as Terence Newman needs to be replaced, and next year at this time the Cowboys will have to make a decision on the future of Mike Jenkins (if you think the Anthony Spencer dilemma is a difficult one, just wait until we get to the Jenkins debate). They also really need to add interior offensive line and I would always love to upgrade both of the players who surround Jay Ratliff on the defensive line. In a perfect world, I would add a prototypical nose tackle to allow Ratliff freedom to be moved up and down the line on early downs against the run, but I don't think I want to pay someone near the age of 30 to do that, so I would prefer to find that speed bump in the draft where he has his whole career ahead of him (and reasonable paychecks in the short-term, too).

But, free agency is where I need to plug at least one of my major needs: Cornerback and/or Guard/Center. If the Cowboys can find a plan where they can get both, then I will absolutely be impressed (assuming they get quality).

Back in January, I pledged my regard for Carl Nicks of New Orleans. If you want a breakdown of his skills, make sure you give that a read when you get the chance. Beyond Nicks, who will require around $50 million when it is all said and done, there are a few other options (like Ben Grubbs, Baltimore), but Nicks is about it for elite play at guard.

The Cowboys could also look at center, as Green Bay's Scott Wells and Houston's Chris Myers, and both would make a fair amount of sense. But, both are on the wrong side of 30 years old, and therefore I would like to avoid large free agent purchases where you are not considering the long-term future of the core of this team if it can be avoided.

However, where I want to spend a lot of time focusing over the next week is figuring out which way the Cowboys should be steering in free agency when it comes to fixing the cornerback position. Here is the current group with ages based on opening day, 2012:

NameAgeHt/Wt2011 Snaps
T Newman345'10/193829
O Scandrick255'10/192679
M Jenkins275'10/190608
A Ball276'2/197498

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This group did not have a very good year by just about any measurement. It should be argued that their job would be significantly easier if the Cowboys had more of a pass rush than Ware and hope, but, that is the job in Dallas for now so the Cowboys have to either figure out how to find pass rushers or better cover guys (or both). The only corner they are married to is Orlando Scandrick on a 5-year, $27m deal that was signed last fall. That is approaching starter money, but since you need 3 corners in this league who will all play a ton of snaps, the Scandrick deal is not terrible.

Newman is very likely to be cut loose, but the cap savings will not be substantial given his 3 years left of bonus money, although the Cowboys can spread it out into 2013 if they cut him after June 1. Ball is an unrestricted free agent is who is not likely to be kept, either. Jenkins expires next season, and the Cowboys cannot be sure he is a guy to spend large amounts of cash on, given his inconsistent play, aversion to contact, and durability issues.

That is why addressing this spot cannot be over-stated. It must happen. In fact, if the Cowboys signed a free agent AND used a top draft pick on a corner as well, I would not complain. We will cover the draft more in weeks to come, but let's look at the top CB free agents according to most experts' lists:

NameAgeHt/Wt2011 Snaps
B Carr266'0/2071,030
C Finnegan285'10/1881,142
C Rogers316'0/1921,024
L Webb265'10/182993

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Given familiarity of the NFC East, I have seen enough of Carlos Rogers over the years to scratch him off my list, despite a fantastic year in San Francisco. His age also is something I don't want to continue to concern myself with in the secondary, so that cuts this list to 3.

Lardarius Webb of Baltimore is another interesting player, but he is simply a restricted free agent and thus comes with some level of matching rights and compensation, so I would prefer to steer clear of a player like that as well, despite his very impressive resume in 2011.

That leaves Brandon Carr of Kansas City and Cortland Finnegan of the Tennessee Titans as the two most attractive and obvious choices for the Cowboys. In the remaining days this week, I want to break down both players by watching a few hundred snaps of each from 2011 and see if we can arrive at a consensus on which player is more worth the huge chunk of cash that will be required to get either. You can believe they are both eyeing the $50 million barrier, so the Cowboys need to get this choice right. Let's see if we can do the same in our study of Carr and Finnegan for Thursday and Friday here on the blog.

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