Cowboys Free Agency: Quality Defensive Backs Still Available

Four full days into free agency, Jerry Jones has to this point defied his critics by showing a great deal of patience. There wasn't, and almost certainly will not be, a Ray Lewis signing. There was no outrageous trade for Julius Peppers or any other high profile player. Just a pair of sensible, cap-friendly acquisitions in the form of quarterback Jon Kitna and linebacker Keith Brooking. With virtually all of the upper-echelon players now signed, the market is beginning to contract. Teams looking to find a bargain on a second or third-tier player will have a great opportunity to do so in the next few days. One surprise in this year's free agent signing period is the unusual number of capable defensive backs still available. With a hole at the safety position, and a newfound lack of depth on the corner, the Cowboys could get premium value for secondary help.

At the onset free agency, former Browns safety Sean Jones figured to be one of the most coveted safeties in this free agent class. Jones is more in the Roy Williams mold, but is a bit better in coverage. Jones is still available, and his price has had to have come down a great deal.

Wasn't it supposed to be a forgone conclusion that former Raven safety Jim Leonhard would follow former teammate Bart Scott and former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to New York? Well, the diminutive safety left the Jets facility Sunday without signing a contract. Though undersized, Leonhard does have a nose for the football and is a valuable return man. If Dallas wants to make a move on Leonhard, they may have to wrestle him away from division rival Philadelphia.

Former Texans safety C.C. Brown was cast aside by Houston after a broken arm caused him to miss 13 games last season. In his three previous seasons with the Texans, Brown averaged 80 tackles and 5 pass break-ups while splitting time between both safety spots. His age (26) and versatility make him an attractive pickup. Once again, if the Cowboys want Brown they will have competition from a division rival. Brown is currently scheduled to meet with the Giants on Tuesday.

The Buccaneers' Jermaine Phillips, the Jaguars' Gerald Sensabaugh and the Texans' Nick Ferguson are all still unsigned. The Cowboys may be intent on drafting their next safety of the future, but it sure wouldn't hurt to grab a capable body out of the free agency bargain bin. This is not a banner year for safeties in the draft. Even if it were, it is hard to be confident that you will walk away with the guy you want when your first pick is the 51st overall.

There are still some good free agent corners to be had as well. The Steelers' Bryant McFadden has yet to find a home, but may still be too pricey and quite frankly too good to be the Cowboys fourth corner. Two guys who could fit the bill for the Cowboys would be the Buccaneers Phillip Buchanon and the Titans Chris Carr. Both Buchanon and Carr are dynamic on punt returns, an area in which the Cowboys are in dire need of assistance. Carr is no slouch as a cover man either and at the very least is an upgrade over Alan Ball as the fourth corner. Buchanon however is good enough to push Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick for serious playing time. Don't be fooled by Buchanon's stint in Tampa. Buchanon earned a living playing man coverage in Oakland and is still more than capable.

Just a thought: The San Diego Chargers are believed to be interested in moving cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Despite his high interception totals, Cromartie has struggled some as a cornerback. At 6'2"/203 lbs. Cromartie was projected by some to be a safety coming out of college. If you want a centerfielder with some range, there you go. In reality you've got to think the Chargers would want at least a second-round pick for the player who was selected one slot after Bobby Carpenter. With so many needs to fill and no first round pick, a second rounder may be a little too rich for the Cowboys' blood. Can't a guy dream?

With all of the needs that this team has heading into 2009, the Cowboys should capitalize on any opportunity it sees to effectively and cost-efficiently fill a need through free agency. Signing a mid-level free agent at a certain position does not mean that you won't draft a guy to play the same spot. For example, the Keith Brooking signing does not mean the Cowboys won't draft a good inside linebacker if the value is there. Brooking gives the Cowboys the freedom not to reach on a guy based on need. Brooking also gives the Cowboys the freedom to draft a less polished guy with a bit more upside, as he will not be called upon to start immediately. Similar acquisitions at other positions may prove beneficial.

Jerry Jones has played it safe and smart in free agency to this point. However, with so many capable players still available and prices falling by the day, it may be time for some action.

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