Dallas Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones is glad to have some money to spend in free agency - and he plans to spend all of it, based on what he has been saying in Mobile, Alabama during Senior Bowl week. Since I have already put forth my own idea of what the draft priorities for the Cowboys should be, I thought I might take a run at setting some similar criteria for Jerry to go out and spend that cap money. I may have occasional trouble having enough money at the end of the month, but figuring out how to spend the $20 million Dallas is believed to have for a free agent budget should be a piece of cake, right?
I'm not looking here to figure out how much the team is likely to spend for a given free agent. I am going to try to figure out what positions the team should be going after, and a few different strategies to get them. And I am going to throw out some names that I think the team might want to go for in a sort of mock free agency signing. It's going to be a bit fast and loose because of the unknowns of what any given player might cost, but hey, it isn't my money.
I'm going to use WalterFootball's list of available free agents for relative value of the players. I am not saying that they are right in the way they rank them, but just using this as a reference point the way OCC used CBSSports' draft rankings in his Mock Draft Challenge.
My ideas after the jump.
One big difference in free agency versus the draft is that the number of free agents the team signs is totally flexible. The team can go for a couple of major names (it could even spend it all on one player), or it can go for quantity. Part of the decision making is going to be what the team wants to fix with free agency.
This is where needs and availability are going to have to be balanced. One of the big names being talked about is Carl Nicks. He is generally regarded as the top free agent guard available, and the interior of the offensive line is one of the glaring needs for the Cowboys. But he is going to come with a big price tag, and will almost certainly cost as much as two or three other free agents might. Does having one huge stud of a player help the team more than two or three decent upgrades?
To try and get a handle on that, I think you first have to rank the needs of the team. Here, I can use a slightly updated and modified version of the priority list from my look a the draft. This puts the needs in order of need, as I see it.
1. CB, pass rusher, G/C
2. Backup QB, S, ILB, 2nd CB, 2nd G/C
3. Backup OT, other D line
4. Backup TE, KR/WR
5. Backup RB, P, PK
I specifically designated some positions as backup, since that is the expected role that they would play given what we know about the Cowboys roster at this point. I think the team should definitely look to sign players for each of the three listed positions first, then move down the list. However, this is not a hard and fast priority. I talked about Nicks and what a value he would be to the team, but the team may be better served by looking more at signing the second tier of needs, and going into the draft to get the first tier. Given my list, that means that they might not sign a pass rusher at all, putting that on the draft to solve. Also, although they might sign a G/C or CB, this may be meant as a second tier need, with the draft expected to fill the first tier.
And here is where the cost factor comes in. If the team sinks a lot of money into a player like Nicks, or decides to go for the gusto and try to sign a Mario Williams to bolster the pass rush, it may use up so much of the available cap space that it can only go with much less capable players along with that big signing, and only one or two at that. This also means that once a need on the first tier is addressed, the team may have to drop down a level to get some utility out of the money it spends.
Does that make any sense? I know what I mean, and I hope you are following my logic here.
I'll state right now that I do not see Williams as a viable option for the Cowboys. He would eat up too much of the cap space, and I think there are too many holes to fill to do that.
But Nicks is not out of the question. He may cost the team one hire, but the argument can certainly be made that he would be worth it. Hiring him away from the Saints would fill a guard position.
To go with him, the team could look at a cornerback in the five to ten spot in the rankings, someone like a Richard Marshall from the Cardinals, who also filled in at safety, or Tracy Porter, also from the Saints.
If you get those slots filled, you now start running into the limitations of the free agency market. Outside of the top few positions, which are now likely priced out of the Cowboys' range, there aren't a lot of good options for pass rushers.
But looking at the second tier of needs, there is some value to be had. One name I saw was safety Mike Adams of the Browns. He has experience with Rob Ryan, he is considered one of the better choices in a weak group, and because he is 31, he would likely be available for a one or two year contract at a very reasonable price.
If you still have some money left, you could go for an aging but still skilled center, strictly on a one year contract. Matt Birk of the Ravens, Jeff Saturday of the Colts, and Todd McClure of the Falcons all fit that description. They have a high risk because all could essentially lose their skills to age or injury at almost any time, but they are all the kind of player who could help bridge one more year. However, this may not be a direction that Bill Callahan would opt to go. If not, maybe the team could afford a younger option at about the same level of production from last year.
That would fill G, CB, S and maybe C. I am just making a guess here on how far the money could be stretched, but that seems like a doable thing with the $20 million (at least the first three).
I did not address Laurent Robinson here. I don't know if he will take up part of the expected $20 million or not, since the team also stands to get rid of some other players, but that remains to be seen. This is more of a mental exercise.
Now suppose you didn't go with Nicks, and stuck with a lower dollar approach. Here, you might be able to get C Samson Satele from the Raiders, QB Kyle Orton from the Chiefs (assuming he will take backup money), Marshall or Porter at cornerback, and Adams at safety, or maybe a younger option there. Again, this is just guessing at what they will command, but it would address four needs with some upgrades, and let the team factor that in during the draft.
It is all just a bit of a guess. With the Cowboys having been so limited in free agency last year, there is not a lot to base things on, and I do think this will be a different approach from years pass. As I have said, I expect three or maybe four signings, again assuming that Laurent doesn't eat up too much space. Any differing opinions are just as likely to be valid as my own.