The Cowboys have several holes that they need to fill in order to return to the playoffs and maybe even compete for a championship. With free agency a little over a month away and the draft less than three, here are some thoughts on how to approach this vital offseason.
For the purpose of this exercise I will presume that the team is 20M under the cap. But minus the rookie pool (5M) and cost of resigning Laurent Robinson (4Y/18M, 2.5M cap hit), that gives the team 12.5M to play with. I will try to estimate the 2012 cap hits, which will be lower than the average salary, because they are likely to be backloaded. With the salary cap set to raise steeply once the new television deals set in, teams will backload these deals. Obviously the longer the deal, the more backloaded it can be and the more this year's cap hit can be minimised. I tried however not to go overboard with the 2012 cap hits, because teams have learned the hard way that they cannot just backloads deal too heavily, otherwise they will end up with an unmanageable cap situation a few years down the road.
Here are some ideas on how to best use the available cap space to fill holes though free agency and then those that are left through the draft. Let' see how many hole we can patch up!
Identifying the Needs
Neither Kyle Kosier on the right side, nor the Bill Nagy/Montre Holland/Derrick Dockery trifecta on the left side covered themselves in glory. Ideally the team would upgrade the two positions, but more likely it will get only one new grunt.
Phil Costa is a below average center, to put it kindly. He was too often bullrushed into the backfield, collapsing the pocket.
Defensive Lineman or Nose tackle
Here the Cowboys can actually get creative. They could get a traditional nose tackle and move Ratliff to the 5 technique, or leave him in the middle and get a 3-4 DE
Almost Anthony is a great run defender, but this is a passing league. The team need another player to take pressure of Demarcus Ware.
By all accounts Terrence Newman is a goner. Alan Ball should follow him out the door. Unlike at guard, there is no stop gap solution on the team. It needs two corners, including one starter, desperately.
Ever since Darren Woodson retired the Cowboys have been looking for a safety who can cover. Now that athletic tight ends with the pass catching skills of wide receivers become more prevalent, the team more than ever needs someone who can cover them.
Identifying the Targets: Free Agency
- Carl Nicks (28) is the cream of this year's Oline crop. He is looking for a contract that surpasses that of his teammate Jahri Evans (7Y/56M). To sign him should take around 7Y/65M, with a 2012 cap hit of 4.5M.
- Ben Grubs (28) is an alternative, but this first time Pro-Bowler and ProFootballFocus 12th rated guard won't come cheap either. We could be looking at 6Y/40M, with a 2012 cap hit of 3M
- Both Scott Myers (30) and Scott Wells (31) are Pro Bowlers and PFF's 1st and 4th rated center. They are on the wrong side of 30, but if there is one position (next to QB) where guys play well into their mid thirties, this is the one. To sign either of these guys should take around 4Y/26M, with a 2012 cap hit of 3M.
Defensive Lineman or Nose tackle
- Forget about Calais Campbell, he will resign with the Cardinals.
- Paul Soliai (28) is a solid young nose tackle that the Dolphins cannot franchise again. With a 5Y/35M contract he could be yours. 2012 cap his of 3.5M
- Sihone Pouha (33) is older than one would like, but he has only been in the league for seven years. If PFF's top rated NT still has enough tire on his legs, a 3Y/15M contract might be worth a shot. 2012 cap hit of 4M.
- Mario Williams (27) will hit the market for sure and command the biggest contract. Two years ago Julius Peppers, at age 30, signed a 6Y/91M deal. Williams will break that to the tune of 7Y/105M with a 2012 cap hit of 6M
- Cortland Finnegan (28) is a feisty player who would add the toughness that the Cowboy' secondary seems to be lacking. He is likely looking at 6Y/45M with a 2012 cap hit of 3.5M
- Brent Grimes (28) is the Falcons best cornerback, but since they paid Dunta Robinson to a silly contract, Grimes cold well prove to be too expensive for them, to the tune of 6Y/45M with a cap hit of 3.5M
- Brandon Carr (25) is looking at an even bigger deal than the previous two, because of his age. 7Y/58M with a cap hit of 4M
- Terrell Thomas (27) is a Giant, but don't hold that against him. He was also lost for the season and is coming back from a torn ACL. A 'prove you' contract of 2Y/8M with a cap hit of 3M
- This year's safety crop is quite weak compared to the other positions. There is not one player that is a clear upgrade over Abram Elam unfortunately.
Maximizing the Cap Space
This team is not one player away from contention, so I will try to use the 12.5M cap space as wisely as possible. Two good players are better than a great one. No Mario Williams or Carl Nicks I'm afraid.
- The Oline gets into whipped into shape with G Ben Grubbs (3M) and C Chris Myers (3M).
- With 6.5M left, we can fill 2 positions on the defence: Jay Ratliff moves to DE and gets placed at NT with Paul Soliai (3.5M). The secondary gets a much needed shot in the arm with CB Terrell Thomas (3M)
That leaves several holes to be filled with the draft:
- Passrushing OLB
- Free safety
Identifying the Targets: Draft
This position has great depth throughout the first three rounds. From David DeCastro, if he falls to No14, to Kelechi Osemele and Brandon Washington in the 2nd and the likes of Lucas Nix in the third.
There is no sexy passrusher available in the first, but some solid options who might be upgrades from Anthony Spencer.
Less versatile players, such as Bruce Irvin are available on Day 2
This is a deep crop of cornerbacks. There is talent in the first (Kirkpatrick, Jenkins), the second (Gilmore, Hayward) and even the third (Minfield, Dennard)
No safety is worth of the 14th pick, an the options in later rounds are limited: Markelle Martin and George Illoka.
Making the Picks
I stuck with the current draft order and did not do any trades.
- 1st Round, 14th Pick: Melvin Ingram OLB
- 2nd Round, 45th Pick: George Illoka FS
- 3rd Round, 82nd Pick: Chase Minfield CB
I am not terribly convinced of Melvin Ingram at 14, but passrusher is the biggest need left and worst case scenario he should provide similar production to Anthony Spencer (6 Sacks).
There will be many good cornerbacks and guards available in the second round, so they could be an option too, but I feel safety is a position where need meets value. Bruce Irvin, if he falls this far could also be an option.
In the third it came down to a cornerback or a guard.
The 2012 Dallas Cowboys
With this free agency and draft haul, the team would manage to upgrade most of its weaknesses. Of course it lacks the splash singings that gets fans excited, but like I said before, this team has too many holes it cannot just ignore. The only rookie who would be expected to start is second rounder George Iloka. First rounder Melvin Ingram should be able to start, but he will split reps with Victor Butler. Similarly third rounder Chase Minfield would be Dime CB, so he could be brought along slowly.
Among the current players, the biggest question mark is Bruce Carter who moves into the starting lineup under this (and pretty every other) scenario. There are a few position changes (T. Smith/D.Free flop, Ratliff to DE), but nothinh these veterans won't be able to handle.
Without further ado, here is the new and improved starting lineup for 2012!
- QB Tony Romo
- RB DeMarco Murray
- FB Tony Fiametta
- LT Tyron Smith
- LG Ben Grubs
- C Chris Myers
- RG Kyle Kosier
- RT Doug Free
- TE Jason Witten
- WR Miles Austin
- WR Dez Bryant
- SWR Laurent Robinson
- DE Jay Ratfliff
- NT Paul Soliai
- DE Jason Hatcher
- OLB Demarcus Ware
- ILB Sean Lee
- ILB Bruce Carter
- OLB Melvin Ingram
- FS George Iloka
- CB Mike Jenkins
- CB Terrell Thomas
- SS Gerarld Sensabaugh
- SCB Orlando Scandrick
- Dime CB Chase Minfield
New Acquisitions in bold
New Starters/New Position in italics