Twas' the weekend before free agency, and all through the NFL, fans dreamt of high impact free agent signings. After all the waiting and discussion, there are only a few hours remaining until teams can actually start signing free agents to contracts (technically, that is when they can start negotiating, but we all know that deals are often worked out under the table well before then).
We all have our own ideas of what we would like to see happen, just like we have certain draft prospects we prefer. But free agency is a much more fluid and unpredictable thing. Teams can go big or go home in free agency, depending on things like team needs, cap space, and what they are looking forward to in the draft. As we saw last year in the Nmadi Asomugha debacle, even the teams themselves aren't always sure what is really happening.
While we can use some parameters that often allow us to make a decent guess at drafting, there just aren't many reliable guideposts for free agency. So it would seem impossible to make any kind of accurate prediction about what any given team is going to do about it.
But I seldom let things like that stop me. So, if you want to read on, here is my prediction of what is going to happen for the Cowboys, at least as far as big free agent moves.
See what you think about what I think after the jump.
First, some things that enter into my logic. I have to take a moment to give credit to jdg4660, who anticipated some of my thinking in his post on Should the Cowboys Go All In This Year or Have Patience? He got started down the same road, but I want to go a bit farther.
OCC did a very thought provoking post on this possibly being a "soft" free agency year. He talked about how the salary cap "floor" does not go into effect until next year. That means that teams who have bodacious amounts of cap space are not yet obligated to spend it.
Even more importantly, for the cheapskate owners out there, this is the last chance to pocket some money by underpaying their players. In one of those oddly perverse "unintended consequences", this year there is a strong incentive for certain teams to sit on their payroll and stay away from the free agent market. If an owner feels that his team is at least a couple of years away from being a contender, he can stay out of the market, at least as far as any big names go, and concentrate on those draft picks, since the rookie pay scale is in effect. He will then be able to afford that little vacation place in the south of France, or wherever the current popular destination is for those with more money than sense. If some teams are out of the market, then the demand will go down and the competition will not be as great for those other teams who are looking to significantly improve themselves with veteran talent.
For teams like that, which includes the Dallas Cowboys, this is a significant incentive to go big now, because next year, any teams who sits on their funds this season will now be forced into spending more money. Any reduction in competition for free agents in 2012 will likely be balanced by an increase in 2013, so if you want to improve your team through FA, this is the time. You will likely get a much better deal now than if you wait another year. Plus, if the team needs to do any restructuring, this is a great time to back load some contracts, because in 2014, the new TV deals kick in, which is projected to increase the revenue by about 60%. Estimates are that, after taking out the benefits that teams pay, this could result in an immediate $30 million increase per team for the salary cap. The new ESPN deal has been estimated to be worth $13 million per team all by itself. This means that teams are only smart to push as much non-guaranteed money as they can out to at least 2014, when the extra money will give them the flexibility to keep high dollar veterans without entering salary cap hell.
Add the fact, as OCC mentioned, that Dallas is thought to have the ability to come up with basically whatever money it needs through restructuring contracts to try to satisfy the burning desire of Jerry Jones to field a winner, and suddenly some of the conventional wisdom starts to look considerably less wise. I certainly found myself rethinking not only what I believed was prudent, but what was possible.
In a previous post on Free Agency, I laid out three things I thought the Cowboys had to take care of during free agency. Now, here is what I think the Cowboys are going to do to get those issues fixed.
1. Resolve the situation with Laurent Robinson. Simple. The team will get a deal done, and it will likely be a pretty reasonable one. Now with a solid three deep wide receiver rotation including Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, the team can evaluate the younger players it already has and not worry about this part of the offense.
2. Upgrade the cornerback situation. The team will sign Brandon Carr. He is the best available cornerback, by most estimations, and a better match for the team than Cortland Finnegan, who has recently been rumored to be headed to Tampa Bay. Plus the reported interest in Carr by the Cowboys seems to be real and not just a negotiating ploy by his agent.
3. Decide the approach for the offensive line. The team will sign Carl Nicks in their biggest splash. No more fooling around here. Tony Romo is going to get the beef up front to give him a chance to take this team to the playoffs. This will be overshadowed by the Peyton Manning circus, of course, but it could be one of the most significant moves made this offseason.
That's my prediction. It is based on little hints and the way things seem to be coming together this year. Those three signings, particularly the last two, will set the foundation for all that follows. The Cowboys will likely add some low cost acquisitions, but I don't think they will go for another big name, which means that I don't see Mario Williams being part of the situation the way jdg4660 does. I think the team will just see that the pass rushing talent pool is deep enough in the draft, that some of the current Cowboys have some growth potential, and the fact that Anthony Spencer is still on board as giving them enough options without having to go for a third blockbuster signing. Even Stephen Jones has his limits as a financial wonder worker.
But with that foundation to build on, look for this team to be vastly improved. With some intelligent drafting, and possibly some bargain free agents picked up closer to the start of OTAs, the Cowboys will be both built to win now and set up to win in the future. The one glaring thing the team needs to find for those coming years is the successor to Tony Romo, and I think it is a reasonable risk to plan on addressing that in 2013.
That's my prediction. In a week or so, I may look like a total idiot. But this is one of those gut reads, where you can't exactly lay out the rationale other than to say it just feels right. And if I am wrong, I won't be ashamed. This was fun to put together, and off the wall opinions are what the offseaon is all about. And if I am right, I look like a genius.
Feel free to make your own forecast in the comments.