Welcome to the third installment of BTB's Free Agency Roundtable. I'm pleased to be joined once again by two scouting insiders--both BTB members--Birddog26 and Long Ball. As luck would have it, these two fine gentlemen are uniquely qualified to discuss Dallas' likely free agency plans: Long Ball evaluates the offensive line at Drafttek (where he also covers the Cowboys); Birddog's a personal coach and trainer for NFL players, and is paid to offers expert opinions on corners and safeties.
In the first part of our roundtable conversation, we graded the Cowboys' roster. In the second installment, we looked at the Cowboys’ personnel, focusing on the position groups the Cowboys must upgrade this offseason. Now, we'll take a look at the available free agents to see what might to be done to improve those soft roster spots. And, just so you know: neither guy thinks the recent salary cap reduction will negatively impact what the Cowboys do in free agency. I asked both if they wanted to make any adjustments, and they both said that they think Dallas will proceed more or less as they had planned.
BTB: Welcome back, gentlemen. Hope you're both rested and rearin' to go! Interior offensive line first: what available guards and centers are out there who might fit what appears to be Dallas’ new O-line prototype: nasty, with good feet?
Long Ball: Considering the Cowboys’ youth movement and looking at more athletic OL candidates, the first thing I would do is contact Buffalo and see if they would take less than his original 3rd round tender for Kraig Urbik. He was one of my pet cats coming out of Wisconsin and he now has some experience playing center for the Bills. I might also take a look at Tony Ugoh from the Giants.
Birddog: I’m also high on Urbik, Long Ball’s pet cat. He is a young guy who plays both the guard and center position very well. Chad Rinehart is another Bills guard who did very well last year and is young. I do not think either gave up a single sack last season when they played. Ramon Foster of the Steelers is a guy who with some good coaching could be a guy with strong potential. He started 14 games last year and only gave up 3 sacks.
BTB: I like these names, because I think they’re the kind of solid, under-the-radar players we’re more likely to see, especially after getting burned by the Leonard Davis and Marco Rivera signings. Any Kyle Kosier types in this year’s FA class??
Long Ball: As I said in yesterday’s chat, I would like to keep Kosier as a veteran utility back-up since he has played every position on the OL. A player similar to him (but younger) would be Carolina’s Geoff Schwartz who also has experience at multiple positions on the OL.
Any worthy center candidates? Find out after the break...BTB: How about centers? I heard at the very beginning of the offseason that the Cowboys were focusing on free agent centers, but that talk has died down. In case that talk has legs, are there any decent candidates?
Long Ball: Unfortunately, this is a weak center class in free agency. There has been some speculation on Samson Satele from Oakland [ed: Rabble is one of the guilty parties!] but I don’t see him as that much of an upgrade.
BTB: I wonder if the Cowboys feel the same way, and that’s why the FA center talk has died down. Now, we’re hearing about David Arkin as a candidate at center! If there’s to be an upgrade, it seems like it’ll have to come via the draft.
Long Ball: Well, the problem with that approach is that the 2012 draft class is also weak at the center position. To get much of an upgrade, a team would have to invest a pick in at least the first 4 rounds, if not the first 3. Yep, I’ve heard the speculation about Arkin as "the center of the future," but if a player is "not strong enough" to even be activated on game day, is he an improvement over the constantly overpowered Costa? Nagy has also been discussed, but the guy I want to see more of is Kowalski.
BTB: Okay, same drill with the defensive line. Who might provide Dallas an upgrade across the defensive front? Now, looking past the Mario Williamses of the world, are there any solid, nasty vets—perhaps less athletic guys with relentless motors—who might boost production up front?
Long Ball: I have to tell you, just going through the list I don’t see anyone who does anything for me, unless you sign Paul Soliai to split time with Josh Brent at NT, move Ratliff to DE across from Hatcher and Ware, and let Lissemore and either Spears or Geathers back up those two. [ed. note: Soliai re-upped with the Dolphins on Monday]
BTB: Hey, anything that gets Spears fewer snaps and nudges Coleman off the roster is an upgrade in my book. Any other names?
Birddog: I think if you want to upgrade on the line, Jeremy Mincey may be just that guy. He plays DE in the Jaguars 4-3 but I think he may be a guy who could play DE or be Spencer’s replacement at OLB with the Cowboys.
BTB: Interesting, That’s one name we haven’t heard yet. Do you think Mincey can make the transition to 3-4 OLB? When he came out of college, did NFL teams ask him to drop into coverage?
Long Ball: Here I go again, butting in on Birddog’s question, but ideal size, speed and athleticism don’t always equate to being able to play with your hand off the ground. New England drafted him in the 6th round as an OLB (he was under 260 lbs back then) and he never cut the mustard standing up. Bill Belichick cut him, he ended up on the 49ers’ practice squad and then was signed by Jacksonville. He has gained 10-12 lbs over the past 6 years and is listed as DE/DT on the Jaguars’ depth chart.
Birddog: Sure, Mincey struggled his first few years in he league. The last 2 seasons, however, he has started to really come on for the Jags. This last season he was his best and he recorded 8 sacks, 4 forced fumbles along with one INT and four batted passes at the line. He is a guy who is playing with a high motor and making plays. He has worked hard on his mechanics and is showing the breakout potential he did at Florida.
Long Ball: Yes, he did have an interception against the Titans this year—but when the Jaguars shifted into a 3-4 against Atlanta, he looked uncomfortable at the OLB position.
BTB: Okay, guys, break it up! Now, finally, to the defensive backfield. A lot of pundits whose insight I trust claim that cornerback must be the Cowboys number one offseason priority. Also, because, as Longball suggested yesterday, Orlando Scandrick should strictly be seen as a slot (or "star") cornerback, they must find a starter to play outside opposite Mike Jenkins. Do you agree?
Birddog: I have to agree in part with what Longball said. To maximize their potential in the secondary the Cowboys need to go after a starter in FA to play opposite Jenkins. I do feel Scandrick is a solid slot corner who will still see 50 to 60 percent of the defensive snaps every game.
Long Ball: I would amend his statement to include they "need to go after a starter to play opposite Jenkins, either in FA or the first 2 or 3 rounds of the draft."
BTB: Who then might qualify as that starter the Cowboys could line up opposite Jenkins?
Birddog: I like both Carr and Finnegan, but they are 2 different type players. Carr is the better corner with solid mechanics but Finnegan brings a nasty streak that can be good for a secondary. Those would be my first 2 choices.
Long Ball: I don’t want Finnegan; it’s OK to have a tough-minded attitude IF you can play! I also believe Dallas will target a CB with some size (which Finnegan doesn’t have) for two reasons: one, the taller wide receivers in the NFL these days, and, two, bigger corners provide better run support.
BTB: I guess that leaves Carr, who I think will be the Cowboys target if they go after a free agent corner. He fits the size-speed prototype of the corners they have been most interested in recently. Supposing they don’t go after him, or lose the bidding war for his services, are there any dark horse candidates whose games might warrant a starting position?
Birddog: Some other guys I like are Richard Marshall of the Cards, Tracy Porter of the Saints and Will Middleton of the Jags. Middleton is a guy who I think Jerome Henderson can get a lot out of and he has the most potential of any of the corners out there.
Long Ball: I might take a flyer on Aaron Ross or Terrell Thomas [ed. note: Thomas re-upped with Giants today] from the Giants, or Chris Johnson, who was recently released by the Raiders. Assuming they don’t sign Carr, I honestly believe Dallas’ other starting CB will be drafted in either the first or second round
Birddog: With the depth of the draft at the position, if the Cowboys can upgrade at starter in free agency, then draft a solid second round pick, and then target another solid corner in the fourth or fifth round, they could be set with two starters and two or three guys who could push for starting positions next year or two.
BTB: I think that’s what they may well do, especially if they feel that they’ll need insurance when Mike Jenkins’ contract runs out after this season.
Okay, that's all for now, folks. Tune in later today for part IV, in which our two experts discuss possible options at safety and offer up free agency plans of attack. Don't miss it!