Earlier today, BTB's resident scouting insiders, Long Ball and Birddog, shared some of their thoughts on the Cowboys recent free agent haul, focusing on the offensive side of the ball. Here, in part two, I've asked them to consider the new defensive guys, and to assess how the overall free agent haul might affect the Cowboys' draft plans.
BTB: Let's assess the Cowboys’ defensive free agent signings. For each, if you can share with us: what do you think of the player and his skillset? How do you see him being used in Dallas?
Long Ball: A press corner with size to support the run defense. I don’t doubt Rob Ryan’s quotes about Brandon being "perfect" for his defense. He’s young enough to be a fixture in the Cowboys’ defensive backfield for years and they have some flexibility to restructure Year Two of his contract. As ridiculous as this sounds, $50 million for a starting CB will not sound that high in years to come.
Birddog: Carr is a huge upgrade at corner. He is the press corner that Dallas has been looking for. Carr comes in with a very strong skill set. Very smooth hips, stays low in his backpedal and can turn and stay with receivers. He is very well suited to cover the better receivers in the NFC. He can be aggressive at the line when getting after receivers and redirecting them. What has impressed the most about Carr is that he has improved every season he has been in the NFL and can still improve more. This comes from a very strong work ethic that Carr has. His year round training and prep is really a model for an NFL player and he will set a great example for all the players on the Cowboys.
More juicy scouting morsels after the jump...
Birdddog: I like the Connor pickup. He is cut in that same mold as Lee and Carter. He plays fast and has above average lateral agility that allows him to play sideline to sideline like Lee. He is a big upgrade over James and Brooking and will provide heavy competition and push Carter for a starting job. Even if Carter does not get the starting job he will be in a heavy rotation at ILB and provide that depth we have been lacking there. ILB was what I felt a major weakness on defense and if Carter works out like we hope, this can become a major strength going forward.
Long Ball: Another surprise (maybe I should just abbreviate with "AS" or maybe "CCE" for Christmas Comes Early). I thought Dan Connor was out of Dalas' price range and was scouring the ILB free agents who I thought they could afford as back-ups. Instead, the Cowboys have a potential starter who will, at the very least, compete with Bruce Carter—and both will be better for it. I will not be surprised to see Lee and Connor starting at ILB game one, with Carter coming in on passing downs.
Birddog: I think this is an underrated signing. Pool really excelled playing in Ryan and Henderson's secondary scheme, but did not play well when he went to the Jets and did not play as much of the centerfield type FS role. He is not a top tier FS but provides the Cowboys with a solid player back there that is much better than Elam.
Long Ball: The former Oklahoma Sooner performed much better at Cleveland than he did for the Jets. I heard Bryan Broaddus say the other day Pool would be played at free safety. I like Bryan, but: first, Ryan likes to use his safeties interchangeably and, second, if he’s starting with Sensabaugh, he may line up at FS some, but he’s going to be the SS from the standpoint that he’ll be competing with Barry Church for that position - and if Dallas brings in a true "center fielder" type free safety, Sensabaugh will move back to SS. I would categorize Pool as "challenging depth," but don’t assume he’s won the starting job. Still, he’s a good FA signing.
BTB: To your mind, what does the entire group (offensive and defensive players) say about the Cowboys plans in free agency? Did they operate differently or about the same way as you expected?
Long Ball: I would challenge anyone who says they thought the Cowboys would come out of FA with this kind of haul, especially after being hit with the "el toro de caca" $10 million salary cap reduction. Jerry and Stephen just thumbed their noses at the rest of the NFL. No, they have not yet addressed every area of concern (of course, they may just be coming up for air), but they made a far bigger dent in attaining the ultimate goal of a "BPA" philosophy for the 2012 draft.
Birddog: I think overall this is what I expected from the Cowboys in FA. They had a plan to address the teams needs with upgrades to the players we lost in Free Agency and the ones cut. They were aggressive and were able to land most of the players they wanted.
BTB: Which pickup was the biggest surprise? Why?
Birddog: Orton was the biggest surprise to me. Orton had come out and let it be known that he wanted to be a starter and not a backup. The Cowboys did a great job of landing a starting caliber QB as a backup at the price of a backup QB.
Long Ball: Gotta go with two, but both are for the same reason: being able to sign that much quality economically. They are Kyle Orton and Dan Connor. To a lesser extent, I guess I would have to mention Vickers, but for the reason that I thought Dallas would re-sign Fiammetta.
BTB: Finally: how do you think this FA haul affect the Cowboys draft plans?
Birddog: This has a huge impact on the draft. The Cowboys are not going to be forced to fill a position that they have to have and can now just focus on drafting the best players they can. I think Dallas will still take advantage of the 2012 draft's depth at guard and corner but do not have to take either of those positions in the first 2 rounds. While I think the Cowboys' D-line is strength and expect that we will see improvement due to the depth now at ILB and the secondary, if a good DT, DE or OLB are there, the Cowboys are now free to take him to upgrade the front seven.
Long Ball: While the Cowboys are not yet at the ultimate "BPA" philosophy, they’re a damned site closer than they were. The Cowboys will still have to address positions of need. For example, they’re still going to draft a CB (or two; don’t forget, they were down three—Newman, Ball and Walker—and have only added one), but now don’t have to reach in the first round. One thing is for sure, Dallas never wants to find themselves in the position of drafting for "quantity" again! Drafting for back-ups sets an organization back at least two, if not three, years.
The Cowboys should be able to look at the remaining "positions of need" on their draft board and base part of the decision on what I’ll call "fall-off of talent." Let me illustrate with fan-favorite David DeCastro (yes folks, Old Long Ball thinks he’s a damned fine player). The 2012 guard class is deep, deep, deep (part of that is due to the number of OT prospects who will kick inside as pros), and the fall-off in talent is not as severe as it is for talented pass-rushers (whether DE or OLB). So, while DeCastro will most likely earn multiple Pro Bowls during his career, maybe the second, third, fourth, or fifth best OG’s are not as big a "fall-off" in talent as the second or third best pass-rushers may be when compared to the best (once again, whether DE or OLB). Now before everyone gets his dander up, I am NOT saying to NOT draft DeCastro. I was just using his name as an example to get your attention LOL!
BTB: I completely agree, Long Ball! In fact, I'll have a few posts on exactly this"fall-off" idea as we lead up to the draft.
Okay, that's it for now. Thanks again for playing. As always, I love to hear you two talk about players, and hope you'll continue to hang out and talk prospects as we head through April.
BTBers: If you all want to hear more from our two resident scouting types, hit the comments section and give them some love!