Every fan has a plan to fix (if that’s the right term) the Dallas Cowboys. Here is what I would do if I were Jerry for a day.
Disclaimer: I’m going to propose the moves I would make and I’m going to take the liberty of making some assumptions along the way. I’ll look to the peanut gallery to tell me where I’m way off regarding who will take a pay cut, if certain contracts would be accepted, where players should be drafted, etc. Keep in mind I’ve gotten my research from the Interwebs, not the bible. I will assume what I’ve found is accurate. Feel free to point out any errors (like I need to say that.) And finally, I feel like I have a decent grasp on the salary cap, but maybe I’ve missed something there too.
First up: Franchise, Renegotiate, Restructure, Resign, and Release.
Franchise: First decision is do we use the franchise tag? Spencer is the only real candidate and at $10.4M I say no thanks. Next?
Renegotiate: Do we want to approach anyone about taking a pay cut? HELL YES! Mr. Free, you have two options. You can take a pay cut, or you can get outright released. Those are your options. From Dallas’s standpoint, both have their advantages and disadvantages. If he takes the deal, we save cap space and get to fill a roster spot (either as starter or swing tackle.) On the downside, we still have an underperforming player on our roster that we are paying more than he’s worth. If he doesn’t take the bait, we will have to pay a ton of dead money when we release him, but on the flipside, we can move on and he will be completely off the books next year (unless we deem him a June 1st cut.) His original deal was 4 years for $32M. Our cap hit without restructuring/renegotiating is $11.175. If released he would charge $8.35M in dead money, so we would save $2.825 in cap space to release him. Or we could deem him a June 1st cut and it would cost us $4.175 each this year and next. I’m not a huge fan of the June 1 cuts because we need to stop this process. Start taking the hits now and clearing cap space for future years. It’s not like we are making a Super Bowl run this year, so let’s clear the books for the future of the team.
So, why would Free accept this deal? The way I understand the cap he had $17M guaranteed originally, with $10.3 paid upon signing. Then after last year’s restructuring, he got another $4.8M in bonus and therefore only has $1.9M left in guarantees. I’m going to offer him a 4 year $18M deal, with $4M more guaranteed (signing bonus) that’s structured $2M in 2013, and $4M in 2014-2016. That’s a cap hit of $3M in 2013, or a savings of $8.175M. I think he does this deal because it increases his guaranteed money, and he knows he wouldn’t get much more from another team. Players read their own press. He knows he was awful last year. And considering the Free Agent market is saturated with Offensive Tackles this year, Dallas holds the upper hand in this negotiation. He accepts. Sounds like the Cowboys have had a similar conversation with Dan Connor as well. I think he will ultimately accept it. Not sure the actual cap savings, but based on his current salary of $4.2M, I’m going to guess it would amount in roughly $1.5M in 2013 savings. Savings from renegotiating? $9.675M.
Restructure: I’ve had to change this section several times in the last few days based on their frenzy of restructuring. They ended up doing more than I would have, so let’s track what’s been done. We have actual numbers on Carr ($10.5M savings), Ware ($4M), Witten ($3.65M), Livings ($0.7M), Bernadeau ($1M), and Austin ($3M) according to Blogging the Boys. It’s been reported that Ratliff, Scandrick and Cook have either already taken place or are next in line. Not sure what the actual savings looks like, but let’s make some assumptions. Based on their contracts I’m going to estimate $1.5M for Ratliff, $3M for Scandrick, and $0.6M for Cook. Add all that up and you have a grand total savings from restructuring of $28M.
Resign: Based on all the restructuring, we no longer HAVE to resign Romo. However, I still believe he’s the future of the franchise for 3-4 more years so I’m going to go ahead and resign him. Romo was scheduled to count $16.8M against the cap. Considering we don’t know what kind of deal the Cowboys will offer and Romo will accept, I’m just going to guess here that this will save roughly $9M in 2013 cap space. I’ve typically seen estimates in the $8M – 10M range, so this seems fair. Savings from restructuring? $9M.
Release: I’m releasing Lawrence Vickers ($1.2M savings), and Marcus Spears ($0.6M savings) to recover almost $2M. Didn’t get much from them last year and I feel I could replace each of them cheaper. Savings from releasing players? $1.8M.
Therefore, I’ve created ($9.675M in renegotiation + $28M in restructuring + $9M in resigning + $1.8M in releasing) a grand total of roughly $48.5M. With the cap going settling this week around a million higher than expected, the Cowboys were about $19M over the cap. Based on all our hard work, we’ve got $29.5M to play with in free agency and signing draft picks. I think I read where it will take about $5M to sign our draft picks, so I’m left with $24.5M for free agents. My math look right? Still with me?
Next Up: Free Agency.
My first free agent negotiation is with Anthony Spencer, obviously. However, it’s really just as a courtesy because I don’t really want him to take my offer. You will see my plan below, but I know I’m not going to make him a big enough offer to keep him. I’m going to use Evan Silva’s list from Rotoworld as a projections as to what these guys might cost. He says Spence will get a 4 year $44M deal. Well, it’s not going to be from me. I would love to have him back, but honestly, I can live with a starting front four of Ware-Hatcher-Ratliff-Crawford if I had to. And I will address it later, but I just don’t see him as being vital, especially for that amount. I’ll make him a 3 year $26M offer and then say thank you for your service as he walks away.
I’m going to re-sign RFAs C-Phil Costa and S-Danny McCray to minimum deals. I don’t think anyone else is going to be too interested in these guys. I’m also going to make a run at LB Ernie Sims. He wasn’t signed before the season last year, so I will assume I can get him on a vet minimum deal. Cowboys also just resigned stud Long Snapper LP Ladoceuer to a five year deal. These contracts won’t take up much cap space. Let’s estimate it’s a total of $3.5M in 2013 cap space. Cost from signing RFAs? $3.5M in cap space.
Now we turn our attention outside the organization. We’ve got roughly $21M to play with. The strongest class of free agents this year is unquestionably the Offensive Tackles. Specifically, Right Tackles. Perfect, it’s a huge need for us. The flooding of the market will bring the prices down, however just slightly. Available at Tackle (before franchising, although a team franchising a RT will be paying for them at LT process) are: Ryan Clady, Brandon Albert, Sebastian Vollmer, Andre Smith, Jake Long, Will Beatty (just re-signed with Giants), Phil Loadholt, Sam Baker, Gosder Cherilius, Jermon Bushrod, Bryant McKinnie, King Dunlap, Winston Justice, Barry Richardson, and Nate Garner to name a few. Add to that first round draft prospects in Joeckel, Fisher, Lane Johnson, and Fluker and that’s a ton of available talent. There will be someone we can sign at a decent price to man the RT spot. I’m going to target in order: Vollmer, Smith, Loadholt, Cherilius, or Baker. The first three guys will probably re-sign so in this scenario we land Cherilius. PFF graded him out as a +23.4, which was the 8th overall Tackle in football, and the 2nd rated RT behind Andre Smith. He’s only 28, but he has experienced some knee problems in his career. Dallas should get a fair price. We sign Cherilius to a 3 years for $15M ($6 guaranteed) contract. Cost for signing Cherilius? $4.5M in 2013 cap space.
Next up (actually the first guy I’m going to call, might even be waiting on his doorstep as FA opens) is FS Kenny Phillips. This is a guy who has been a flat-out stud when he’s on the field. His PFF grades over his career have been (+7.4 in 304 snaps last year, +13.6 in 1283 snaps in 2011, +12.2 in 972 snaps in 2010, +0.7 in 108 snaps in 2009, and +4.2 in 611 snaps his rookie year.) His problem has been health. His other problem is the New York Football Giants. He’s not been happy with the way they’ve treated him. What better way to get back at them than to sign with the rival Cowboys? It’s a match made in heaven. He wants to start somewhere, and he surely will be able to beat out one of our spares. Maybe a call from another former start from the "U" in Michael Irvin would be a good start. Or maybe another former Cowboys DBack in Deion Sanders. Whatever, get him in here! He needs a season or two to prove he’s healthy to get that next huge contract, so I think he signs something reasonable. Let’s say he accepts a 1 year $4M deal. That way if he has a good (and healthy) season, he can hit the market again. Cap hit for Phillips? $4M in 2014 cap space.
Another position of need, which I hear very little talk about, is the Defensive Tackle position. And not the 3-technique "motor" which gets so much ink. I’m talking about the 1-technique "rock." We had one guy last year who could do that adequately, and his name was Josh Brent. Brent wont be playing for the Cowboys in 2013, so we need to replace him. Ratliff was never a space eater. I would love to find a 1st and 2nd down rock. Because I don’t want to spend an early pick on this guy in the draft (although there are a few available) I will need to sign one. I’ve got three candidates: Sammie Lee Hill (+5.4 PFF rating in 419 snaps), Terrance Knighton (+4.2 PFF rating in 666 snaps), and Alan Branch (-0.1 PFF rating on 575 snaps.) I like both Hill and Knighton, both of whom are only 26. I think I’m going to start with Knighton and them move on to Hill. Knighton signs a 2 year $10M deal with $4M guaranteed. Cap hit for 2013 - $4M.
I’ve got one more relatively big signing. I’m going to try and fill that SAM LB spot. I’m actually not crazy about my options here. Several people have pointed out on this site that a good fit would be OLB Nick Roach from Chicago. He played for Marinelli in that same 4-2 SAM spot. He’s only 27, so we can give him a 3 year deal. It’s a little higher than I wanted to pay, but we need to fill that spot. He signs a 3 year $15M deal with $8M guaranteed. Cap hit for 2013 is $5M.
I’m going to make one last purchase and it’s in the wide receiver department. I’m hoping that Dwayne Harris can be the third WR this year, but I need some more competition. Since we have a slew of young guys, I want to get a veteran I can sign at a reasonable price to just a one year deal. Again, ideally, he gets beat out by Harris. I’m looking for someone in the range of a Steve Breaston, Austin Collie, Kevin Ogletree, Jerome Simpson, Donnie Avery. Let’s go with Simpson. Let’s sign him to a low-risk 1 year deal at $3M. Cap hit for 2013 is $3M.
I ended up spending about $17.5M in 2013 cap space in free agency. Didn’t break the bank, just spent on solid contributors. I have $3.5M left over in case I need to sign someone later.
Last Up: DRAFT!
We’ve restructured the team to where we don’t have a lot of huge holes. That’s the good news. However, we still need to add some talent to this roster. I’m hoping to find three starters from this draft, but hopefully I have enough competition that its not required. I’m trying to make safe picks based on who I think will be there.
Round 1 – DT Kawaan (KK) Short, Purdue. Here is out 3-technique "motor" guy. I’m assuming already picked were DTs Lotulelei, Floyd and Richardson. Also gone was Warmack. We strongly consider Jonathan Cooper, but Kiffen wins the war room and gets his man.
Round 2 – OG Larry Warford, Kentucky. He’s huge and has a nasty mean-streak. Exactly what we needed here. He was the best lineman on our board, and rated higher than any of the RBs or DEs.
Round 3 – OC Brian Schwenke, California. Cowboys land the second highest rated Center in the draft and finally have the long-term solution they have been looking for. Jerry tried to run to the podium to turn in the Knile Davis card, but I tackled him and we made the right decision.
Round 4 – RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M. Has impressed more at the combine than he did during the season. Similar skill-set to Murray, he could be a nice compliment.
Round 5 – DE David Bass, Missouri Western. Very productive D-II kid. He will be worth a look late in the draft.
Round 6 – TE Nick Kasa, Colorado. We need a big-bodied blocking TE, and he’s a good one. A former D Lineman, he’s got impressive athleticism for his size.
Priority Free Agents – I’m going to make a run at my top rated blocking FB. We cut Vickers, so I may even sigh two and let them duke it out. Options are: Zach Line, Zach Boren, and Tommy Bohanon. Line from SMU is probably drafted, so let’s say we get FB Tommy Bohanon.
There you have it. That’s my 2013 Cowboys off-season. That’s how I’m going to camp. And now for the final 53-man roster in my season of dreams:
Assuming we re-sign Romo, I don’t see a need for a developmental QB just yet. Maybe next year.
Dunbar beats out Tanner for the final RB slot. He’s more of a 3rd down back to Murray and Michael.
FB (1) – Tommy Bohanon
Thankfully, Bohanon wins the job in camp. We brought in a few more bodies for competition.
Again, none of the youngsters could beat out the vets here. We’ll probably need to address this position next
year for the future.
No surprises Witten is the All-World TE while Hanna and Kasa specialize in receiving and blocking respectively.
The big surprise here is who does not make the team. A couple of veterans in Doug Free and Ryan Cook were
jettisoned. Turned out that not using all of our cap space was a blessing as we will have to take a hit to dump
these guys. Some signing bonuses escalated and ate up about $2.75M of the $3.5M I had remaining. But since
we didn’t designate this as a June 1 cut, Free will be off the books next season. Glad to have that mess settled.
A unit considered weak now looks to have a number of potential playmakers on it.
Probably the most controversial thing I’m doing with the team is making Hatcher and Crawford DEs. I didn’t see
any other way to make the best use of our talents. Last year, the best D Lineman was unquestionably Jason
Hatcher. However, I don’t see his skill-set as the ideal 1-tech or 3-tech on the Kiffin defense. He’s shown to
have a decent pass rush and he plays the run well, too. PFF graded him as the 4th best interior run player and
the 5th best against the rush. Sounds like a nice strongside End to me. Might need to slim down by 10 lbs or so,
but he can do it. Same goes for Crawford, who is a Hatcher starter kit.
ILB (3) - Sean Lee, Dan Connor, Ernie Sims
Connor and Sims can both play inside or out. I’ll let the coaches figure out who belongs where.
Same holds true with Albright and Lemon regarding their position flexibility
I feel pretty comfortable with the first four on this list. Underwood is my 53rd man, and could (should) probably
FS (2) – Kenny Phillips, Matt Johnson
Position flexibility is true for our Safeties as well. Sensy can play both positions as can Johnson.
Should something happen to Phillips (history says that’s likely) Church would move to the starting rotation at
Strong Safety and Sensy will move to FS.
Pretty solid bunch assuming Jones is healthy.
Alrighty, that’s the team. FIRE AWAY!!!