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Monday turned out to be a big day for the Dallas Cowboys as the team cut safety Gerald Sensabaugh and then put the franchise tag on OLB (and soon to be DE) Anthony Spencer. It offers some clear indications of what the team will likely do in the draft - or does it?
As can always be expected whenever the Dallas Cowboys make some personnel moves, there are a wide range of articles reacting to the two big developments on Monday. If you had to take all day to recover from some excess debauchery on the weekend and missed them, Dallas cut safety Gerald Sensabaugh and freed up about $1.4 million more in cap space, then promptly used the franchise tag on OLB-changing-to-DE Anthony Spencer. This led to an immediate outpouring of articles on what this meant and how it would drive the coming actions for the team. A couple of typical takes were in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. First, there was speculation about how the Sensabaugh cut may well lead to the Cowboys drafting a safety (most likely UT's Kenny Vaccaro) in the first round.
Will it be safety first for the Cowboys in April? Some mock drafts had the Cowboys selecting Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro before Monday when Dallas released free safety Gerald Sensabugh, who started 60 games in his four seasons with the Cowboys.
This was accompanied by some analysis that Spencer's getting tagged will turn the Cowboys away from DE in the draft.
It means the Cowboys aren't likely to use the 18th overall pick on a defensive end with Spencer and DeMarcus Ware now solidifying the position.
There is a certain elegant logic in all the since-they-did-that-they-must-plan-to-do-this. It makes you think of those elaborate, intricate conspiracies in movies and novels like The Da Vinci Code that fit together in ways that only a brilliant genius can decipher.
If that is how you see it, I think you are taking your cues from the wrong film. I look for inspiration to what is in my mind one of the most brilliant little scenes in all of movie history (even if it came about largely by accident).
Don't look for the elaborate, complicated answers. Just take the simple approach. Occam's razor works just as well in football as it does anywhere. My take is that these moves were not about setting up for the draft, but just moves made because one player is believed to fit Monte Kiffin's defense and the other isn't. It doesn't mean that the team will not take all these things into consideration on draft day, just that they should be judged more in isolation.
Parting ways with Sensabaugh simply means that the team does not feel that good about him being able to man things on his own, which safeties are called on to do in the Tampa 2 defense. Since Kiffin was hired to install something as much like those old Tampa defenses as possible, he needs a different kind of player than Sensabaugh is seen to be. As KD covered in his article, linked above, Dallas apparently thinks they have better options to start in Barry Church and Matt Johnson, despite their injury problems last season, and feel that they can make it with them, possibly backed up by Sterling Moore. There is also a belief that Orlando Scandrick would be capable as a safety in the scheme (I think Birddog26 brought that up in a comment thread), and the team could also bring back Charlie Peprah and Eric Frampton as low cost backups. But the main takeaway is that the team looked at the available personnel and saw two, three or four better options already in place than Sensabaugh in the sense that they fit what Kiffin does. Safety is still a position that the team should look at in the draft, but it has not suddenly gotten tremendously more important than it was before Sensabaugh was cut.
In Spencer's case, I think the decision to tag him might have been driven by some questions that have come up about the defensive ends coming out of college. After the combine, the depth that everyone was talking about at DE was thrown into question. Players like Bjoern Werner and Damontre Moore, once considered top 5 talents, were sliding, in Moore's case, precipitously. Replacing Spencer, who made his first trip to the Pro Bowl last season and clearly played the best football of his career, looks a lot more difficult than it once was. The tag assured the team it had him available, and indicates that the Tony Romo deal is going to get resolved soon. Even though there is still doubt about working out a long term deal with Spencer, with Jerry Jones feeling he wants more than the team can afford, the team has a solution in place now. Obviously, Kiffin and Marinelli had input on this, and they must feel good about having Spencer at end. The main thing is that I think the draft influenced the franchise decision more than the franchise decision influenced how the team will draft, if you follow me.
What I sincerely hope is that neither of these decisions is going to have a great deal of influence on Dallas' draft board. That is not the way you should evaluate the prospects. As badly as I want to see the team address offensive line in the early rounds, I do not want to see them taking a guard if there is a defensive end or safety or even a SAM linebacker available that is higher on the board. Go with the talent. That is dependent on building your board correctly, with integrity and good scouting. But you have to look more at what the player brings to the team than what position he fills. Consider this: If you were on the clock, with the same exact needs the Cowboys have today, and your top options on the board were exact clones of Sean Lee, Doug Free, Danny McCray and Mackenzy Bernadeau, who do you pick? You already have a Sean Lee, right? Well, I think you pick Lee again. Find a way to use him. He is too good to pass for anyone else, no matter what the need. I know, I kind of slanted that one, but the principle is the same. Don't try to project the moves with Sensabaugh and Spencer too far ahead. They were made to improve the team today. They fit with what is going on, but they do not dictate what happens on draft day.