With the passing of the magical June 1st date, many NFL teams, the Dallas Cowboys among them, now have more cap space to work with. And the Cowboys, who always seem to be discussed early every year as being in cap hell, somehow (cough) Stephen Jones (cough) found themselves with nearly $10 million they could use to not only finish signing their draft choices, but that could be used to find some free agent help if they still had some holes that they felt needed to be addressed.
The team made such a move on Monday, signing TE Dante Rosario, most lately of the San Diego Chargers (who, it might be noted, signed TE John Phillips, most lately of the Dallas Cowboys, earlier this year). They released another tight end, Paul Freedman, to make room on the 90 man preseason roster.
The tight end position has seen perhaps the most activity of any position group for the Cowboys during the offseason, with one TE being drafted, several others signed to the roster, and now Rosario joining the team. This all comes on the heels of a great deal of talk about increased use of the 12 formation. The Cowboys already have likely future Hall of Famer Jason Witten, 2012 draftee James Hanna, and this year's second rounder, Gavin Escobar, all of whom seem likely to make the roster. The continued search for a tight end may be for insurance purposes, but it is looking more and more like the long range plan is to go with four tight ends on the final roster, which would likely do away with the fullback position, and current incumbent Lawrence Vickers, who is rehabbing from back surgery.
Although the likely top 3 tight ends are all good receivers, there are concerns about how effective they are as blockers. Freedman and Colin Cochart were possible answers, but while they were seen as good blocking tight ends, they were not seen as proficient at receiving. Rosario is believed to be good at both, according to a look at him posted by usafcowboy36. One thing that may be a factor in the acquisition is that he had experience as a fullback and an H-back in college. Add that to a decent set of hands, and the Cowboys might see him as a good option for running formations, since he still gives them a play-action target to keep the other team from being certain what is coming.
He is 28, so while not exactly young, he is not exactly old, either. In six years in the league, he only has 1,106 yards receiving, further bolstering the argument that it is blocking ability that caught Dallas' attention.
Bryan Broaddus pulled up some video and did a fast review of his play. He saw a player with good points and bad points (which is only to be expected for someone who seems to have the word "journeyman" show up in almost every article written about him). A few key takes from that look:
Strengths: Is smooth up the field....really moves well for a player of his size....dependable hands....has the movement skills to be a zone blocker....feet and his athletic movements are good...will stay in for pass pro and was not beaten for any pressures...
Weaknesses: Thought he could have done a better job of finishing his blocks...is not the type of blocker that is going to hammer you off the ball one-on-one and get movement....
He looks like a fairly good option for Dallas if they go with four TEs. It definitely makes the 12 formation talk look like more than just speculation, and almost certainly foreshadows the departure of Vickers as the Cowboys look to join the NFL teams that have largely eliminated the fullback position.
It is also a wise use of the cap space available, plugging a need that they are not having really good success in filling with the bodies on hand. And if Vickers is indeed cut, the team may come out ahead, as he would take $1,200,000 off the cap, with only a $100,000 dead money cost.
It makes a lot more sense in several ways than paying a much larger salary for a guard or tackle that is, maybe, a tiny bit better than the younger player you already have on the roster who knows the playbook. It is filling a specific role, not trying to buy the last piece to make the team a winner. And it all fits together with what the team looks to be doing. Rosario appears to be a good signing. He is definitely one that was done the smart way.