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Patience the Main Ingredient in a Howard Deal

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With the NFL owners meeting in sunny Hawaii this week it's ironic that player business has slowed to a glacial pace. Less than three weeks after they began, free agent moves have come to a near standstill.

That stasis has to be frustrating Cowboys faithful, who were hopeful that a deal for Saints DE Darren Howard could have been worked out by now. New Orleans was facing a deadline of March 17th to move the disgruntled end, but Howard deferred it by signing the Saints' tender offer. The Saints now have time to strike a harder bargain with a team like Dallas, but here are two reasons why I believe the trade will happen, but not until the end of April at the earliest:

  • Howard is eating up $7.8 million worth of cap space. The Saints have four core players who are in the last years of their deals -- RB Deuce McAllister, C LeCharles Bentley, WR Joe Horn and CB Mike McKenzie, who cost a second round pick to obtain. The Saints want to sign them to long-term extensions to keep them off the market, but don't have the cap room to do so. They will have it if they move Howard.
  • If the Saints keep Howard they face a similar dilemma with him next year. They either franchise him again, which would give him an outrageous cap figure of $9.3 million, or they risk losing him to free agency for no compensation.
  • So what long-term options do the Saints really have? They move Howard now and gain stability, or keep him around and risk blowing up their team in 2006.

    From Dallas' perspective, the desire to get Howard is great, but the need to get him now is not. Jerry Jones has said he does not want to trade draft picks for players and at this point he's right. I see no risk that Howard will be traded to another club before the draft. The other teams that keep being linked to Howard trade are Washington, Minnesota, Seattle, Miami and Denver. Let's look at the likelihood of each team trading for him:

  • Miami -- the Dolphins entered free agency with less than $2 million in cap space. They've already made several smaller money additions, most notably safety Tebucky Jones. They've already got a big ticket DE in Jason Taylor. How can they afford another one?
  • Denver -- They also entered free agency with limited cap room. They've been trying unsuccessfully to unload high- priced DE Trevor Pryce, who has the biggest contract on their defense. They appear trapped, capwise. They've pursuing DE Courtney Brown, a much cheaper option who was released by the Cleveland Browns last week
  • Seattle -- The team most often named as a competitor signed DE Bryce Fisher from the Rams last week. He got a four year, $10 million deal. They paid Grant Wistrom a mint to play DE for them the year before. I don't think the Seahawks paid Fisher all that money to be Howard's backup.
  • Washington -- The Redskins had a fair amount of cap room, but lost much of it when they made the Santana Moss-for-Laveranues Coles trade. They're in strong pursuit of Courtney Brown, who seems more in line with their budget. They also can't give New Orleans their second round pick, since the Saints already own it.
  • Minnesota -- They had over $30 million in cap room and have spent freely, trading Randy Moss and signing Pat Williams, Darren Sharper and Fred Smoot for their defense. They are still the club most likely to be that "other team" but they've been quiet since signing Sharper and WR Travis Taylor last week.
  • New Orleans might be trying to drive up the price of getting Howard, but why give them anythingbetween now and the end of the draft? Dallas has no visible competition and New Orleans' need to move Howard only increases as the season approaches. Sure, a new team might emerge after the draft, but teams won't exactly have more cap room then, will they?

    I expect Dallas to turn off the phones, keep the 42nd pick, use it on the best available player and then call New Orleans after the first mini camp. Who knows? Dallas might draft an end who looks so impressive to the coaches, it makes them disregard the Howard deal altogether. Stranger things have happened.

    In any event, put those Darren Howard thoughts on the back burner of your mind. Unless Jerry convinces Saints GM Mickey Loomis to cave on his trade demands over some mai tais this week, it just ain't gonna happen in the near future.

    Update: Minnesota, that "other team" mentioned upthread, may be just that. The Orlando Sentinel passes on the rumor that the Vikings might consider sending the 18th overall pick to New Orleans for Howard. The Vikings have the cap room to make this happen. Time will tell, but it should not compromise the Cowboys thinking in any way. The Cowboys would have to send the 20th pick and a lower pick or package a starting player and a pick for Howard to trump the Vikings, if this rumor has merit. Both prices are too high, in my humble opinion.