The debate has begun over the fates of LaRoi Glover and Greg Ellis. Will they be retained? If they are traded, what could Dallas get for them?
I think the odds of both being traded are good. Glover has the biggest contract on the defense and Ellis' is not far behind. Both are on the wrong side of 30. And most importantly, both saw their reps reduced down the home stretch, Ellis in particular.
So what could Dallas hope for if they were put on the block? The more skeptical of you say Dallas can expect no more than a fourth rounder. But several factors are working in Dallas' favor. First, the team does not need to move them. Dallas has the cap room to keep them in 2006, so it can drive a harder bargain with prospective trade partners.
Second, defensive end and tackle are need positions. Lastly, as EricR points out in the threads, Ellis would be one of the two to three best ends on the market. Looking at a list of prospective free agents, the top tier looks like this:
1. Kyle Vanden Bosch, Tennessee
2. John Abraham, New York Jets
3. Greg Ellis, Dallas
4. Darren Howard, New Orleans
Abraham and Howard were the top targets last spring and consider the prices placed on them: the Jets would not even discuss moving Abraham, whom they had franchised, for less than a first rounder and a second first day pick; the Saints offered Howard to Dallas for MLB Dat Nguyen and the second of the Cowboys' two first-round picks.
I will be shocked if Tennessee does not re-sign or franchise Vanden Bosch, a young end who posted 12.5 sacks this year. That means Abraham, who has a history of nagging injuries, will be next up. And don't forget that he wanted -- probably still wants -- a contract roughly equivalent to the Eagles' Jevon Kearse's. In other words, approximately $8 million per.
Ellis is older than Abraham, but he's been steadier and has a contract only half of what Abraham wants. Still think Dallas couldn't get a second rounder out of somebody for him? More on this in a minute.
Let's turn to defensive tackle. Here are the top free agents to be, as of now:
1. Larry Tripplett, Colts
2. LaRoi Glover, Cowboys
3. Kendrick Clancy, Giants
4. Gerard Warren, Broncos
5. Ryan Pickett, Rams
6. Grady Jackson, Packers
7. Chris Hovan, Bucs
Glover is the only Pro Bowler on this list. Nobody here can rush the passer like he can. I rate Tripplett ahead of him because Tripplett is younger.
Skill is only half the story. We need to determine the market. Who might be willing to flip a first day pick Dallas' way for either of these guys? I can think of at least nine teams off the top of my head:
1. St. Louis -- Their ends can rush, but their top tackle has 1.5 sacks. They were terrible in run defense. They're fringe players in the Ellis/Glover sweepstakes, but if they hire Mike Zimmer to coach them, you can bet he'll campaign for Glover.
2. Seattle -- The first of many good teams with "future is now" syndrome. They're the top seed in the NFC. They've gotten good production from tackles Rocky Bernard and Marcus Tubbs. End Bryce Fisher got seven sacks. But end Grant Wistrom, a big ticket signing two years ago, seems to be wearing down. If they lose in the NFC playoffs or the Super Bowl, what do they do to get over the top? Sign a proven vet or take a chance on a rookie?
3. Arizona -- Dennis Green feels the heat. Arizona was a sexy pick to be a wild card contender but fell flat again. They have good ends in Bert Berry and Chike Okeafor. But who can remember their tackles? Former Cowboys coach Clancy Pendergast coordinates their defense. I'm sure he'll put in a request for Glover. Whether Green heeds it remains to be seen. But these guys need to produce next year or they're likely gone.
4. Detroit -- See Arizona above. GM Matt Millen just escaped the axe. Lions' faithful are growing tired of his odd draft picks and his teams' poor performances. He's neglected his defense, using all his first rounders on offensive skill position players. Shaun Rogers plays like a monster, but when your top rusher is a linebacker (Kalimba Edwards with seven) your line needs help. This team could go for either Ellis or Glover. Millen needs a major improvement this year or he'll likely be pink slipped.
5. Atlanta -- The Falcons have a dandy pass rushing tackle in Rod Coleman, who had his second consecutive double digit year. Patrick Kearney is also good outside. But they have nobody else on team with more than three sacks. They just missed the playoffs this year and play in a nasty division. What's more likely to get them back in the playoffs, a sure thing like Glover or Ellis, or an unknown rookie?
6. Tampa Bay -- They play the chic Cover 2 scheme, which means they don't blitz much. When they won the Super Bowl not too long ago, they had a fearsome line. But Warren Sapp's contract demands grew as large as his belly and he was allowed to leave. Their line misses him. Simeon Rice has 14 sacks, but fellow end Greg Spires only posted four. DT Anthony McFarlane, a feared inside rusher when paired with Sapp, had only two, as teams now double team him regularly.
The Bucs just lost a painful playoff game and rumors are thick today that they'll pursue Terrell Owens. Can you spell desperation, boys and girls? Or going for it all now? The Bucs are a veteran team, especially on defense. A LaRoi Glover could jump start that rush and put them back in the mix.
7. Denver -- They've got Tampa's problem. They only had 28 sacks this year and many of them came from their excellent linebackers and safety John Lynch. Their ends, Trevor Pryce and Ebenezer Ekuban led the line with four sacks each. That's nothing to crow about. If they lose, to the Patriots or the Colts, their lack of rush will get a lot of attention. This is another "future is now" team. Can they count on a rookie to save them, or go with a Glover, who would greatly improve their interior line or an Ellis, who outperformed all of Denver's ends are a part-timer?
8. Kansas City -- They've got the same issues as Tampa and Denver. 29 sacks as a team. Jared Allen got eleven, but nobody else on the team had more than four. Tackle Ryan Simms, the guy they traded up with Dallas to get four years ago (when Dallas traded down to get Roy Williams) has been a bust.
They just missed the playoffs. They have a new coach who plays cover 2. They need defensive line help. They have a lot of age on offense, so they can't wait. I think they'll be very interested in both Glover and Ellis.
9. Cincinnati -- A team on the rise. Their weakness is on defense. They've got good ends, especially Brady Smith. Rookie David Pollack looked good before he went down with an injury. They need help inside, however. They've got Tampa, K.C. and Denver syndrome. They're playoff caliber, but not Super Bowl caliber. Do they stick with rookies or go for the known veteran to take the next step?
There are probably other teams like the Jets, Colts and Dolphins who might give the two Cowboys a good, hard look. Regardless of the number, I'm bullish on Dallas getting a good return for both players. There are too many good teams with needs on their defensive lines. Too many good teams whose windows are closing.
Desperate teams do reckless things. The Cowboys are counting on it.