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Free Agency Musings

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Update: Scott Wright e-mails to say he'll have responses to your questions Tuesday. I'll post them tomorrow.

In the meantime, I've been working with the Scouts Inc. pro free agency ratings and find they suggest a very limited game plan for Dallas next month.

Offense
RT -- The question is simple. Does Dallas see Rob Petitti as the long-term option, one who could be ready late this coming season or in 2007? If so, the best options are Jason Fabini and Tom Ashworth, in that order. Fabini missed six games in '05 and is rehabbing a torn pectoral muscle. That's usually not a career-threatening injury but it could drive his price down. He's been a LT for the last six seasons but played RT in '98 and '99 and should be a good fit there. He's higher rated than Ashworth, because he's a better run blocker.

If Dallas isn't sold on Petitti, it might spend the big money on Jon Runyan. He's the oldest of the bunch, being one year older than Petitti. He's a true RT. The issue is cost. It's worth noting that both he and Fabini had identical grades in '04.

TE -- I've read nothing on Dan Campbell recently. At last report he was waiting for Dallas to contact him. His rating is what you would expect from a backup TE. There are few better options, most notably San Diego's Justin Peele. The problem I see is that nobody on the market stands head and shoulders above Campbell. If the Cowboys are dragging their feet on Campbell, they may be leaning towards TE in the draft; it's one of the deepest positions this year.

OG -- Andre Gurode gets a surprisingly high rating. Dallas has pushed harder to resign Gurode than Campbell and this might be why. He's the one procrastinating here, waiting to see if he can land a starting job elsewhere. He's top priority in the re-sign department, at least on offense.

K -- The pecking order goes Adam Vinatieri, Mike Vanderjagt, Josh Brown and Ryan Longwell. Brown's scouting report describes him as the best kickoff option but a "streaky" field goal kicker. After 2005, streaky is out. If New England doesn't tag him, I think Dallas makes a run at Vinatieri. Otherwise, I'm sticking with my prediction of Longwell.

FB -- The top three options are Mack Strong, Fred Beasley and the soon to be cut Jerald Sowell. They all grade out within a point of each other. Strong is the best lead blocker. Sowell the best on the perimeter. He's the most versatile, lining up at FB, H-back and in the slot. He's got the best hands of the bunch. His profile reads like Richie Anderson's, before Anderson wore down. Sowell should get a call when the Jets release him.

I predict Dallas pursues Longwell, Sowell and Fabini. Tight end becomes a draft priority.

Defense
DL -- I see no action unless the team moves either LaRoi Glover and/or Greg Ellis.

LB -- Jacksonville's Akin Ayodele gets some love from the posters. I'm not as bullish on him. He rates only slightly better than Scott Fujita, whom Dallas wants to re-sign. His rating is identical to 49er ILB Derek Smith's, the epitome of a dependable, league-average LB.

Like RT, much depends on the Cowboys' faith in Kevin Burnett. If he's the answer, then a modest signing like Smith makes sense. He'd be a steady inside presence who takes the pressure off Burnett's rehab from an ACL tear.

Ayodele doesn't make sense to me because OLB is an impact position in a 3-4. Baseball analysts for years have identified the corner outfield positions, first base and third base as high offensive positions. They're less vital defensively, especially the corner OF and 1B, so you try to find the biggest bats for those spots. A good glove, single-slapping .300 hitter is actually detrimental to your team if you play him at first, when other teams are fielding 40-homer mashers there.

I see Adoyele as a Mark Grace-type LB. Dallas needs an Albert Pujols-type, who can get double digit sacks and nullify tight ends. That's why we're keeping an eye on John Abraham. He's the big hitter. Otherwise, it's the draft for this position, because the LB class is loaded this year.

FS -- A need, but the pool doesn't look so deep. Pittsburgh's Chris Hope is young and improving. Beyond him, there are guys with question marks. Will Demps grades well, but he played SS in Baltimore. Will he be a good fit at FS? And how is his rehab from a leg injury proceeding?

Corey Chavous offers another option but I've read two scouting reports the past week that say he's wearing down from punching above his weight at SS. He's apparently lost some speed, which is not a good sign for a guy you would sign to play in deep centerfield.

I've written that free agency economics suggest Dallas will fill the FS spot with a veteran. But that assumes there are quality candidates. I don't see any sure things beyond Hope, and he's stated his desire to re-sign with the Steelers. If he does, this may be another draft priority for Dallas, since the safety pool is again deep.

Prediction: I'm going to say Dallas signs only one defensive free agent, going with a dependable role player like Smith.

Strangely enough, this leads me to speculate that Dallas will not take an OL on day one unless of the Winston Justice, Jonathan Scott duo is on the board in rounds one or two. (I'm waiting to see what the medical tests on Marcus McNeill say.) Otherwise, I see OLB, TE and FS in some order. Those are three of the deepest, if not the three deepest positions this year. They complement Dallas' needs nicely.