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Jerry Jones Kremlinology: What Will the Cowboys Do in Free Agency?

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In the fanshot just below this post, Jerry Jones is quoted on free agency, of which he says:

"We will be active, but I'm anticipating some value and opportunity that is not necessarily there right now - can be there but if the process hasn't let us get there," Jones said. "Now, if that doesn't show, that'll limit what I do."

What does this mean?  I'll make my attempt at parsing Jerry's masterfully, and intentionally opaque terms on the flip.

Let's take his remark clause by clause.  He says the Cowboys will be active.  That won't surprise anybody, but the question is how active?  My guess is, not that much.  Dallas' roster does require some new blood.  It is, however, quite talented.  We're all familiar with the areas of greatest need -- a free safety, offensive line depth, a rotation nose tackle and possibly a receiver.  These needs can be met through free agency and/or through the draft. 

Which brings us to clause two -- "I'm anticipating some value and opportunity that is not necessarily there right now."

What value is Jerry referring to?  Are there veteran players who his staff anticipates will be cut, who have not yet been put on the market?  Possibly.  Are there areas of the market where the competition is too fierce, where the Cowboys want some competitors to leave the field before they enter? 

Let's take this possibility a bit farther.  A story surfaced last week that the Cowboys had made an inquiry about Colts restricted free agent safety Antoine Bethea.  The same story mentioned that other teams, the Eagles, Redskins, Dolphins and Jets, were also interested in him.

Now, let's assume for the sake of argument that Dallas has watched tape on Bethea and considers him a surer bet than any free safety they could draw at the 27th pick and feels he's worth a move.  (I'm writing hypothetically here.)  Dallas might want to test the Colts and see if they will negotiate. and take something less than the 1st rounder the tender requires. 

Dallas' bargaining position improves if  fewer competitors remain for their target.  And what have we seen in the first week of free agency?  Safety has been one of, perhaps the most bartered position out there.  Consider:

  • The Giants immediately signed Antrel Rolle
  • The Jets traded Kerry Rhodes to the Cardinals
  • Ryan Clark visited Miami, then re-signed with Pittsburgh.
  • The Eagles signed CB Marlin Jackson, with the idea of moving him to safety.
  • Those same Dolphins considered signing Rolle, just missed on Clark, have met and nixed the idea of signing Bethea to an offer sheet, and are now considering Rams FA O.J. Atogwe.

Lots of teams want safeties.  This suggests that the better rookie safety prospects, the Eric Berrys, the Earl Thomases, the Taylor Mays, may not last.  But the activity means that if the Cowboys move for either Atogwe or try to haggle for a Bethea, they will likely have challengers, something the team would want to avoid, to prevent having its bargaining position corrupted, inflated and possibly trumped. 

This may be the opportunity "not there right now" that Jerry speaks of.  And this same scenario may also apply to offensive line, to a tagged player like a Jared Gaither.  Too many competitors may still lurk, and the holding teams may still be standing firm on their bargaining positions, or showing no willingness to bargain at all.

So who might be on Dallas' radar?  Who could come next week and not create too much of a fuss?

That's not as clear as it might seem.  The unrestricted ranks lack sizzle.  On the restricted front, I can't see the Cowboys forfeiting either their 1st or 2nd round picks.  Nonetheless, some intriguing RFAs exist:

Atogwe -- The Rams maintain the right of first refusal, meaning they can match any offer he receives, but would get no compensation if they don't match.  The safety market has cooled considerably, as several teams have filled their safety needs, but potential competitors remain.  I have limited data on Atogwe.  He has some ball skills, but he's also 28.  He looks like he could be a short-term upgrade, in the Thomas Everett mold, but I don't see him as the long-term answer.  Of course, the Cowboys may not be looking for a long-term answer, but a 2010 one.

Chris Chester -- Bill Parcells was very interested in the Oklahoma C/G when he came out in '06.  The Ravens picked Chester in the 2nd round and he's become their right guard, starting 24 of Baltimore's 32 games the last two seasons.  He's tendered at a 3rd rounder, and could represent a better bet than any rookie Dallas might claim there.  He's 6'3", 315 lbs., which fits the Cowboys size profiles.  The Ravens run the same power game Dallas likes.  I don't know if Baltimore would take less than a 3rd, but the Ravens want to obtain more picks.  The Anquan Boldin deal means they have just two picks in the first four rounds. 

A player like Chester would make sense if the team feels he represents an upgrade over Kyle Kosier and has a ceiling higher than Robert Brewster's.   He would also give Dallas cover at center. 

Gaither?  -- He's an offer sheet darling among some fans, but the reactions to him are mixed.  His own fan base is torn on the prospect of losing him.  Roughly half want to flip him for a 1st rounder, while the other half fears letting go.  Nobody considers Ozzie Newsome a fool, so you have to wonder why the Ravens tendered him at at level which invites inquiries?  Baltimore loves Michael Oher, but then, young LTs don't grow on trees.  The BIlls got a 1st and a 4th for Jason Peters last offseason. 

I'm sure Dallas has reviewed Flozell Adams', Doug Free's, Marc Colombo's and Gaithers tapes extensively  I have no idea what path that tape study suggests. 

There's also no clear idea if any of the other possible suitors in a Baltimore Sun piece, the 49ers, Seahawks and Colts, would make a bid?  The Ravens would jump for joy if the Seahawks or 'Niners courted Gaither.  Both of those teams have two 1st round picks and the lesser of their picks fall in the mid-teens.   They would likely flip Gaither for a pick in this range.

This may be more of that invisible opportunity Jerry refers to.  The Cowboys have worked hard to keep their cards pressed to their vest this week, while gathering as much data as they can.  They may feel it's time to put those cards on the table.  We should know soon.