According to a source close to the Dallas Cowboys, as relayed to the public by ESPN Dallas, defensive end Marcus Spears and safety Gerald Sensabaugh will be allowed to test the free agent market (if there is a free agent market).
The Dallas Cowboys will let defensive end Marcus Spears and safety Gerald Sensabaugh test the free agent marketplace before offering those players new deals, if at all, a source close to the team said Monday.
The fact that the Cowboys are letting Spears test the market should come as no surprise. Spears, a former first-round pick, has never really distinguished himself as a key player on the Dallas defense. Defensive end is a tough position to judge in a 3-4 defense because in most versions of the defense, the end is not really a guy expected to pick up a lot of stats. Spears was never a player who could establish any kind of credible pass rush from the position, but seemed to improve over time in his run defense.
He initially played under Bill Parcells, who wanted the ends to hold their ground, occupy two blockers and allow the linebackers to fill the gaps and make the play. This type of defense is suited to Spears skill-set. Wade Phillips wanted more of an attacking end, a guy who could shoot the gap and disrupt the play in the backfield, but we didn't see much of that from Spears. With new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, it appears that Spears' skill-set is even less of a fit. Ryan likes players who are versatile, who can move around, who can do different things and that's not Spears.
Plus, the Cowboys aren't likely to pay him the kind of money he's likely to get elsewhere. It's a phenomenon that happens every offseason, other teams, for whatever reason, tend to place a higher value on marginal players than the team that has seen the guy play for years. Think Chris Canty and the New York Giants. Dallas has Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen, well, they can probably have them if they want them, so the need to keep Spears, especially if it's at an inflated price, isn't a high priority. The Cowboys could also look to the draft for a replacement as this year's crop of prospects appears to be deep at the position.
When you add up all those factors, the likelihood that Marcus Spears is done in Dallas is very high.
The case of Gerald Sensabaugh is a little different. He, like Spears, hasn't been a standout on the defense, but he's been steady. The Cowboys are very, very thin at the safety position. Alan Ball did not handle his year of starting at free safety very well so the Cowboys are almost assuredly looking at options there. With a need at free safety, the idea of also creating a need at strong safety is a gamble. Replacing both safeties in one offseason isn't ideal.
Sensabaugh may also be player where another team thinks the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and might make a play for him that the Cowboys just won't match in terms of contract numbers.
One factor that we're not sure of yet is what, exactly, Rob Ryan wants to do on defense in the secondary. He might feel that the current personnel at safety doesn't fit his scheme. It's still a risk, because unlike Spears, the Cowboys really don't have anybody that you would think could immediately step in and assume the position. Danny McCray and Barry Church had nice rookie seasons in terms of special teams, but projecting them to an every down starting safety is a stretch.
We've made the case for a few potential free agents that might be on Dallas' radar. O.J. Atogwe is a possibility, and Abram Elam, who played under Ryan in Cleveland, could be another. Nick Eatman has list of possible free-agent safeties here. And ESPN Dallas brings up the name of Daniel Manning from the Bears
In an offseason of uncertainty, Dallas looks to be ready to gamble at safety.