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Cowboys Cuts: Follow The Money

Terrence Newman is the one aging veteran who managed to survive today's cuts
Terrence Newman is the one aging veteran who managed to survive today's cuts

In a normal (i.e., non-lockout) NFL offseason, the league year begins in March with a free agency period, which catches fire and then peters out as the draft nears. Often it's during March that aging or overpriced veterans are released (and scooped up by other teams). As a result of this roster shifting, Cowboys fans usually have a pretty good sense of the roster heading into the draft. This year, as we have frequently discussed, was quite different: we went into the draft with only some vague ideas about which vets we would see take the field in 2011.

When Dallas drafted players like Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray, it was pretty clear that those selections signified the end of the road for vets Marion Barber and Marc Colombo. Other of their picks didn't offer that same crystalline clarity. Would the acquisitions of Bruce Carter and David Arkin send Keith Brooking and Leonard Davis packing? If we had really been paying attention, I think things would have been much clearer. Look at who was cut today; there is an almost perfect one-to-one correlation between the positions they play and the positions the Cowboys drafted in April.

But there's more; this replacement plan seems to have been in the works for some time. In a preview post before the 2010 draft it was said that to know who the Cowboys were going to draft, all one had to do was to follow the money. At that time, it was noted that several of the Cowboys core players (Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff) carry very reasonable sticker prices; others, however, were aging veterans--several over the age of 30--with bloated contracts. Thus they were likely to be getting big money for declining skills, an unpardonable combination in a salary-capped market. Here's the list from April 2010:

Player 2010 Cap Value
Andre Gurode $ 4.8 million
Marion Barber $ 5.8 million
Leonard Davis $ 8.4 million
Terence Newman $ 11.0 million
Roy Williams
$ 15.0 million
Total $ 44.9 million

See any familiar names? Most number among the list of players who became ex-Cowboys today. As we consider this, it's important to think about the positions the Cowboys have drafted in the past couple of seasons, since this list was initially created. In 2010, they picked up a WR in Dez Bryant and a defensive back in Akwasi Owusu-Ansah. This past April, they picked up a running back, DeMarco Murray, two interior offensive linemen in David Arkin and Billy Nagy, and another receiver, Dwayne Harris. And they targeted a whole passel of others.

In recent years, there has been a very strong correlation between the number of players at a given position that Dallas has invited to Valley Ranch for formal interviews and the positions they have targeted (and drafted) on draft day. Using his handy-dandy set of charts assembled by our resident tablemeister, O.C.C., before the most recent draft, we can see that, in the past two years, the Cowboys have been targeting these positions in an effort to replace these bad contracts. Since the end of the 2009 season, they have invited 10 receivers, 14 offensive linemen, 11 corners and 3 running backs to the Ranch.

To me, this suggests that Dallas has been feeling pressure from these contracts since the playoff loss to Minnesota, if not longer, and has placed a high priority on finding replacements at OG, RB, WR and CB. The only position that hasn't been replaced is cornerback, and a strong argument could be made that this is only because one of the guys they liked (Kyle Wilson, Devin McCourty, Prince Amukamara, Aaron WIlliams, et. al) didn't fall to them. In a sense, they did draft a potential replacement in AOA, a corner-safety hybrid. I wonder: if he had flashed last season, might we be discussing Newman's departure from the team?

The takeaway from this is not that a more careful look at who the Cowboys drafted in April would have alleviated surprise at who was cut today. In point of fact, none of today's cuts were much of a surprise (although Leonard Davis did catch me a bit off guard, no pun intended). Rather, it's the length of time that the team has seemingly been preparing for this moment, as they continue to extricate themselves from Jerry Jones' largesse before and after the 2007 season.

We have all talked about the cleanup work in Jason Garrett in the immediate future: instill discipline and toughness in a team that has lacked it, enliven a despondent running game, return to fundamentals, restore glory to the tarnished star. Another item on his list has flown under the radar until now: finish the long recovery from a disastrous 2008 offseason. Think about it: contract extensions for Terrence Newman, Ken Hamlin, Flozell Adams, Terrell Owens, and Marion Barber, and the acquisition of Pacman Jones, and then, later, Roy Williams--all done in the giddy aura following the 13-3 2007 campaign. How many of those guys even remotely played up to the big money they received. Maybe Newman, which is one reason why he's still here.

To make sense of this crazy league, you have to follow the money--but you don't have to like where it takes you.

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