The Cowboys didn't get caught with their pants down with Doug Free after all. For weeks I've posted that Jerry Jones hasn't lost a young player in his prime to free agency since Alvin Harper bolted for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in the mid-90's. The Bucs tried to do Dallas again, but must not have included enough Debbie's in the deal to entice Free away from the cozy bosom of Valley Ranch. Cowboys fans now have at least four more years to watch Free ball, and show up 30 yards down field in future Felix Jones highlight reels.
Free was, and always has been, objective number one, two and three for the Cowboys once the CBA was done. Tony Romo now has the bookend tackle protection he will need for what is perceived his remaining window of opportunity, three to five years. The team still has plenty of other holes to fill though, and we've gone the day without any additional signings, so let's regroup and reload to see what could be coming down the pike.
Depending on which source you believe, the Cowboys cap number for 2011 was projected to be between $130 and $136 million. Today's news that the soft cap adds another $3 million to the standard cap to be exclusively used on 5+ year vets brings that figure to $123 million. Between Doug Free's deal and the rookie pool, the Cowboys have roughly $14m allocated in addition now. That puts the 2011 cap figure at approximately $145 to $150 million.
The numbers can be debated, because all of the information we have is second-hand, but the general concepts apply. If the proration rules of the old CBA hold, and all of yesterday's moves are considered to be 'June 1st' cuts, the Cowboys have carved out some salary cap pie to use this year.
According to this great fanpost by Requiem, the Cowboys have given themselves some wiggle room for the 2011 salary cap. The releases of Davis, Barber, Colombo, Williams and Brown give them another $21 million of flexibility this season. They also stand to gain plenty more space if and when the team announces the reworking of player salaries such as Romo, Ware or Austin.
The caveat is, that unless there is some sort of amnesty built into the CBA that has yet to be released, then the Cowboys are putting themselves in a dangerous position for 2012. As BTB member Fan in Thick and Thin would say, the Cowboys are in need of the salary cap fairy if there isn't some forgiveness for past signing bonuses included. By my no-guarantee-to-be-correct calculations, the Cowboys will have about $24 million in dead money on the 2012 cap without it.
Regardless, a 53 man roster will be built over the next two weeks. Doug Free is signed, leaving the guard position the only remaining question mark on that side of the ball. The team continues to talk to Kyle Kosier, though no deal has been announced yet. My amnesty-enabled target? Harvey Dahl from the Falcons.
The fallback option to losing Kosier without a replacement is to roll the dice that they struck gold in fourth-round pick David Arkin. I'd rather have Arkin play than most of the other stop gap free agents.
There is a depth issue at wide receiver, but there are several candidates ready to prove themselves. In addition, the current third read isn't too bad of an option. Maybe you've heard of him, Jason Witten? My already on the team pet cat is WR Teddy Williams. I have nothing to back this up, but I think his elite speed gets him the sixth wideout slot instead of Jesse Holley or Manuel Johnson.
We keep waiting for the shoe to drop for the team to grab some help for the defense, but it has yet to materialize. With three free agents on the defensive line and no starters at safety, the Cowboys are in a worse situation than last year. Want a little known fact? The Cowboys went into the 2010 season with only one defensive player on the practice squad, CB Teddy Williams. Yes, the same Teddy Williams I just claimed as my wide receiver dark horse. I'm not going to dwell on the fact that Dallas has yet to show they care much about their defense. Nope, not gonna do it.
Let's take a look at where the roster stands now, and recap some of the latest rumors by penciling in some open slots. Some of these interests the Cowboys are rumored to have will have to come to fruition eventually. The level of free agents they secure will let us know how the cap situation really stands, and I expect some sort of official announcement once the CBA is certified. Some of these are my personal projections, I'm never one wary of stepping out on a limb, so feel free to use the comment sections to shoot them down or praise them to high heavens.
Today, the Cowboys have been connected to defensive ends Kenyon Coleman and Robaire Smith. They've also been cited as talking with their own Stephen Bowen and Marcus Spears. We'll assume Bowen signs, seeing the amount of press the team has given him. I'd prefer a Spears return, but I think he wants more than what the Cowboys will offer. If Robaire Smith has recovered from his back injury, I'm excited if he comes on board. In 2009, PFF rated Smith a +16.0 for the season, including a +14.6 cumulative run grade.
Possible defensive line rotation of Bowen, Ratliff, Smith, Spears, Lissemore and Brent? Sign me up if we can afford it. Cullen Jenkins you ask? I might be the only one with no interest there. Let him go get overpaid by the Redskins.
Stephen Jones said today that safety is a priority, but the top remaining options are expensive, and save for Michael Huff's money-year campaign, don't seem worth the money. In a perfect 'amnesty world', I'd like the Cowboys to sign Huff. The team has already been associated with safety Abram Elam, and repeatedly, so I'm penciling him in as one of the safety signings.
Brodney Pool is still my favorite cheap choice, but I haven't seen any associated rumors on him as of yet. UDFA's Collin Zych and Justin Taplin-Ross are interesting prospects to compete with Andrew Sendejo. With AOA, Barry Church and Danny McCray, the Cowboys are clearly going the cheap youth route at safety. Whether or not this bites them in the rear like their 2010 safety solution remains a disturbing question mark. Seeing the contract Eric Weddle signed today, it doesn't look like they have much choice in the matter.
The early offseason rumors that the Cowboys were standing pat at cornerback are turning out to be true. UDFA's Butler and Randle seem to be practice squad candidates.
I think UDFA QB Zach Eskridge makes the practice squad, as opposed to just being a camp body. I think UDFA RB Phillip Tanner beats out Lonyae Miller, and possibly has the Cowboys listening to trade offers for Tashard Choice. Seventh-rounder Bill Nagy and UDFA OG/OC Kevin Kowalski will give Phil Costa some competition for his roster spot, but that might not happen until midway through the season.