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Free Agent Costs For The Dallas Cowboys

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Pet peeve time. I hate it when people perform what I will call, in deference to BTB decorum, anal extractions. You know, when they throw things out there with no regard for facts and reality. I love a good argument if people do a little research and base their opinions on something solid, but I can't stand things that just get thrown out there without at least some consideration of the reality of the situation.

In the discussions of what the Dallas Cowboys can do in free agency to try and solve some of the problems the team faces before the draft comes rolling around, there are a lot of proposals that some people seem to love, but when you start looking at things, they don't hold much water. One example is the eagerness by some to go after Mario Williams to shore up the pass rush. Now, while he would certainly be a great acquisition, I have to wonder just how much of a pay cut he would take to come play for Dallas. He made $13.8 million last year, with a cap hit over $15 million. You cannot decide how to spend your cap budget without having some idea of how much the players are likely to cost, and decisions have to be made about whether to sink a lot into one or two stars, or to get more players that are likely upgrades but more affordable, thereby improving more areas of the team.

Part of the problem is that it is hard to get a handle on all the different factors in free agency. So I set out to look at what the top free agents out there might cost, by researching how much they made last year. I think it is logical to think that they will be trying to get a good paycheck if they seek a new team, and looking at what they made last year might help sort that out.

What I managed to gather after the jump.

I tried to narrow my focus to those positions that seem most likely for the Cowboys to go after in free agency. I looked at guards and centers on offense, and tackles/nose tackles, defensive ends, outside linebackers, and safeties on defense.

To keep from having an overwhelming amount of data to deal with, I arbitrarily decided to limit my look to the top eight players at each position. I've used the Walter Football Free Agent Rankings to pick the top eight. This is not meant to endorse their rankings, just to get a point of reference. I figure that this would be accurate enough to give a feel for what the likely cost of some players would be.

The data does have a few confusing things. The DE/OLB designation was a little hard to figure, with some players in the DE list being DE/OLB, while others with that designation showed up on the OLB list. Also, there are a few of the free agents that I could not find any payroll data for, and I am not sure just what that means. But the following are the lists I came up with. I have also included ages, because some of the older players might be a bit cheaper to get on a one or two year deal for short term fixes while the team develops younger talent, or in those areas that the team will have to address next time around.

Here is what I came up with. The highlight colors are some players and things I want to discuss a little.

Guards

Name Team Age 2011 Salary
Carl Nicks NO 27 $2,610,000
Ben Grubbs BAL 28 $2,995,000
Evan Mathis PHI 30 $685,000
Mike Brisiel HOU 29 No data
Kraig Urbik (RFA) (G/C) BUF 26 $480,000
Jake Scott TEN 31 $4,700,000
Vernon Carey MIA 31 $2,500,000
Chad Rinehart (RFA) BUF 27 $555,000

Centers

Name Team Age 2011 Salary
Scott Wells GB 31 $2,750,000
Nick Hardwick SD 30 $3,675,000
Chris Myers HOU 30 $2,750,000
Dan Koppen NE 32 $2,900,000
Samson Satele OAK 27 No data
Matt Birk BAL 36 $3,000,000
Jeff Saturday IND 37 $2,400,000
Todd McClure ATL 35 $1,700,000

Defensive Tackles/Nose Tackles

Name Team Age 2011 Salary
Calais Campbell (DE/DT) ARI 26 $555,000
Paul Soliai (NT) MIA 28 $12,381,000
Red Bryant (DE/DT) SEA 28 $555,000
Kendall Langford (DE/DT) MIA 26 $1,400,000
Cory Redding (DE/DT) BAL 31 $2,500,000
Sione Pouha (NT) NYJ 33 $1,280,000
Jason Jones (DT) TEN 26 $555,000
Sammie Hill (RFA) (NT) DET 25 $2,273,225

Defensive Ends

Name Team Age 2011 Salary
Mario Williams HOU 27 $13,800,000
Cliff Avril DET 26 $2,610,000
Jeremy Mincey JAC 28 No data
Andre Carter NE 33 $1,750,000
Michael Bennett (RFA) TB 26 $480,000
Anthony Spencer (DE/OLB) DAL 28 $1,001,000
John Abraham ATL 34 $8,000,000
Robert Mathis (DE/OLB) IND 31 $2,410,000

Outside Linebackers

Name Team Age 2011 Salary
Jarrett Johnson (DE/OLB) BAL 31 $3,500,000
Ahmad Brooks (DE/OLB) SF 28 $1,200,000
Erin Henderson MIN 26 $1,200,000
Leroy Hill SEA 29 $685,000
Manny Lawson CIN 28 $3,000,000
Rocky McIntosh WAS 29 $685,000
Phillip Wheeler IND 27 $555,000
Wesley Woodyard DEN 26 No data

Safeties

Name Team Age 2011 Salary
Tyvon Branch (SS) OAK 25 $555,000
Michael Griffin (S) TEN 27 $3,310,000
LaRon Landry (SS) WAS 27 $4,500,000
Dashon Goldson (FS) SF 27 $1,200,000
Dwight Lowery (FS) JAC 26 $555,000
Mike Adams (FS) CLE 31 $1,100,000
Jim Leonhard (SS) NYJ 29 $2,075,000
Reggie Nelson (FS) CIN 28 $957,500

A few things I think can be concluded. Some of the top ranked free agents are likely to see big pay raises, such as Carl Nicks, another favorite target around here, and Calais Campbell and Tyvon Branch, who are finishing up initial contracts.

But you look at the lists, and there are some pretty good players who might not be nearly that costly. Under the guards, I noticed that Buffalo has two highly regarded young guys, both Restricted Free Agents, and both that are coming off of pretty low paying contracts. This is a possible target, trying to peel one of them off. Buffalo has its own budget to deal with, and they may not be able to retain both of those players even if they want to.

Under centers, I noticed that all but one of the top ranked free agents is going to be over 30 next season. Some of them waaaay over. If the Cowboys want to go after a center, they would pretty much have to be willing to go with a short term, fairly high risk older player. But it might be a decent gamble, giving them one graybeard to provide some seasoning for an otherwise young line (assuming that the current older guards on the Dallas roster are not retained). And this bunch is one group where you might not have to talk much pay raise due to that age factor.

On the defensive line, Miami has a similar problem as Buffalo's, with two very good young players they need, but that may stretch their budget uncomfortably even if they are not totally out of line on price.

Our own Anthony Spencer shows up on the DE list, which is a bit of a puzzle as far as why he is there and not with the OLBs, but the main thing is that he is one of the top prospects according to someone looking at this from a little distance. And he is also cheap at his current price. If his salary is not bid up, he may be a better option to keep than some want to admit here (although I have seen several start to reconsider that lately).

Outside linebackers and safety both have one thing in common: These guys for the most part are low priced now, and might be available for very reasonable contracts. The safety group in particular is not very deep, but there is a chance that the team could get an upgrade or two without having to use up a great deal of cap space. I am watching Browns safety Mike Adams closely. Although he is old, he was considered to have had a good year in 2011 - and he has that tie to Rob Ryan. I would not be surprised to see him get some consideration, maybe to replace Abram Elam, ironically.

I hope this gives you a quick way to make your thoughts about the free agency situation more informed. If you like a player who is a little deeper, it still can give you an idea of the relative worth, and therefore the possible cost, of those men. If you refer to this even once in figuring out how you want the team to approach FA, then I've done my job.

And if nothing else, I have mastered highlighting my tables. OCC will be so proud.