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Cowboys 2012 Free Agency Roundtable, Part IV: Spending Jerry's Money

Welcome to the final episode of our Free Agency Roundtable, with our expert insiders, Birddog26 and Long Ball. In case you've missed any of the discussion, here's a recap: In the conversation's opening chapter, we evaluated the Cowboys' roster. In the next, Long Ball and Birddog paid special attention to the position groups the Cowboys must upgrade this offseason. Earlier today, we looked at available free agents at Dallas' positions of need. Here, in the final chapter, we'll discuss potential free agent safeties and both gents will share their free agent plans of attack. And away we go!

BTB: Alright, gentlemen, one final question before we move on to discussing global pans of attack--and we've saved arguably the most problematic for last: safety.

Long Ball: The problem here is that the Cowboys’ roster is full of strong safety type players, and the center-fielder type free safeties aren’t available in free agency.

BTB: No kidding. Sadly, this is the position where an upgrade seems the least likely. The free agency cupboard appears to be bare, and there’s not a lot of obvious immediate help in the draft.

Birddog: Yeah, safety is going to be a tough spot to upgrade at this year. Possibly Dwight Lowery in free agency, but he is a role of the dice. He played well to start the season but his shoulder injury really makes it hard to do a full evaluation on him. Many have talked about LaRon Landry, but he has had two Achilles injuries and the stats show that a full recovery, while not impossible, is slim.

BTB: Not encouraging. Is there ANYBODY out there who might provide a potential upgrade?

What hopes might the Cowboys have for an upgrade at safety? Find out after the jump...

Birddog: There are a number of draft prospects that could develop down the road, but outside of Barron and Smith there is no draft pick I would want to try and start this season.

Long Ball: For the sake of argument, let’s assume Sensabaugh can play free safety for the next couple of years. Barry Church, or some one-year free agent pickup, would fill the strong safety role and Dallas could invest a late round draft choice in one of the larger cornerback prospects to develop as a FS.

BTB: Long Ball, you mentioned one-year free agent pickups. If the Cowboys decide to go that route, who are the Abram Elam c. 2011 types, "bridge" players who could be brought in on a short-term deal to get the team through until a real talent comes along?

: Mike Adams, from Cleveland, may be a bridge type player, Overall Elam is probably their best option and I think, with upgrades at cornerback and inside linebacker, he will be able to play much better.

Long Ball: Adams is older than Elam. I gotta tell ya, that’s an ugly list of FA prospects! The ones who would be an upgrade have already been tendered, so I guess we’re down to those two.

BTB: Okay, here’s the big wrap-up question: given the Cowboys’ needs and the players available in free agency, if you are the Cowboys GM, what’s your plan? How do you spend Jerry Jones’ money?

Long Ball: On a damned good bottle of single-malt scotch! Then, after I drink it I won’t care how difficult the task at hand really is. Since we still don’t know what the final salary cap will be, I’m going to address the question in generalities (as I’m sure there are readers who are better versed on the numbers than I am).

First, you have to make money to spend money. So, on the current roster, I am releasing Terence Newman, Kenyon Coleman, David Buehler and, depending on how much I can save, Marcus Spears and Kyle Kosier (with the idea of bringing either or both back at something close to the veteran minimum). I am waving bye-bye to RFA’s Chris Greisen and Kevin Ogletree and all UFA’s and then opening negotiations with Abram Elam, Laurent Robinson, and either Derrick Dockery or Montrae Holland.

Birddog: I agree; it is time to say goodbye to another group of players this year and open up the roster. For me, Newman, Buehler, Kosier and Coleman are out.

Long Ball: So far, we’re in almost perfect agreement. Next, I am going to renegotiate contracts with some, if not all, of the following: DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, Doug Free, Orlando Scandrick, Jason Witten, Jay Ratliff, and Miles Austin. If, out of all that, I can come up with $20 million to play with, here’s how I spend it (estimated 2012 salary cap impact in parenthesis):
  • Kraig Urbik ($2.5-3 million per): Doesn’t matter whether he plays center or guard (although I would prefer center). Will cost our 3rd round draft pick unless Buffalo is willing to deal. He was previously at $600K per year.
  • Brandon Carr ($6-7 million a year): May be unrealistic on money, but this FA period may not be as fruitful as some of the participants may think. He was previously at $2.6MM per year.

If Carr wants a lot more, other options might be:

  • Terrell Thomas ($2-3 million a year): Coming off injury, this would be a nice increase over his last contract of $422K per year [ed. note: Thomas re-upped with the Giants today], or
  • Chris Johnson ($3-3.5 million a year): I would think Mr. Johnson would be happy to get back to his previous salary with the Raiders.

Birddog: Very close to my list; here's what I have:

  • Urbik (4 year at 3 million): I would try and work with the Bills on a fourth or fifth round pick, but he is worth the third we would give up.
  • Carr: (4 years at 7.5 million a year): I think the market will be soft and we can get him for this price.
  • Mincey: (3 year at 2.5 million per): He will bring a high motor and competition to the D-line.

Long Ball: Great minds think alike, eh? If I were able to make those moves at those prices, it would all me to make a few more:

  • Laurent Robinson ($3-4 million per): If I can get him to agree to a Patrick Crayton type contract, I think it requires consideration.
  • Jonathan Goff ($1.5-2 million a year, on an incentive loaded contract): If he’s recovered from his torn ACL. Last year’s salary was $555K. The Giants have two ILB’s who are UFAs; Chase Blackburn is the other.
  • Abe Elam ($2 million a year): Will he take yet another one-year deal? Especially after seeing what Sensabaugh got?
  • Kyle Kosier, Montrae Holland, or Derrick Dockery (veteran minimum): Who will be willing to come back for the minimum?

Birddog: Again, almost exactly what I have. The only free agent Cowboys I will bring back are:

  • Robinson: (4 years at 3 million a year): He is a great fit in Dallas’ Scheme.
  • Dockery: (1 year veteran minimum)
  • Holland: (1 year veteran minimum)
  • Elam: (3 years at 2.75 million a year)

The one exception to Long Ball's list is this: I like Larry Grant (ILB for 49ers; he’s been given a seventh round tender): 3 year at 2mil. He fits the mold of ILB’s the Cowboys are seeking. Had a great showing filling in for Patrick Willis this last year and is a huge upgrade over Brooking and James. With him on the roster we could very well have a solid rotation of young athletic ILB with Lee, Carter and Grant.

Long Ball: Fair enough…Oh, it just hit me that I have not addressed QB. A veteran back-up QB for the Cowboys has to have previous starting experience, been around the block a few times, and able to come into a game with limited practice snaps—and if he’s backing up Tony Romo, he has to be a team guy and realize that he’s not challenging for a starting position. That in itself eliminates younger guys like Matt Flynn, Brian Hoyer, Dennis Dixon or Chad Henne. The reasons the Cowboys want a veteran QB in free agency are two-fold: Stephen McGee is not deemed ready to accept the #2 QB position and, more scarily, the organization questions whether the former 4th round draft pick from Texas A&M should even be the #3 QB, the to-be-groomed-for-the-future guy any longer.

Also, if I’m the Cowboys, I want to keep this guy’s budget in the $2.5-3MM range (Jon Kitna cost $2.65MM per year). I’ve heard speculation about the following names, but look at their 2011 salaries: Jason Campbell ($4.5 million); Kyle Orton ($6.9); Shaun Hill ($2.27); Drew Stanton ($650K)--and even Vince Young ($4 million). If the range is 2.5-3 million, that eliminates everyone from the list above except Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton.

Do either of those guys excite you? Me neither. That’s why I’m hoping Peyton Manning goes to the Dolphins--because I want the Cowboys to correct a mistake they made 5 years ago and go after Matt Moore. And if the Dolphins don’t sign Manning, I would contact them to see what we could do via trade. And then, the following year, I'd start drafting a mid-to-low round QB every year. Incidentally, for those interested, Matt Moore’s average annual salary is $2.5MM.

BTB: Me likey. I wrote in an earlier post that it wouldn’t surprise me to see Moore in a Cowboys uniform next year. It makes so much sense that it's almost too obvious: the new Green Bay coaching staff is going to want to clean house and bring in their guy—if not Manning, then Flynn?—and the Cowboys have long rued the day they got too cute and tried to sneak Moore onto the practice squad.

Okay, that's a wrap. Whew! There are a lot of moving parts here, boys. Thanks for taking a stab at this high-stakes puzzle.

Birddog: You're welcome

Long Ball: I sure am glad Stephen Jones is having to figure this out rather than me!

Okay, BTBers. If you've enjoyed this series, and would like to hear from Long Ball and Birddog again in April about the draft, give them some love in the comments section!

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