I started this exercise immediately following the conclusion of the Cowboys season. I wanted to get into specifics as far as who I wanted to see join the team in what I believed would be the best plan of attack for making it back into the tournament, and also be a contender for years to come. I was derailed halfway through by the Cowboys switching from a 1-gap 3-4 scheme to an incoming version of the Tampa 2, 4-3 under. Then as I started writing the supporting, introductory paragraphs they ended up being their own articles.
For Part I (Understanding The Cap), Part II (What To Do With Romo), & Part III (What Can Be Done With Current Players), feel free to click on the respective links. They should help you understand how I'm arriving here.
Here's where I stand based on the salary situation and what I believe Dallas will do (based on assumption they are $20m over the expected $121m cap):
- Resign Tony Romo. This will free up approximately $8m of cap space based on how it is structured.
- Restructure Brandon Carr to free up an additional $10m in cap space
- Restructure Jason Witten to free up an additional $3m in space
- Release Lawrence Vickers ($1.2m), Dan Connor ($3m) to gain $4.2m in space
- Release Marcus Spears ($2m) and Gerald Sensabaugh ($3m) as June 1st cuts to gain $5m in space
- Renegotiate contract with Doug Free for base salary reduction from $7m to $1.5m with 2 $500,000 roster bonuses to bring cap hit down from $10.12m to $4.8m; gaining $5.3m in space
- Restructure contract with Miles Austin for salary reduction from $6.732m to $3.632m with $2.1m signing bonus, gaining $2.3m in space
These moves, obviously contingent on the participation of Romo, Carr and to a greater extent Free and Austin, would take Dallas from $21 million over the cap to $16.8 million under the cap. The club also has reportedly between $2 and $5.5 million in 2012 space cap carryover to use ($18.6m to $22.1m). When figuring in that Dallas has to use $5 million on the Mara penalty and approximately $2.5m of cap space on their six 2013 draft picks, the Cowboys would have between $11 million and $14.5 million to spend on free agency.
Dallas would have 45 players under contract (including draft picks) - leaving 8 vacancies for free agents, UDFAs or players currently signed to futures contracts. Obviously the 53 man roster would be fluid based on the 90-man limit of who was invited to training camp, injuries, etc. So how do they proceed? Glad you asked. Here are the steps I would take to fill the voids.
- Say goodbye to Anthony Spencer. I was all geared up to figure out a way to sign Spencer and then I saw the price tags for 4-3 defensive ends. There are horrible players making oodles of money in this position. I just don't see how his agent allows him to sign a "Brandon Carr" style deal (decent signing bonus, low first year salary, guaranteed second year salary).
- Sign FA RT Andre Smith, Jr. The Cincinnati right tackle is a monster in both the run game and pass protection, but the likelihood of him coming to Dallas may have taken a hit with his arrest over the weekend for having a hand gun in his carry-on baggage over the weekend. Now, no one is stupid enough to think they are getting through a bag scan with a gun, so it is probably the "I forgot" kind of stupidity in play here. If this excludes him from Dallas, the next target on my list is Phil Loadholt. Sign him to a 5 year deal for $35 million, more than what Eric Winston signed for last year. Signing bonus $8 million with base salaries: $1m, $8m (restructure next year), $5m, $6m, $7m. Cost: $2.6 million.
- Sign FA S Kenny Phillips. Yes, Phillips has questionable knees, but when he plays it's extremely well. He's a force in both the run game and as a centerfielder. Phillips was not pleased with how the Giants' kept him out down the stretch (see here) and didn't tote the company line about wanting to return. What better way to stick it to your old team than sign with a rival? Read this BBV article about how the Giants functioned with and without him.
Based on these numbers alone Phillips was responsible for an average of basically 8 points per game, nearly 30 rushing yards per game, and 50 yards passing per game
- (cont.) Phillips has missed most of 2 of the last four seasons; he shouldn't command Top 10 safety money, but should command Top 20. I'll pencil him in for a 3-year deal $11m deal with plenty of roster bonuses, playing time incentives, etc. $3m signing bonus, $1m base first year. Cost: $2 million
- Sign FA S Ronde Barber. This signing I can't be sure of. Barber had a good year in 2012, ranking in PFF's Top 15 safety rankings. I think he would be the perfect addition to the roster as a backup safety to help transition the Dallas secondary to the Tampa 2. He's going to be 38 though and last year commanded a one-year salary of $3 million. Would he want similar? Would he want to keep playing? If he would be willing to sign for the vet minimum instead of retiring, so he can reunite with Monte Kiffin, I want Ronde in Dallas. I don't care that he doesn't play special teams (there are 5 other DBs that can). If he isn't down for this role, then bring back restricted free agent Danny McCray and have a special teams ace. Cost: $1 million
- Re-sign DE Victor Butler. Butler should come for a reasonable price, but with letting Spencer go, Dallas will need some pass rushing depth behind DeMarcus Ware. I could easily see Butler signing for a William Hayes type of deal for just over the vet minimum. 2 years, $2.5 million, $800k base with a $700k signing bonus. Cost: $1.15 million
- Sign LB Orie Lemon, LB Ernie Sims, and CB Michael Coe to veteran minimum deals. Cost: $2 million
The total haul of this free agency class is $9.25 million in 2013 salary cap costs. It doesn't cover every need, but in this exercise I'm going to get every draft pick I want by drafting them higher than where they are currently projected. Yes, I'm well aware that the projections will change based on the Senior Bowl, the Scouting Combine and individual workouts. For now though, here's how I would address the Amateur Draft.
- 1st - No.18 Overall: OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina Nimble, uber-athletic guard that would add a brilliant dimension to Dallas' line play
- 2nd - No. 47: DT Kawaan Short, Purdue - He has a production ratio similar to JJ Watt and Ndamakong Suh. Nuff said.
- 3rd - No. 80: DE Cornellius Carradine, Florida State - Was a 1st round edge rusher before tearing his ACL in November. Come on son, this is the quintessential Dallas pick.
- 4th - No. 112: QB Zac Dysart, Miami (OH) Dysert's stock took hits in 2012 because of the lack of talent around him and a change in offense. This guy has the base tools necessary to become a winning NFL QB.
- 5th - No. 143: RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina - At one time the best RB prospect in the draft before blowing his knee up. Take the chance.
- 6th - No. 176 CB BW Webb, William & Mary - Small-school player was rarely tested after stellar freshman year. Stock could rise this week in Senior Bowl.
- UDFA Targets: RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (Michigan) S Shamarko Thomas (Syracuse), FB Zach Line (SMU)
I based the players availability off of the big boards of Draftek.com and CBS Sports. These moves illustrate how I would love to see the 2013 Dallas Cowboys go into battle. Obviously the club isn't checking for my opinion, but I feel a strategy along these lines covers the bases for what Dallas needs to plug holes.
The offensive line is properly addressed, the defensive line gets young premiere talent and upside additions all over. The youth is extraordinary now and there are prospects in place at each position manned by an aging star. Admittedly, the safety position is addressed by a really old guy and an injury risk, but I think Dallas wants to leave a position open for Matt Johnson.
If you're wondering about the Zac Dysert pick, just know that no matter what you think about the Tony Romo, the team has to find a new backup quarterback, at the very least. I hear foolishness about don't draft a QB because his contract will be up before Romo's extension, as if there isn't a backup QB position scheduled to cost Dallas $5 million of 2014 cap space.
Here's a visual as to how it would play out on the field.
(click to enlarge)
Well, there you have it, the final act of my Roster Talk series. I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know what you like and of course what you don't from these additions. I look forward to discussing things with you.