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Cowboys 2013 Offseason: Assessing Free Agency Thus Far

Back in February, BTB assessed of the Cowboys' offseason needs, and offered up a plan for attacking those needs. With NFL free agency two weeks old, how successfully has Dallas addressed their offseason checklist thus far?

WIll an Anthony Spencer extension allow Dallas to address its offseason needs?
WIll an Anthony Spencer extension allow Dallas to address its offseason needs?

In the final installment of my "offseason plan" series, after more extensive looks at the Cowboys' needs on both sides of the ball, I developed a list of offseason "must-haves." At the time, I noted that Dallas' limited resources didn't seem capable of accomplishing all of these so, with heavy heart, I eliminated the needs that, because they were less dire, would have to wait. Although I would like love for them to happen, I felt that finding a cheap veteran receiver and ponying up for Doug Free's replacement aren't absolute necessities and would have to wait. With those needs put on hold, here is the 2013 "offseason checklist":

1. Draft a defensive lineman in rounds one or two
2. Draft a running back in rounds 3-4
3. Get a UDFA FB after the draft
4. Sign a blocking tight end in free agency
5. Draft a promising offensive guard in the draft's first three rounds
6. Franchise Anthony Spencer OR sign a younger, cheaper FA D-lineman
7. Sign an ex-Bears defensive lineman or defensive back
8. Find a starting "Sam" linebacker
9. Sign a free agent safety to a one-year, low-impact deal

From the above, the items that would be checked off in free agency are numbers 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Thus far, the cap-strapped Cowboys have been able to afford only two moves: franchising Anthony Spencer and re-upping LB Ernie Sims. But these both target line items on the list: Spencer's re-up satisfies line item number six, and the Sims signing could conceivably check off number eight on the list. That said, I think the folks at Valley Ranch consider Sims a backup, not a starter.

This suspicion is confirmed by reports that the team, as Archie reported yesterday, is bringing in former Lions OLB Justin Durant in for a visit. On Sunday, Bryan Broaddus tweeted the following:

Durant and Allen's presence at the Ranch on Monday (other reports say former Raider Michael Huff will be there as well) suggests that the Cowboys feel that they will soon have money available to sign them. That is an important development; as several writers have recently opined, both Romo and Spencer are believed to be verrrry close to signing extensions. If either does sign, it will free up enough cap space for the Cowboys to be limited players in the 2013 free agency market.

Indeed, in a recent look at the "flat cap," I wrote that, whenever Romo agrees to an extension, we'll see some more some veterans signed to fill thin positions, so that the team can follow a "BPA" strategy in the draft. With scheduled visits by Durant and Allen, it looks like this is about to come true.

You'll notice that both of these players, if signed, would allow the Cowboys to check off one item on their offseason checklist. Durant is one of the better free agent linebackers, is fully capable of being a starter, and a good one. Allen is an athletic veteran presence who would fulfill a function much like that Brodney Pool did last year: cheap insurance who could be cut with little to no loss should the youngsters step up.

Assuming both players sign (and I feel that these are both more than cursory, "kick the tires" visits), the Cowboys will have checked off three of the five free agency-specific items on the offseason checklist:

4. Sign a blocking tight end in free agency
6. Franchise Anthony Spencer: SPENCER FRANCHISED
7. Sign an ex-Bears defensive lineman or defensive back
8. Find a starting "Sam" linebacker: DURANT?
9. Sign a free agent safety to a one-year, low-impact deal: ALLEN?

As O.C.C. recently reported, Dallas was one of a handful of teams interested in former Bears tight end Steve Maneri, who re-signed with Chicago. In addition, the team has engaged in "conversations" with second-tier free agents such as Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn, Jets guard Matt Slauson, and Bears defensive lineman Amobi Okoye. Note how closely these rumored players of interest correlate to the need checklist; Okoye satisfies number seven, the most esoteric of these line items.

With the exception of offensive guard (where the team is reported to be interested in both Slauson and former Jet Brandon Moore), the players in whom the team has expressed interest play exactly the positions we highlighted back in February. So, when the team announces that either Romo or Spencer's contract has been extended (and I assume this will happen, and soon), look at the list of remaining free agents for right guards, tight ends who can block, strongside linebackers, veteran safeties who are willing to sign short-term deals, and former Bears defenders.

‘Cause that's who the Cowboys' pro personnel guys have been looking at, as they waited for the front office to hammer out deals with Spencer and Romo.