As Dave reported yesterday, the Dallas Cowboys are signing veteran guard Uche Nwaneri (pronounced: by someone else who has to teach me). DallasCowboys.com has since confirmed that the team has come to terms with him and is expected to get his signature on a contract shortly.
This is rather a good sign, at least to someone with my not-yet-preseason, glass-is-half-full-of-Kool-Aid outlook. With first round pick Zack Martin and last year's starters Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary already on the roster, this is pretty clearly a depth move at a position that already has some depth on the roster. It looks to have been the top thing on their post-minicap to-do list, since they also brought Garrett Reynolds in for a look.
My theory is that the team is fairly confident that most of the rest of the players for the 53-man roster are already signed. It's not just a matter of deduction, either. The staff seemed to be looking for options in the interior of the line during the OTAs and minicamp as well. I would hope that the team is prioritizing what it needs to do. That would logically mean that the team does not see any other position that is a higher priority in free agency than depth at guard.
As I said, this very positive. If, of course, the staff has done a good job of evaluating the talent it has on hand, and if the team is able to avoid a rash of injuries, particularly concentrated in a certain part of the team. We all have to remember how it was proclaimed in 2013 that "the defensive line is a strength of this team". That was based on the assumption that everyone was going to be healthy; the subsequent injuries to Anthony Spencer, Tyrone Crawford, Ben Bass, Jay Ratliff, and, to a lesser degree, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, largely wiped out the unit. The argument has been made that the statement was largely true when it was made, but it really wasn't. The team knew that Spencer's knee was not healthy. It should have known that there was trouble brewing with the man appropriately nicknamed Rat. And there should at least have been some caution flags about the aging Ware, who was also switching positions.
So the question that needs to be asked about this situation is whether the team is doing a better job of self-evaluation this season. Although we won't really know until the season is underway (and possibly not until it is almost over), the early signs are good. With the obvious exception of Sean Lee, the Cowboys went on the four week break before training camp with no significant physical problems. There were a few, like Tony Romo and Henry Melton, who were still in recovery (along with Spencer), but no one seems to be behind schedule.
Injuries can only be managed to a certain degree. Freaky stuff still happens. Beyond that, there is the question of talent evaluation itself. Assuming a normal number of the current roster get to the beginning of the season in good health, are there enough players of sufficient talent to leave the team with 53 who can play a successful NFL season?
That is where the Nwaneri signing needs to be considered a bit differently. The key aspect is that, because he was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he probably accepted a pretty Cowboys-friendly contract to come to Dallas. He has a good chance of winning a roster spot and improving the team at an affordable price.
There are certainly some positions where the Cowboys could use more talented players than they have on the roster. But there are not a whole lot of players currently available that could fit the same criteria Nwaneri does. The ones Dallas can afford are not any better than what it has. And any players out there who seem likely to provide an upgrade are going to ask for way too much.
Opportunities still exist for the Cowboys, but they will continue to be very carefully thought out in terms of both what the player can give the team that it doesn't already have, and what he is going to cost. There won't be any big, splashy moves. It does look like the team has done a good job of assembling the group for Oxnard (with the exception of the reluctant quarterback, Kyle Orton).
The best thing I see about all this is that there is no sense of panic evident with the Cowboys, but there is also not any real complacency. The goal is still to get better in any way the team can, but to be careful and above all smart in how they go about it. This signing was perfectly in character with the perception I have of the team.
And if you know about me and the Kool Aid, then you know that my perception is pretty good.