OK, now for the hard part.
In part one of this series I laid out my offseason plan to fix the Cowboys’ offense. I laid out my general thesis there, but as a quick recap:
- Rebuild the team into a potential contender as quickly as possible during Romo’s window (which I’m guessing is through 2014 or maybe 2015)
- Eliminate the 2’s and 3’s from the two-deep that have doomed this iteration of the Cowboys every year since Romo took the helm (and, really, since Jimmy left)
- Stay within the salary cap (which I’m guessing to be $125.5 million next season, up from $120.9 this year) and make smart use of the Cowboys’ draft picks in the middle of each round
- After the first entry I learned about some cap carryover from 2011 that may give the Cowboys more room, but it didn’t really alter my plan/targets all that much (I’ll explain in more detail in the final piece in this series)
The offense was basically the easy part, since they actually performed well throughout the vast majority of the season. The defense was another matter – aside from a hapless Bucs team in Week 15, the opponents in the second half of the season basically treated them like Big Ben treats a coed in a Midgeville bathroom stall. Fans and commentators sought to point the finger of blame at everyone from Rob Ryan to Terence Newman to DeMarcus Ware, but you’d need an advanced case of polydactyly to point out all the culprits in this deal. The non-Ware pass rush fell off a cliff in the season’s second half, the secondary was routinely confused and abused and with Sean Lee reduced to a one-handed bandit the inside linebackers added next to nothing.
But fear not! From these ashes a Phoenix shall rise – one capable of subduing Kevin Fucking Kolb in Phoenix, at least. My main goal is to fix the pass defense, and I’ve always ascribed to the theory that an A-grade rush and a B-grade secondary beats the reverse most days of the week.
Let’s take a position-by-position look at who’s in and who’s out for 2012.
Starting Nose Tackle – Jay Ratliff
Jay Ratliff caught some undeserved grief for much of the season, a lot of which I think came from folks angry at his (admittedly questionable) contract extension who anticipated a decline which I don’t think has hit quite yet. While he didn’t rack up the sacks in 2011, Ratliff generated pretty consistent pressure for a position where that’s quite the rarity and once again held up very well against the run for a guy without the prototypical NT build. ProFootballFocus only had one ‘in the red’ game grade for Ratilff all season (the Detroit Debacle) and graded him out as the second-best NT in 2011 behind the Jets’ Sione Pouha. While he wasn’t the disruptive force he’s been in seasons past, in a down year for 3-4 NTs across the league the Cowboys couldn’t have done much better elsewhere.
2012 Cap Figure: $4.82MM
2013 and Beyond: I’ll be the first to say that Ratliff’s extension was both premature and over-generous. He’s on the books for four more years with cap hits of $5.95MM, $5.07MM, $6.07MM and $7.07MM through 2016. In my regime I doubt he’d see anything beyond 2014 in a Cowboys’ uniform, but if he was released now the Cowboys would face more in dead money than they’d pay him in 2012. Starting next off-season the search for a replacement will be in full swing.
Starting Defensive End – Jason Hatcher
After the questionable decision to let Stephen Bowen depart to the Redskins and the unconscionable decision to re-sign human space-waste Marcus Spears, the Cowboys caught a break this offseason when they were able to bring back Jason Hatcher on a very affordable 3-year deal. Hatcher was the best all-around performer in the Cowboys’ DE contingent, bringing somewhat consistent pressure while holding up pretty well against the run.
2012 Cap Figure: $2.03MM
2013 and Beyond: Hatcher has one more year a $2.33MM in 2013. He’ll be 30 then and may give way to a younger guy in 2014, but if his play holds up I’d happily give him a two year extension at a similar AAV.
Starting Defensive End – Wallace Gilberry [FREE AGENT SIGNING – KANSAS CITY]
While he’s far from a household name, Gilberry is a 3-4 end with some quality pass rush potential I’m prioritizing that well ahead of run-stopping ability in a world where neither of the guys who passed for FIVE THOUSAND FUCKING YARDS were even the best QB in the league. Gilberry didn’t jump off the page in 2011 as he got caught up in KC’s team-wide malaise, but in 2010 he logged seven sacks, six QB hits and 29 other pressures which is man’s work from a 3-4 end. He’s not an every-down dominator but if he’s playing a little more than half the snaps at one DE spot he could help bring the heat that the Cowboys so sorely need.
Hypothetical Contract: 4 years, $18.0MM, $9.50MM Total Guaranteed Money ($5.5MM signing bonus) – more or less what the Cowboys paid Spears but this time they’re getting a much more valuable skill set.
2012 Cap Figure: $2.38MM
2013 and Beyond: $4.13MM, $5.38MM and $6.38MM through 2015. Gilberry will just be 31 at the end of this deal so I think you’ve got good odds of quality play throughout.
Backup Nose Tackle – Josh Brent
Young Mr. Brent again showed some flashes in his second season and when lined up at the nose actually graded out better than Ratliff on a per-snap basis. I’d actually like to see his snaps increase in 2012 to keep Ratliff as fresh as possible for passing downs.
2012 Cap Figure: $.50MM
2013 and Beyond: With one more season on the books at $0.57MM in 2013, Brent is a no-brainer to keep around as long as he doesn’t fall apart next year. His ability to command an extension with Dallas beyond that point is in his court.
Backup Defensive End – Sean Lissemore
Pretty similar deal to Brent – Lissemore is a young guy who has shown some good stuff in limited snaps. Lissemore’s forte is the run – he logged an impressive 13.4 rating in the run game from ProFootballFocus on just 244 snaps, making him PFF’s highest-rated 3-4 end against the run on a per snap basis. While I’m biasing towards pass rush for the defense as a whole, Lissemore is a swell guy to have around.
2012 Cap Figure: $.50MM
2013 and Beyond: Lissemore’s late-round rookie deal pays him $0.57MM in 2013, and he’s a guy I’d definitely target for an extension if he keeps up the good work as his role expands.
Backup Defensive End – Clifton Geathers
Pretty similar deal to Brent – A sixth-rounder in 2010, Geathers has seen very limited action thusfar but managed a couple of QB pressures in 31 snaps this year. That’s enough for me to keep him over older and more expensive slugs like Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears, but he’ll likely be fighting several UDFA’s in camp for this spot.
2012 Cap Figure: $.46MM
2013 and Beyond: $0.51MM in 2013 – I like cheap, motivated young labor in effort-heavy positions like the DL.
Marcus Spears ($0.92MM dead money in 2012, $1.85MM dead money in 2013) – This was just a terrible re-sign.
Kenyon Coleman ($.50MM dead money in 2012) – Coleman was reasonable against the run but gives way to younger/cheaper/better pass rushers.
Position Outlook: While it’s not a radical makeover, the addition of Gilberry and more minutes for some active youngsters should make this unit more productive against the pass. The bottom line is that Bruce Smith doesn’t come along very often and without that kind of talent it’s hard to get elite pass rush from a position with the ‘drop anchor against the double team’ responsibility of a 3-4 end. I’d blow up a lot of this plan and start over if I thought I could land the Cards’ Calais Campbell in free agency – and if I thought he’d keep up the pass rush excellence he showed this year after I made him rich. I feel like defensive line is maybe the most dangerous position to buy a super high-dollar free agent as expecting a likely low-Wonderlic guy to kill himself down after down with the same intensity he showed when he was looking to get paid is often a losing proposition (Albert Haynesworth says hi!). The 3-4 isn’t designed for the down linemen to be stars – grab guys who won’t get you killed against the run and a couple who can beat single blocks or push a pocket and let the back eight do the heavy lifting.
Starting OLB – DeMarcus Ware
Ware turned in another tremendous season, becoming just the eighth player in league history to notch 20 sacks in a season and the only guy whose name appears twice in the top ten on the NFL’s all-time single season sack list. He’s not just a one-trick pony, either, as he’s been one of the best OLBs in the league against the run. For all that, though, it’s easy to want more – especially during a late-season collapse that seemed to feature opposing QBs calmly eviscerating the defense from impeccably clean pockets. My take, however, is that the problem is much less Ware than it is his help. During the Cowboys’ 1-4 finish to the season, Ware notched 5.5 sacks and eight QB hits. The ENTIRE REST OF THE DEFENSE during that span notched 6.5 sacks and 18 QB hits. Ware is still an edge-rushing dominator – like Romo, it’s time to get him some help before he wastes the rest of his prime.
2012 Cap Figure: $7.86MM
2013 and Beyond: Ware’s contract calls for an $8.86MM hit in 2013 before ballooning up to $15.11MM and $16.61MM in 2014 and 2015. I’d expect a re-worked deal in 2013 to keep him here through 2017 or so that will keep his cap figure from going too bananas during any of those years.
Starting OLB – Melvin Ingram [DRAFT PICK – FIRST ROUND – SOUTH CAROLINA]
My theory is that pass rush help is the Cowboys’ number one need, and one that’s near-impossible to address at an elite level through free agency without absolutely wrecking your cap. This year’s free-agent crop is pretty thin on top-tier 3-4 pass rushers outside of Mario Williams at (maybe???) OLB and Calais Campbell at DE, both of whom would cost an absolute mint. ‘Almost’ Anthony Spencer is actually one of the top guys at OLB in this class. While I think he does fine work against the run, if his pass rush was going to be this intermittent in his contract year you’ll never see anything better from him and the Cowboys need more.
Thus, the draft. Wes Bunting of the National Football Post does great scouting work and is very high on Ingram, a 270-pound edge-rushing stud from South Carolina who anchored a stout Gamecocks defense this year. While Courtney Upshaw of Alabama is a more natural fit as a pure 3-4 OLB (and wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize at all should Ingram go off the board) I like Ingram’s versatility as a pass rusher and think he has the athleticism and power to hold his own as he figures out the intricacies of OLB. He can put his hand down and rush as a seven or five technique, and I think someone with Rob Ryan’s mad scientist tendencies could find ways to let him get after the QB from all angles and get the Cowboys back to the chaotic, ‘pressure from everywhere’ approach that was serving them well in the season’s first half.
Hypothetical Contract: 4 years, $11.75MM, $10.50MM Total Guaranteed Money ($5.0MM signing bonus) – in line with the 14th pick’s salary structure under the new CBA.
2012 Cap Figure: $2.02MM
2013 and Beyond: $2.73MM, $3.75MM and $4.25MM through 2015 – if he’s able to provide a consistent edge threat to complement Ware this will be a hell of a bargain.
Starting ILB – Sean Lee
Lee was flashing some tremendous instincts in the run and pass game before a wrist injury robbed him of much of his ability to fight off blockers. While he still performed well through the remainder of the season I am thrilled to see what he has in store for 2012 when he’s fully healthy. Not much more to say other than that the Cowboys found a second-round winner in Lee.
2012 Cap Figure: $.70MM
2013 and Beyond: $.79MM in 2013, though I expect to see an extension during the next off-season that keeps Lee in silver and blue for years to come.
Starting ILB – Bruce Carter
It’s time to see what 2011’s second round pick can do. Carter was behind the eight ball in his rookie season as he was coming off knee surgery and started the season on the PUP list. He hardly played enough to get much in the way of an evaluation this season, but the book on him was a tremendous athlete and violent blitzer who needed work on his awareness and key reads in the run game. While ‘lack of awareness’ is a scary tag for a 3-4 ILB, hopefully playing next to a borderline pre-cog in Lee will help inculcate some good instincts and let Carter reach his athletic potential.
2012 Cap Figure: $1.18MM
2013 and Beyond: $1.28MM and $1.41MM through 2014 – I’m sure the Cowboys have visions of Lee and Carter as their ILB tandem through the rest of the decade, so if Carter fulfills the promise he showed during his junior year at UNC look for an extension after 2013.
3rd/Rotating ILB – Larry Grant [FREE AGENT SIGNING – SAN FRANCISCO]]
A former 7th-rounder for the 49ers who logged some time with St. Louis before returning to the Bay Area, Grant logged some time this season when Patrick Willis was out with an injury and looked very impressive in limited work. He played the run with violence, showed some good push on blitzes and made a couple of extremely athletic plays in coverage. With their starting ILB duo set in Willis and Navorro Bowman and a number of higher-priority free agents (including QB Alex Smith) on the docket, I think Grant could be available for a reasonable contract. With the uncertainty around Carter’s instincts and Sean Lee’s less-than-prototypical build, I really want to land a third guy at a reasonable price to play in a rotation and serve as insurance.
Hypothetical Contract: 3 years, $9.0MM, $4.50MM Total Guaranteed Money ($3.75MM signing bonus) – low-end starter money for a 26-year old who could log 400 snaps and start in a pinch.
2012 Cap Figure: $2.25MM
2013 and Beyond: $3.25MM in 2013 and $3.60MM in 2014.
Backup OLB – Victor Butler
One of the few players to log productive snaps from the Cowboys’ tragically wasted 2009 draft class, Butler has done a decent job of generating pressure when he’s gotten the opportunity. He’s a reasonable all-around player who could start the season at OLB while Ingram gets his feet wet and provide a decent rush while Ingram kicks inside on some packages.
2012 Cap Figure: $.70MM
2013 and Beyond: This is the final year of Butler’s rookie deal, so he’ll be blitzing for dollars this season.
Backup OLB – Alex Albright
I don’t know much about this cat other than that he was on the roster and logged 39 snaps in 2011. He’ll be in a training camp battle for this spot, and more power to him if he wins it.
2012 Cap Figure: $.44MM
2013 and Beyond: One more year at $.49MM in 2013 if Albright can prove he belongs.
Backup ILB – Orie Lemon
Another youngster who I probably couldn’t pick out of a lineup at this stage, but who was on the roster in 2011 and who’s as good a guess as anyone to grab the final ILB spot in 2012.
2012 Cap Figure: $.51MM
2013 and Beyond: One more year at $.58MM in 2013 unless things go sour for Lemon (ha!)
Departing: Keith Brooking (no cap impact) – Keith was a warrior but Father Time got him in a big way)
Bradie James (no cap impact) – I can’t say too much bad about a guy who never played behind a dominating NT or DL in general, but he’s aging and not special enough to bring back when you can upgrade with youth.
Position Outlook: With these moves, you’re looking at a LB corps that should take you through the Cowboys’ contention window. The addition of Ingram should provide a versatile pass rush threat from multiple spots, and my hope would be that a contract-year push from Butler and some athletic blitz work from Bruce Carter will lend further help to a pass rush that sorely needed it late in the 2011 season. Removing the oft-victimized James and Brooking in favor of more athletic cats should help out our coverage to boot.
Starting CB – Michael Jenkins
Jenkins enters the final year of his rookie deal with a lot to prove. On the plus side of the ledger he’s a talented corner with size, speed and the ability to provide plus one-on-one deep and end zone coverage. On the minus side he’s consistently inconsistent, frequently banged up and has at time shown a Deion Sanders-style approach to run support. His numbers weren’t bad in 2011 – he allowed just over 51% of the balls thrown his way to be completed for a reasonable 12.1 YPC average, although he did allow 4 TDs against a single pick. He’s still a ways away from the top-tier corner the Cowboys thought they were drafting, though – his 2012 needs to resemble his near-Pro Bowl 2009 campaign more than his hideous work in 2010.
2012 Cap Figure: $1.67MM
2013 and Beyond: Jenkins has a lot to prove going into free agency – even with a strong 2012 his overall inconsistency and seeming fragility would make me very hesitant to hand him a big-money extension.
Starting CB – Orlando Scandrick
Scandrick’s contract extension was another bullet in the ‘Jerry hands out questionable contracts’ bandolier, which at this point is lengthy enough to do Pancho Villa or Chewbacca proud. A scrappy slot guy who has seemed to struggle more when asked to play outside, Scandrick seems to be at least a reasonable player who will probably struggle to justify this deal. His $6MM signing bonus and $10MM total guaranteed money will certainly insure his roster spot for at least a couple of seasons, though, so here’s hoping he comes out guns-a-blazin’ in 2012.
2012 Cap Figure: $3.20MM
2013 and Beyond: $4.20MM, $5.20MM, $6.20MM and $7.20MM out through 2016. Jerry, Jerry, Jerry…
Nickel Corner: Chase Minnifield [DRAFT PICK – SECOND ROUND – VIRGINIA]
Adding quality youth and depth to the secondary is paramount for Dallas, and in a weak safety draft corner is the way to go in the second round if you go pass rush in the first. The only two guys I think I’d prioritize over pass rush in the first round are Morris Claiborne from LSU and Dre Kirkpatrick from ‘Bama, both of whom are very unlikely to last until 14. After that I think several guys look the same, and I think there’s a reasonable chance of Minnifield being available at #47.
There’s a lot to like about Minnifield – his NFP draft profile paints the picture of a guy with the frame, speed, fluidity and ball skills to hold up on the outside. His deficiencies – muscle mass and press coverage technique – are very fixable versus a guy with deficient height, speed or core footwork.
While Orlando Scandrick is the nominal #1 guy in the secondary if you’re looking at contracts, he’s best suited in the slot and over the last few years the Cowboys moved nominal #1 Newman inside in nickel looks. That would be my plan as well – Jenkins and Scandrick are your base corners with Minnifield playing outside when you go to a 3 CB look. Of course, Minnifield may not be able to hold up early (or possibly at all) during his rookie campaign, so for insurance I’m going with…
Dime Corner: Jarrett Bush [FREE AGENT SIGNING – GREEN BAY]
Jarrett Bush was the dime guy for the Packers this season, and he didn’t embarrass himself in coverage. Profootballfocus shows him as allowing just over 51% of the balls thrown his way to be caught – he gave up more distance than you’d like at 16 yards per completion, but he matched the two TDs he allowed with two INTs, broke up six balls and allowed a very reasonable QB rating of 74.4 on balls thrown his way.
This is one of the trickiest spots on the roster for me to figure out. You’ve got your two starters in Jenkins and Scandrick, neither of whom I totally trust but neither of whom I’d write off to sign a top free agent like Brent Grimes, Carlos Rogers or Cortland Finnegan for big money (even if I think the Cowboys should be setting the top of the free-agent CB market under any circumstances, which I don’t). I’m committed to injecting quality youth with a high draft pick, and you hope that guy can swim rather than sink in his first year but such things are hard to count on. There are other guys of reasonable quality like Arizona’s Richard Marshall, Chicago’s Tim Jennings and Pittsburgh’s William Gay who will be less expensive but still likely to command starting CB deals in the 3 year, $14MM range that could end up being superfluous if things work out like you hope with Jenkins, Scandrick and Minnifield (or similar rookie CB).
The guy I’d really love to snag on a reasonable deal would be the Texans’ Jason Allen and if I could get him for 4 years/$15MM I’d do it, but with as much as he’s outplayed bust-in-progress Kareem Jackson I’d be very surprised if the Texans let him get out of town.
Thus, I turn to Bush – reasonably young at 27 and with the size (6’00", 200) to hold up on the outside, unlikely to have a huge market for his services but who has held up reasonably well over a decent sample size. Best case scenario is that he gives you decent early nickel work until Minnifield is ready and provides the option of a Minnifield/Scandrick/Bush trio in 2013 should Jenkins not look worthy of a high-dollar re-sign.
Hypothetical Contract: 3 years, $9.0MM, $4.50MM Total Guaranteed Money ($2.0MM signing bonus) – another quality depth/insurance premium I don’t mind paying.
2012 Cap Figure: $2.50MM
2013 and Beyond: $3.0MM in 2013 and $3.50MM in 2014.
Fifth Corner/Special Teams Wildman: Corey Graham [FREE AGENT SIGNING – CHICAGO]
A corner by trade, Graham really earns his living as a special teamer and anyone who Chicago kept around for special teams purposes this year is a guy I want. I’d had one roster spot set aside for ‘Special Teams Wildman’ as the Cowboys seem to perennially need help in this area (ranking 25th in Special Teams DVOA this year according to FootballOutsiders) and Graham would fill the bill nicely. He played a bit in the secondary this year and didn’t embarrass himself, but any competence in that area would be gravy if he could help Dallas start winning some of the hidden yardage battles they’ve been losing.
If possible, I’d like to bring his coach Dave Toub with him. Toub interviewed for the Dolphins head coaching gig, and while I doubt he gets that I’d love Jerry to moneywhip him and throw in an assistant head coach title into the mix to get around the ‘lateral move’ restrictions on assistant coaches. I’m honestly not sure if anyone on the current Cowboys staff holds such a title currently, but if they did then they certainly managed a piss-poor job of their duties and I’d yank that title in a heartbeat.
Hypothetical Contract: 3 years, $7.0MM, $3.00 Total Guaranteed Money ($2.0MM guaranteed) - about right for an occasional secondary presence and special teams mainstay
2012 Cap Figure: $1.44MM
2013 and Beyond: $1.67MM in 2013 and $1.92MM in 2014 – at just 26 years old, I don’t see any worries about getting a high level of play from Graham throughout this deal.
Sixth Corner/Developmental Guy: Antonio Fenelus [DRAFT PICK – SEVENTH ROUND – WISCONSIN]
A shorter guy with good ball skills who could develop into an inside nickel/dime guy down the road and who has the makeup to bust his ass on special teams. I’ll admit that I’m not super-conversant with late-round corner prospects, so if you have a dream seventh rounder that you’d like to see in this spot I’m all ears.
Hypothetical Contract: 3 years, $1.5MM, $0 Total Guaranteed Money – standard late-round rookie deal.
2012 Cap Figure: $0.44MM
2013 and Beyond: $0.49MM in 2013 and $0.57MM in 2014.
Starting Strong Safety – Gerald Sensabaugh
Like just about everyone in the secondary, Sensabaugh came under fire at some point during the season. I think he did a reasonable job, however – especially when he was able to play to his strengths as more of a classic, "in the box" strong safety. Over the last few years I think his overall level of play has risen and fallen based on the caliber of the guy next to him and how much he’s been asked to do. Abram Elam, while limited, was a vast improvement over the Alan Ball Shitshow of 2010 and allowed Sensi to do more of the stuff that he’s comfortable with. I’m not a huge fan of his contract (though he’s dirt cheap in 2012), but I think he can perform reasonably close to it with a more capable partner handling centerfield duties.
2012 Cap Figure: $1.80MM
2013 and Beyond: $3.80MM, $4.80MM, $4.80MM and $7.30MM out through 2016. Odds he finishes this one out are somewhere between slim and none, and I’m starting the search for a more talented replacement next offseason and intensifying it the year after if need be.
Starting Free Safety – Michael Griffin [FREE AGENT SIGNING – TENNESSEE]
To land that ideal centerfield partner for Sensabaugh I’m taking probably my biggest risk in 2012 free agency and looking to bring in Michael Griffin. I don’t think I need to do too much of a sales process for this audience on Griffin’s ceiling in pass coverage and his ability to be a dynamic playmaker. With that said, his pro career has been an odd one to date. He started out strongly in his first couple of seasons, played absolutely horrendous ball in 2009 (after which he said that his ‘head hadn’t been right’ that season), was slightly south of OK in 2010 before rebounding with a solid year in 2011 that featured his best coverage work in quite some time. Tennessee is expected to let him test the market, so he should be available – but at what price?
Everyone would like to plug in the next Ed Reed and be set for the next decade, but those dudes are thin on the ground. It’s a weak safety draft by all accounts, and the list of free agent safeties is largely uninspiring – in fact, I’d venture to say that overall softness at the safety position (or at least that position’s slowness of evolution to match today’s hyper-pass-heavy NFL) has as much to do with the outlandish stats NFL QBs are posting as any other factor. FootballsFuture.com lists 35 safeties as unrestricted free agents for the 2012 offseason, and of those guys a mere seven get a positive PFF grade in coverage. Using broadcast tape to grade safeties is an inexact science at best, but I feel comfortable saying that there aren’t a wealth of stud cover guys out there waiting to be snapped up.
Of the other guys available, Mike Adams from Cleveland had an even better 2011 but has less of a track record and lesser physical gifts while Reggie Nelson from Cincy is another quality player who I think probably re-signs with the Bengals (although anything’s possible with skinflint Mike Brown in the mix).
Now I’d certainly have some searching conversations with Mr. Griffin about what’s been going on with his level of play the last few years before I opened my checkbook, but if I felt like his head was right with ball I think it’s worth a dice roll to land one of the few available guys that can be a true eraser and playmaker in the deep part of the field.
Hypothetical Contract: 4 years, $16.0MM, $7.0MM Total Guaranteed Money ($4.5MM Signing Bonus)
2012 Cap Figure: $2.63MM
2013 and Beyond: $3.88MM, $4.38MM and $5.13MM through 2015
Backup Strong Safety – Barry Church/Danny McCray
It’s a Thunderdome-style, "two men enter, one man leaves" situation for this roster spot between Church and McCray this offseason. Church actually had some decent moments in around 170 snaps this season while McCray got far more limited action. The better-looking of the two takes this spot and will have to fight hard to hold onto it after this season as we look for the strong safety of the future.
2012 Cap Figure: $0.49MM
2013 and Beyond: Both are free agents after 2012.
Backup Free Safety – Justin Taplin-Ross
I know absolutely nothing about this cat other than that the Cowboys just signed him to the practice squad a few days ago, so I’ll give him the leg up over what should be a number of training camp bodies working for this space.
2012 Cap Figure: $0.49MM
2013 and Beyond: Probably an exclusive-rights guy in 2013 if he sticks on the roster.
Terence Newman ($2.0MM dead money hit in 2012, $4.0MM dead money hit in 2013) – And I’ll help him pack. One of the concerns when Newman was drafted was his age, and the fact that an extension after his rookie deal would very likely pay him big money into some unproductive years. That concern proved extremely well-founded as Jerry has probably gotten 30 cents on the dollar at best in value from one of his most hideous extension decisions – one that proves the importance of building quality depth so that no player can hold you over a barrel come contract time.
If I could change one thing about the Cowboys’ 2011 offseason that I feel pretty certain would have them traveling to Green Bay this Sunday, it would have been to retain Andre Gurode (who was still at least an average NFL center who got released despite ZERO NFL talent behind him on the roster) and cut Newman, pushing 2/3rds of his dead money to 2012 and using the balance to sign Josh Wilson to the deal the Redskins gave him (3 years, $13.5MM). Wilson isn’t a superstar, but he’s an above-average guy who doesn’t get beat up on and who shows up for all sixteen games. If you rocked that combo rather than the vile Phil Costa and an aged Newman/The Alan Ball Experience, you’re still playing this weekend.
Alan Ball (no cap impact) – If I would help Newman pack, I’ll cut a pouch in my own belly, stuff Ball inside and hop to the nearest Arena League franchise like a goddamn momma kangaroo to drop his no-talent ass off. Not that I’m bitter.
Abram Elam (no cap impact) – Elam didn’t play terribly, but he’s a natural strong safety who’s worse at it than Sensabaugh and I’ve got to get more range at the position.
Frank Walker (no cap impact)
Loser of the Church/McCray battle (no cap impact)
Position Outlook: Not a ton of hype to these moves, but hopefully a lot of bang and some prove-out for the thesis that getting the 2’s and 3’s off the field improves your unit’s performance substantially. There will be question marks on all of your corners, but I’ve aimed for hedging my bets to leave the flexibility to re-sign Jenkins if he proves worthy, be able to spend a reasonable amount next year on someone else if he’s not or hopefully survive if neither option proves palatable. With an improved pass rush and better range at safety the corners’ lives should be easier, and this may be a unit you’re able to roll with for the next few seasons.
This was a long one – tomorrow or Friday I’m hoping to have a wrap-up post that lays out all my cap figures/projections through the contention window with some other macro thoughts on what lies ahead for the Silver and Blue.