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Fixing the Dallas Cowboys - Wrapup

To wrap up this series I wanted to share some final thoughts, respond to some of the great comments that came in on the first two pieces and lay out the cap figures for my pet roster out through 2016 in table format.

First and foremost, this was a lot of fun to do and I think that good old fashioned rosterbation is one of my favorite parts of the offseason – this particular offseason started far sooner than I would have liked, but such is life.

Some Capology Notes

When I first started this project last week I was operating on the notion that Dallas was starting out with $20.9MM in dead money for this season thanks to Roy Williams, Leonard Davis, et. al and had about $73.3MM in existing contracts for the 35 guys that I envisioned returning to the Final 53 in 2012. Based on my guess for a $125.5MM cap figure for 2012, that left me with a little over $31 million in space for 2012 to fill out the final 18 spots on the roster between draft picks and free agents.

One of the posters in the first article brought up something that I think I’d heard a while back but that I’d forgotten about – that the new CBA allowed teams to bring unused cap room from 2011 over to the 2012 season. I did some more research and found that A) this seems to be correct, B) the best estimate I could find for the Cowboys’ ‘carryover’ amount (e.g. the amount that they were under the cap for 2011) was $17.5MM, and C) that the best estimate of existing dead money for 2012 was actually $25.5 million.

Netting out that carryover amount with the higher existing dead money gave me an additional $12.9MM to play with for 2012 in mid-stream. After thinking about it, though, I didn’t really alter my approach regarding free agent targets. I still don’t think the Cowboys need to be setting the top of the free agent market at any position, and my only really big-ticket external guys (Grubbs at OG and Griffin at S) I felt were reasonable risks that can give value through the life of their contracts and were at positions where getting comparable quality elsewhere would be very difficult. I’m trying to embark on a new era of fiscal discipline in Dallas and thus am trying to avoid temptation wherever possible.

I netted out with (as best I can figure) $9.4MM in available cap space for 2012 after all my proposed moves and factoring in post-July 1 cap charges for cutting Spears and Newman (1/3 of their total cap hit in 2012 with the remainder deferred to 2013). If I was the GM I’d be fine with that for now – I could either roll that into 2013 (if allowed – I’m honestly not sure on that point at the moment), go ahead and accelerate the rest of the dead money for Spears, Newman or both into 2012 or use some room for a Romo extension/contract re-work that drops his cap figure in 2013 and keeps him a Cowboy through 2016.

Other Targets – Free Agency

If I was going to spend that extra cash on a player or two in 2012, these would be my most tempting targets:

G – Upgrade from Ben Grubbs to Carl Nicks: In current terms you’re probably going from a Top 12 OG to a Top 3 OG and Nicks is a bit younger to boot. He’s highly regarded enough that you’re probably laying out a 6 year, $42MM deal to land him. He’s an upgrade over Grubbs but I don’t know that the marginal bump in ability equals the extra dollars you’d have to lay out, and I’m also concerned about Nicks aging well with his 340+ pound frame. Maybe our new OL coach/nominal OC Bill Callahan (who coached Nicks at Nebraska) could change my mind, but I don’t think this is the basket where I’ll place that many of my eggs. *UPDATE – I’m re-thinking this after watching him go toe to toe with Justin Smith in their playoff game – Nicks pretty much stalemated Smith, who absolutely ruined every other Saints OL he lined up against. I’m still on the fence, but Nicks is a stallion.

WR/Return Guy – Eric Weems (ATL) or Ted Ginn (SF): The more I think about it, I think this needs to happen - these guys are both ace return men. While I believe that outside of truly anomalous cases like Devin Hester a return guy’s yardage is determined as much or more by his blocking than by his own speed/shake (and even Hester benefits from outstanding all-around ST play by Chicago), both of these guys would be a big upgrade over what we’ve been trotting out to return kicks and punts. While I’m not quite as sanguine on Dez Bryant’s potential as a long-term dominator at WR as I was before this season I still think he has too much value there to risk additional injury as a return guy. I am sick to death of this team losing the hidden yards battle in damn near every game.

C – Upgrade from Mruczowszki to Chris Myers (HOU) or Scott Wells (GB): I would absolutely love to have Myers, but I think Houston pulls out most or all of the stops to keep him. Wells is a lesser talent but still an upgrade over what Mruc would give you. The bottom line is that I’m not confident in either one hitting the market, if they did you would have to get into a bidding war to land either of these guys that would get to a range that would make me pretty ambivalent. With that said, I think a Smith/Holland or high-performing 3rd rounder/Myers/Grubbs/Free OL would give you a strong enough run game to make Dallas one of the 2 or 3 toughest-to-defend offenses in the league next year, so it’s quite a temptation.

DL – Upgrade from Gilberry to Calais Campbell: Of all the guys out there in free agency or the draft, no single addition would do more to fix the Cowboys’ defense than Campbell turning in some more seasons like the one he just completed for the Cardinals. The best 3-4 DE rusher in the league outside of the possibly gamma-irradiated Justin Smith of the 49ers (no disrespect to the stout season the Texans’ Antonio Smith turned in, but let me see one more before you take the medal stand), Campbell racked up 8 sacks, 9 hits, 29 pressures and knocked down a ridiculous 9 passes (by comparison, the Cowboys’ leader in passes defensed was Mike Jenkins with five). At 25, age shouldn’t be an impediment to strong performance for most or all of a five-six year deal, but what about effort and attitude? Campbell has brought it strong for each of the last three seasons so it’s not like he just turned up the heat in a contract year, but the wayside is littered with many a defensive lineman who found it tough to bring that same manic intensity to every down after getting g’d up for $15 million or more. I also doubted he’d make it to the market as the Cards are likely to franchise him if they can’t get a deal done. With all that said…maaaaaan, this dude is good.

CB – Upgrade from Jarrett Bush to Brent Grimes (ATL) or Brandon Carr (KC): Obviously either of these guys would be a full-time starter given what you’d be paying for them, locking in Scandrick as a really expensive nickel back for 2012 (although his contract makes that a more reasonable proposition in 2013/2014). I think Grimes gets a huge deal somewhere as he was one of the league’s top performers this season, but the size of that deal, the size of Grimes (5’10" and 180 pounds soaking wet) and his age (29 going into the 2012 season) would give me pause about performance on the back end of a monster deal. I am more warm to the idea of Carr if you could land him for low-end #1/high-end #2 CB money, though (say 4 years/$21MM/$11MM total guaranteed/$7MM signing bonus). He hasn’t been elite but he’s been an above-average guy for at least three seasons in a row and is still just 26. Landing him gives you even more Mike Jenkins insurance and if you end up re-signing Jenkins and have a lot of cash committed in your secondary, well – secondary isn’t a bad place to be spending your money in today’s NFL as long as it’s not on a Newman-style declining player. Carr would also give you the flexibility to do something else in the early rounds of the draft – guard is deep, too, and someone like Miami’s Brandon Washington would be an attractive second-round option.

S – Wild Card: I’m not totally happy with how my safety position has shaken out, but amongst the nominal safeties out there the crop is pretty thin. Maybe as Scipio suggested the answer is converting a reasonably hard-hitting corner for deeper work and mainly using Sensabaugh as an expensive version of the TE-focused nickel coverage duty that Ryan assigned to Frank Walker this year. This is an area where I need to do some more thinking.

Draft Stuff

As a recap, my proposed draft for 2012 was:

RD 1 – Melvin Ingram, OLB (South Carolina)

RD 2 – Chase Minnifield, CB (Virginia)

RD 3 – Kevin Zeitler, G (Wisconsin)

RD 4 – Ryan Broyles, WR (OU)

RD 5 – Evan Rodriguez, FB/H-Back (Temple)

RD 6 – Reserved for trade-up ammo

RD 7 - Antonio Fenelus, CB (Wisconsin)

Here were a couple of other plans I had considered in brief:

RD 1 – David DeCastro, G (Stanford) [Most pro-ready guard]

RD 2 – Bruce Irvin, OLB (West Virginia) [Best second round-ish outside rusher)

RD 3 – Ben Jones, C (Georgia) OR Michael Brewster, C (tOSU) [Could probably start at C in 2013]

RD 4 – Leonard Johnson, CB (Iowa St.) [Good size and inside/outside potential]

RD 5 – Kheeston Randle, DE (Texas) [Good two-way prospect at 3-4 DE]

Big Ticket Free Agents: Brandon Carr (CB – KC); Kendall Langford (DE-MIA); Michael Griffin

The Jerry Jones Has A Year to Live/Mayan 2012 Contingency "All In For 2012 and Cap Be Damned, Win Now" Plan

RD 1 – David DeCastro, G (Stanford) [Most pro-ready guard]

RD 2 – Vontaze Burfict, ILB/OLB (Arizona St.) [Physical monster who could help out some way]

RD 3 – Cam Johnson, OLB (Virginia) [More nickel LB pass rush heat]

RDs 4-7 – all special teams/return guys

Big Ticket Free Agents: Calais Campbell (DE-ARI); Brandon Carr (CB-KC); Chris Myers (C – HOU)

Salary Chart

This is the salary chart that corresponds to each player’s entry in this series and their current or hypothetical contract and cap hit by year. I have more columns on the sheet that lay out more contract detail and their base salaries/bonuses and such but it wouldn’t fit into a post very well, so I condensed this to show just their final cap value by year. At the bottom you can see my estimated salary cap figures out through 2016 (the cap should start rising more quickly from 2013 onward as the ‘percentage of revenues’ clause in the new CBA kicks in and some of that new TV money gets factored in) and the players under contract/existing cap figures going into each of those seasons. It’s easy to put together an offseason super team if you don’t care what’s going to happen to your cap for the next few seasons, but I wanted to try and put a team together that would keep us out of salary cap jail through the contention window.

*NOTE - The chart seems to be doing some weird one-row offset kind of deal for the ages and salaries that I can't seem to fix, but I think it's still pretty easy to tell who's who.

Cap Value
Age 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
QB1 Romo 31 10.9 13.4
QB2 Hill/Stanton 32/27 2.58 3.08 3.58
QB3 McGee 26 0.70
RB1 Murray 22 0.84 0.91 1.07
RB2 Jones 24 1.88
RB3 Tanner 24 0.57
FB1 Fiametta 25 0.57
WR1 Austin 27 1.16 6.74 5.51 6.90 11.39
WR2 Bryant 23 2.37 2.59 2.81
WR3 Robinson 26 2.63 3.88 4.58 5.38
WR4 Ryan Broyles (R4) 22 0.49 0.59 0.59 0.59
WR5 Holley 28 0.54
WR6 D. Harris 24 0.54
TE1 Witten 29 4.66 5.02 5.12 5.22 5.32
TE2 Phillips 24 0.58
TE3 Evan Rodriguez (R5) 23 0.50 0.60 0.68
LT1 Smith 21 2.90 3.40 3.65
RT1 Free 27 7.83 8.83 9.58
LG1 Ben Grubbs 27 4.55 5.30 6.55 6.80 7.05
RG1 Holland 31 2.53 3.23
C1 Scott Mruczkowski 29 1.85 2.83 3.83
BT1 Anthony Collins 28 2.65 3.25 3.60
BT2 Parnell 23 0.50 0.58
BG1 Arkin/Nagy/Dock 24 0.59 0.59 0.59
BG2 Kevin Zeitler (R3) 24 0.65 0.65 0.71 0.76
BC1 Costa/Kowalski 24 0.49
NG1 Ratliff 30 4.82 5.95 5.07 6.07 7.07
DE1 Hatcher 29 2.03 2.33
DE2 Wallace Gilberry 26 2.38 4.13 5.38 6.38
BNG1 Brent 23 0.50 0.57
BDE1 Lissemore 24 0.50 0.57
BDE2 Geathers 24 0.46 0.51
OLB1 Ware 29 7.86 8.86 15.11 16.61
OLB2 Melvin Ingram (1R) 22 2.02 2.73 3.75 4.25
BOLB1 Butler 24 0.70
BOLB2 Albright 24 0.44 0.49
ILB1 Lee 25 0.70 0.79
ILB2 Carter 23 1.18 1.28 1.41
BILB1 Larry Grant 26 2.25 3.25 3.60
BILB2 Orie Lemon 23 0.51 0.58
CB1 Jenkins 26 1.67
CB2 Scandrick 24 7.70 2.60 4.70 6.20 5.60
NCB Chase Minnifield (R2) 22 1.11 1.21 1.31 1.39
S1 Sensi 28 1.80 3.80 4.80 4.80 7.30
S2 Michael Griffin 27 2.63 3.88 4.38 5.13
BUS1 Church/McCray 23 0.49
BUS2 Justin Taplin-Ross 22 0.44 0.49 0.57
DCB Jarrett Bush 30 2.50 3.00 3.50
6CB Corey Graham (STWM) 28 1.44 1.67 1.92
5CB Antonio Fenelus (R7) 22 0.44 0.49 0.57
K1 Bailey 22 0.44 0.57 0.57
P1 Jones 22 0.44 0.57 0.57
LS1 Ladoceur 30 0.89
Dead Money 29.22 5.93
Carryover Reduction (17.50)
Net Dead Money 11.72
TOTAL 116.11 121.70 109.63 77.64 46.11
Salary Cap (Est.) 125.50 137.00 145.00 154.00 163.00
Remaining 9.39 15.30 35.37 76.36 116.89
Players Under Contract 53 41 31 15 7

If we have any other capologists/unrepentant geeks such as myself out there and you have any different data on existing Cowboys contracts, let me know and I’ll try to stay as updated as possible.

This was fun – as we get closer to draft time I’m probably going to do a series on some more likely targets for the Cowboys and Texans. I'd also be happy to do a series like this for the Texans (of course, it would be more 'Putting Over the Top' than 'Fixing') - if there are any Texans fans out there who would like to co-pilot such a series with me let me know.