With a mere two days of 2012 NFL Free Agency in the bag, the numerous, impacting moves and maneuvers have come at a frenzied pace. For the Dallas Cowboys most of this offseason involved discussions of Carl Nicks, Cortland Finnegan, and Brandon Carr as must-get guys. It seemed all along that one of these three high-profile players had to dawn the silver and blue to provide a new optimism in Dallas after much hard luck of late. With Nicks signing an unprecedented contract for an offensive guard in Tampa Bay and Finnegan quickly secured in St. Louis, the Cowboys impressively finished off talks with Brandon Carr and secured the imperative services of the stingy defender. It would have been a real blow to the Cowboys faithful if Carr had slipped by. First losing Nnamdi Asomugha to the rival Eagles in 2011 and then just missing on Carr in 2012, one can only imagine how bitter that outcome was going to taste for Cowboys loyalists. Fortunately Jerry Jones never allowed much doubt and locked up his new high performance race Carr with a 5-year lease to replace the sputtering Terence Newman.
Moving on, let’s take a look at some of the major decisions and transactions made so far in free agency directly affecting the Dallas Cowboys. Be aware the details and on goings of free agency and the draft are very fluid now and changing by the moment. If transactions have altered or occurred beyond the moves discussed below, don’t kill the messenger. Also, all moves won’t be discussed, just several major ones that directly involve the Cowboys. We’ll start off with analyzing and grading the new additions Dallas has made to the roster thus far and proceed from there.
NEW PLAYERS IN DALLAS
CB Brandon Carr (Chiefs) – 5 YEARS / $50.1 MIL. I love the extra $100,000 added to this deal. The significance was to surpass Finnegan’s $50 mil deal and make Carr the highest paid cornerback free agent in 2012. Now Carr is happy, Jerry is happy, and the fans are happy with a high-profile upgrade at corner sporting silver and blue for many years to come. The big fish Dallas so desperately needed is officially on ice. Kudos to Jerry Jones for axing Newman (and certainly Buehler), and immediately striking to secure his replacement with a huge upgrade at corner. If Carr would have slipped by and signed elsewhere, Dallas would almost surely be drafting a cornerback in the first round. Now they can set their sights on other needs if they chose to with the 14th pick. However, don’t be shocked to see a corner selected anywhere in the first three rounds by Dallas. Mike Jenkins’ contract is up after this year, and Dallas still has 2 open corner spots with the losses of Alan Ball and Frank Walker.
- Grade: A+ (with many painful situations going south for the Cowboys over the last several months and right up until the start of free agency; this type of high-energy, high-profile signing truly provides much needed excitement and comfort for Cowboys fans. Dallas decided on which of the best two available cornerbacks they wanted most, cut Newman, and put the full court press on Carr to leave nothing to chance. Nice job, Jerry.)
FB Lawrence Vickers (Texans) – 2 YEARS / YET TO BE DISCLOSED AMOUNT. It clearly appears Tony Fiammetta wasn’t as willing to reduce his 2012 cap hit with a long-term deal as the Cowboys needed him to be. And honestly as long as he was adequately replaced, I agreed with Jerry’s risky approach with Fiammetta. The price needed to be right at fullback and it seems Lawrence Vickers better filled that desire. Vickers was drafted out of Colorado in the 6th round by Cleveland in 2006. He played 5 seasons with the Browns and averaged 15 games per season since joining the league. In his second season with the Browns, Vickers took over the starting fullback job and became the lead blocker for Jamal Lewis, who had 1,304 yards rushing and 9 TD’s that season. Last year he moved over to Houston and starting in week 5 shared blocking duties with FB James Casey. They both opened holes for Arian Foster and the Texans powerful rushing attack. If Vickers was good enough to take over a larger majority of the snaps (after week 5) bulldozing for Foster and Ben Tate (2,166 combined rushing yards and 14 TD’s in 2011), then I’m quite sure he is qualified to effectively man the starting fullback spot in Dallas. Vickers has good size which is similar to Tony…both are 6’0 tall, yet Vickers has an extra 8 pounds at a weight of 250. And being from Beaumont, TX is surely a great sign, coming from a SE Texas native myself. Great pickup and looks like at a cap friendly value more forgiving than Tony Fiammetta’s expected $1.26 mil tender.
- Grade: B (This move is a slight downgrade from Fiammetta in regards to receiving ability, yet also a slight upgrade upon his run blocking. Love the move as Jerry had an ace up his sleeve when refusing to tender Tony. And when Tony balked on the long-term extension details, Jones landed a solid lead blocker at a price I assume Dallas can handle. So long Fiammetta, Vickers at the least is a much less troublesome name to spell. But for the record, his experience in the league is with power rushing teams that strongly relied on that aspect of the offense.)
QB Kyle Orton (Broncos) – 3 YEARS / YET TO BE DISCLOSED AMOUNT. Never been a big Orton fan as he failed to cement himself as a consistent quality starter in Chicago and Denver, and even lost the backup battle to Timmy Tebow. The hometown fans also never seemed to back this guy at either place. But I certainly can’t deny he is efficient at protecting the football, shown by his 80 career TD passes with only 57 INTs. If there is one virtue I want in a back-up QB it’s to not turn the ball over and cost his team a chance to win. With a 35-34 record as a starter, Orton has the potential to at least split the games he would start if an injury to Tony Romo occurred. Just below 59% career completion percentage isn’t too shabby either. For what it’s worth, Stephen McGee isn’t ready to count upon in a big pinch (and never will be) and Orton is a veteran who may squeeze out a win in a tight spot. All in all I feel it’s a good pickup and am much more comfortable with the backup quarterback spot now.
- Grade: B- (close to what the Boys recently had in Jon Kitna, yet the move upgrades to a B- because the McGee fiasco is avoided)
OG Mackenzy Bernadeau (Panthers) – 4 YEARS / YET TO BE DISCLOSED AMOUNT. Ummmmm, who??? Have to say this guy is a true unknown to me. What I do know is his name is a writer’s nightmare. Bernadeau was drafted out of little known Bentley College in the 7th round by Carolina in 2008. He’s a decent sized guard at 6’4, 308 that started 20 games in four years with Carolina. In 2010 he started 15 games, and last year had only one start. Of 25 games he played in and 1,399 snaps with Carolina (many plays were not passes), Mack gave up 6 QB sacks, 5 QB hits, and 25 QB pressures. I’m not sure of the logic behind this addition when looking at the contract length. The cost is unknown at this point so it’s hard to evaluate the true value of the move. Veteran depth at guard comes into play heavily, but will he really make a run at a starting guard spot? I guess with the subpar play of the interior line last season, all three spots are up for grabs this offseason. Just not sure how much this move benefits Dallas. If he’s not better than at least two players out of Phil Costa, Bill Nagy, Kevin Kowalski, and David Arkin, then I’m not sure I get the move at all. Also if this signing replaces adding Holland back to the team, I think it’s a risky substitute I don’t fully agree with.
- Grade: C (I have to guess on this as I’ve never seen him play and know very little of him. He has starting experience which makes him more than a warm body, yet I’m curious why he started several games in 2010 and only one in 2011. It seems if he was all that he’d have held on to his starting job in 2011. Montrae Holland was a much better player for this type of move, yet until I see the money involved it’s hard to accurately judge the signing.)
KNOWN COWBOYS TARGETS
ILB Dan Connor (Panthers)– Connor had injury issues the first two years of his career. However, last year he began to get much more playing time and is known as a solid run defender. With Bruce Carter an unknown at the moment and ILB barren of depth (Bradie James/Keith Brooking gone), this move makes much sense. Being a former teammate of Sean Lee at Penn St. will certainly help the transition as well. To ignore adding adequate insurance to this position could lead to grave consequences if Carter produces averagely in his extended playing time. Connor would be a solid addition.
S Brodney Pool (Jets)– The Cleveland Brown’s second rounder in 2005 from Oklahoma has strong ties to the current coaching staff. He played under both Rob Ryan and secondary coach Jerome Harrison in Cleveland, and also for Rob’s brother Rex Ryan with the Jets. Pool has good size at 6’2, 214. Dallas showed interest in him in the recent past as well. It seems Brodney fits Rob Ryan’s defense well as both he and Rex coach very similar styles. I’d expect a slight upgrade from Elam if Pool is landed.