While lost in the midst of a comatic lull awaiting summer practices to resume, I decided to probe into the 2013 free agency equation awaiting the Cowboys next off-season. The motivation here is to gain insight into the possible effects 2013 free agency will have on the 2012 season and beyond. Next year’s impending roster turnover should influence the upcoming season in very unique, positive ways.
Below is an alphabetical list of the Dallas Cowboys 2013 free agents.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
For this discussion we must remove the RFA’s from the equation, as restricted free agents are generally not a risk in my opinion. The original team has every opportunity to keep a high-value RFA. By tendering said player at the highest level and having ‘right of refusal’ to match any new offers, a player valuable enough to a team should rarely get away. On the off chance the player is lured away by a new suitor, being awarded a first-round draft pick a week prior to the draft is very valuable compensation.
The Cowboys’ 2013 restricted free agents who may actually receive substantial gameday snaps is limited to Barry Church, Phil Costa, and Phillip Tanner. Let’s just put it this way, no General Manager in the league would turn down a first-round draft pick for any of these guys. All in all, the Cowboys have zero concerns with losing an important RFA in 2013 and none of these guys will increase or decrease his effort in 2012 due to becoming an RFA in 2013.
QUESTION MARKS IN 2012
- Offensive Free Agents
While looking at the list of unrestricted free agents I noticed something very odd. First of all, let’s separate the real contributors from the rest. That leaves us with Kenyon Coleman, Mike Jenkins, Felix Jones, Kevin Ogletree, John Phillips, Brodney Pool, and Anthony Spencer. L.P. Ladouceur is also important to the team, but he is a deep snapping specialist and not as pertinent to the topic at hand.
Now here is the strange part. What positions are the consensus weak links or question marks going into summer practice? On offense there are question marks about backup running back and backup tight end. How much can Felix Jones and John Phillips provide this season? The third wide receiver is a mess of uncertainty and nobody has a clue who will excel there. And the interior offensive line has most fans cringing with their fingers crossed.
So the 6 questionable positions are as follows…RB2, TE2, WR3, LG, C, RG. And who are the key 2013 free agents on offense? Felix Jones (RB), Kevin Ogletree (WR), and John Phillips (TE). All three question marks or possible weak links. Even Phil Costa is an RFA at center. Translation, if these guys don’t produce in 2012 there is a huge opportunity to improve the offense in the 2013 off-season without risk of any significant setbacks. This includes no assuming dead money or losing very key offensive players.
- Defensive Free Agents
Moving over to defense, what positions are questionable on that side of the ball? Safety is certainly a concern. Left outside linebacker leaves me with some doubt as to being a solid spot. And defensive end seems to be a constant rotation of slightly above average players the last three years or so.
Some fans may mention Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick but that’s inaccurate nowadays. You’re not gonna find many better 3rd and 4th corners than those guys around the league. I assure you they are in the top 25% (at the very least) in regards to their depth chart locations at cornerback.
Others might bring up Gerald Sensabaugh, but it’s a fairly common assessment that he is good enough to be a comfortable starter supporting very talented cornerbacks. Also, Bruce Carter/Dan Connor will pair with Sean Lee and make ILB a terror on offenses. Dallas has not seen that level of speed and aggression in tandem on the inside in many years. The potency of ILB when both starters are young, fast, and lights-out will shock many fans guaranteed.
So on defense my main four positions of uncertainty going into summer practice are S, LOLB, LE, and RE. Aside from Mike Jenkins (who won’t be a Cowboy next year), all of the key defensive UFA’s fall under these questionable positions. Victor Butler (LOLB), Kenyon Coleman (RE), Brodney Pool (S), and Anthony Spencer (LOLB) make up this qualifying list.
Once again, the main players potentially in need of upgrades are all UFA’s in 2013. Which means another positive opportunity to upgrade the defense without any damaging risks of loss to very key players. Dallas will likely keep Victor Butler as insurance and possibly add a solid veteran OLB to replace Spencer, which is far overdue after questionably franchising him. They also have exciting rookie options to explore from additions in 2012.
The huge positive benefit of the 2013 free agents being in positions of questionable production is the likelihood of advanced effort by these players. Victor Butler, Kenyon Coleman, Mike Jenkins, Felix Jones, Kevin Ogletree, John Phillips, Brodney Pool, and Anthony Spencer are all players with uncertainty attached to their level of play in the upcoming season.
Dallas needs every one of these guys to step up big in 2012 and elevate their production for the team to reach the next level and become a legitimate contender. And with all of these players entering the last year of their contracts, there isn’t a single one who can afford not to give his absolute best effort to maximize the value of his next contract.
The Cowboys as an organization are in the best possible position to have these uncertain players perform at their highest level. Combine that with solid, productive players alongside them and the positive outlook for 2012 only becomes brighter.
INCREASED PLAYER ROTATIONS
The Cowboys are well aware which players are likely on their last year in town. Mike Jenkins and Anthony Spencer are all but certain casualties in 2013 due to inflated contract demands. Kenyon Coleman and Brodney Pool should be replaced with better options. Victor Butler, Kevin Ogletree and John Phillips remain a question mark yet will be retainable with modest salary requests matching their talent level.
With four of these guys almost certainly gone in 2013, we can expect the Cowboys to begin to rotate players in with them to plan for the future. Victor Butler should snag more snaps from Anthony Spencer as he is the likely one to stick around. Mike Jenkins will land in the fourth corner spot and remain there allowing Morris Claiborne to learn his trade as the starter.
Kenyon Coleman should see decreased playing time regardless of becoming an UFA. Brodney Pool will be in a dogfight to remain on the field as the talented young guys behind him will remain in the future of the position. Kevin Ogletree and John Phillips will have their future value assessed while sharing playing time with the youth knocking on their doorsteps in search of long-term replacement.
It’s quite apparent to see the culture of the 2012 Dallas Cowboys is in the midst of a unique and positive overhaul. Position battles and desperation to play at a productive level to remain a starter have already begun and will continue throughout the entire season. There is nothing more motivating to a player than a legitimate threat to his starting role and future with his team.
The list of 2013 free agents actually provides a breather of fresh air in comparison to most years. There is not a single player Dallas can lose that is not replaceable and possibly with a much needed upgrade. Also, with these free agents already being questionable players, it allows Dallas to reap the rewards of their elevated effort and urgency to produce. As a fan the intensity of competition all along the roster will provide a new level of excitement and awareness of the specific developments within the team.
There is no doubt 2012 is a new beginning and attitude for the current and future direction of the Dallas Cowboys. And with a sigh of relief, Cowboys fans can also continue to be excited following the season, knowing that the upward movement is sure to continue with roster improvement and very minimal decline from key player loss.
As boring as the end of June becomes in the NFL world, the Dallas Cowboys now possess a subdued air of positive energy buzzing throughout the organization. Cowboys fans finally see light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.
Be careful not to rule out a sudden explosion of brightness encompassing the team and fans alike if the stars align just right come September. One thing is for sure, this team has finally put itself in a positive position for potential success and advancement at least until 2014.