Welcome to part three of our three part series examining the Dallas Cowboys roster. In part one, I broke down the roster by position and addressed which players currently on the team should be allowed to go and how that would effect the roster depth. Part two focused on those who should be released even though they still are under contract. This also has it’s own effect on the depth of each position. In the third and final part of the series, we will take a look at the possible free agents that the Cowboys could be targeting, either to upgrade the talent of the team or replace those cut or allowed to leave.
Before we start our shopping list, we should probably review what it is exactly that we need. Quarterback, tight end, the linebacker group and our special teams unit are the strongest spots on the team. While the wide receiver corps and our safety depth could be addressed, they are not pressing needs. The real weakness in the roster is found in our running backs, offensive and defensive lines.
Unfortunately, Dallas has one largely prohibitive factor going against them. The Cowboys will have one of the worst cap situations of any off-season shopper. So, how do they improve their depth with these restrictive issues facing them? Dallas must do something that they have not been good at in recent years. They need to spend their money wisely.
Here is a list of possible bargain free agents that can improve the weaknesses that the Cowboys have.
The free agent running back class represents the best opportunity to add talent, possibly at a lower rate than usual due to the wealth of options. These choices can be separated into two categories:
It would be really awesome, but it’s not happening…
This is where you find names like Shonn Greene (too productive), Rashard Mendenhall (too expensive), Steven Jackson (probably going to chase a ring) and Reggie Bush (both expensive and looking for a ring)
Completely plausible, affordable and worth a look…
Peyton Hillis - At age 27 and averaging only 120 carries per season, Hillis should still have plenty left in the tank. If you throw out his breakout year in 2010, his numbers do not look all that impressive, however the Cowboys do not need him to be a feature back. At 6’2″ 250 lbs, his value would come as a bruising short yardage / goal line carrier that could help improve this team’s failures of scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Lastly, he would not command a high salary and has familiarity with new coach Houston Nutt.
Cedric Benson - Even though Benson is older at age 30, he would represent a much more accomplished option than Dallas is accustomed to. Prior to last season, he had three straight 1,000 yard seasons averaging almost 7 touchdowns per year. He’s also a Texas native and played last year for the veteran’s minimum. A slight boost in pay to be a complimentary back may serve as a wise investment given that he is not too far removed from being a productive lead option if DeMarco Murray should happen to miss a few games due to injury.
Chris Ivory - Ivory represents the type of gamble that Dallas should be taking. He is young, runs with ferocity, has been productive in his few opportunities, is from Texas and can be had since the Saints are in a just as bad, if not worse cap situation than the Cowboys. While Ivory is a restricted free agent, he was also undrafted so the Cowboys would not lose a draft pick if they offered him a deal that the Saints could not or would not match.
As easy as it was to find multiple choices to fill the hole at running back, the offensive line options are quite limited. The dream for any Cowboys fan would be to wake up one day and find out that Andy Levitre, Jermon Bushrod or Phil Loadholt joined the team to solve our woes. Unfortunately these guys are too good, too young and will demand way more money than Dallas can afford. Ultimately, Dallas will certainly need to invest a high draft pick or two to infuse the line with youth and talent but there are a few options available in free agency.
Brandon Moore (RG) - Moore has started 142 of a possible 144 games in his career for the New York Jets. Similar to the aforementioned Saints, the Jets also find themselves in salary cap hell and may not be able to afford him. At age 32, he may come cheaper than expected and if he still commands the $3 million he made last year, this type of splurge would be one Cowboys fans could find palatable.
Matt Slauson (LG) - Another Jet makes the list because much like Brandon Moore, Slauson is extremely durable, starting all 48 games he’s played in. Slauson is six years younger and made far less money last year as well ($615K). That may also make him far more expensive as he is coming into his prime but again, these are the types of calculated gambles winning teams consider.
Chris Spencer (C/G) - Spencer would bring a versatility to the Cowboys as he has played all three interior line positions well. At age 30, he is in his late prime but would be a major upgrade over almost any center or guard on the current roster. His previous contract (2 yrs / $6 million) was inexpensive given his experience and acumen so it is possible that Dallas could afford him.
Much like the running back position, the defensive line is littered with big names and highly talented players. Even though guys like Osi Umenyiora and Cliff Avril will command far more than what Dallas can pay, there are four very realistic options that the Cowboys should seriously consider…
Israel Idonije (DT) – Even though Idonije is 32, he has just recently maximized his talent. Over the last three years, he has registered 20.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. He played in Chicago last year for new Cowboys defensive line coach Rod Marinelli on a one year deal, making $2.5 million per. A two or three year deal for the same type of money could bring him to Dallas to close out his career.
Shaun Cody (DT) - Cody has been the anchor of a stellar Houston Texans run defense and has the type of size (6’4″ 292) the Cowboys need. Coming off a two year deal which he made $2 million each year, the 30 year old Cody could get a slight pay raise or a slightly longer contract to switch Texas teams.
Dwan Edwards (DT) – Another early thirties player, Edwards had a very productive year in Carolina in 2012 with six sacks as an interior lineman. He did make just over $4 million last year so he might not be fiscally reasonable, however since he is nearing the end of his career, he could probably be signed for a similar amount.
Henry Melton (DE) – Melton would be the youngest of the four options at age 26 as well as the cheapest as he made only $700K last season. He has 13 sacks in his last two years and again was with Marinelli in the Tampa 2 defense of the Bears last year. A significant pay increase, something in the neighborhood of $4-5 million per year could be enough to the Texas native back home.
So there you have it. There are suitable options for the Cowboys to make subtle improvements to the roster while sticking to their budget. Obviously, not all these players can or will be brought in, however if we can land two or three of them, it may make the difference between watching the playoffs and participating in them.