Depending on where you read and who you believe, the Dallas Cowboys could be anywhere from $20 to $30 million over the salary cap which they will need to rectify before this time next month. Just like every year, the Cowboys will find a way to make that happen, likely by moving some money owed this year to future years and constantly ruining the cap by pushing off the inevitable. On that Tuesday, March 11 morning, the Dallas Cowboys will have a few chips to throw into the free agency pot in the hopes of bettering the roster but who will they target and who might come to Big D.
Today’s article will be the first in a three-part series that examines the most pressing needs the Cowboys have in an effort to add talent and depth to the roster in a very fiscally responsible way. We’ll start with the position most in need, the defensive line.
Last year, Jerry Jones called this a “position of strength” for the Cowboys. Whether that was after his fifth or sixth double whiskey on the rocks we’ll never know but clearly, it was anything but. Now is 2014, Dallas is faced with the reality that it’s best lineman (Jason Hatcher) in 2013 will play somewhere else. It’s second best lineman (DeMarcus Ware) may either be asked to take a significant pay cut or be released and the next best player (Anthony Spencer) is a free agent who cannot currently walk on his own without crutches. Can you imagine how much worse it would be if not for Nick Hayden and George Selvie?
So where can the penny-pinching Cowboys find value at a discounted rate? Let’s take a look at four possible options that should be fairly inexpensive in price but not short on talent.
4. ROBERT AYERS - DENVER BRONCOS
29 years old, 6’3″ 274 lbs. – Drafted in Round 1 in 2009
Ayers is now done with his rookie contract which brought him $9.7 million over four years. In four years, Ayers registered 12 sacks including 5.5 last year in a rotational role along with 142 tackles, eight pass deflections and three forced fumbles. With the Broncos having some salary cap issues of their own, it’s likely that Ayers may not be back and looking to start somewhere else fresh. Ayers clearly has not lived up to his first round draft status but some of that comes from the Broncos experimenting with him as an outside linebacker early in his career. Once they settled on having him play the defensive end position, Ayers became more of a steady contributor both against the run and the pass. He could learn a lot from Rod Marinelli and at worst, prove to be a versatile option to spell both end spots.
CEILING OFFER – 2 years, $4.5 million
3. MATT SHAUGHNESSY - ARIZONA CARDINALS
28 years old, 6’5″ 285 lbs. – Drafted in Round 3 in 2009
High Motor. Gamer. These are words that come to mind when you think of Matt Shaughnessy. He has never statistically wowed anyone, which is probably why his two previous contracts totalled under $4 million but he just seems to be a solid player who doesn’t make mistakes and brings the effort at all times. In his last two seasons, one with the Raiders and last season with the Cardinals, Shaughnessy has put up 6.5 sacks, forced a fumble, recovered three more and scored a touchdown. This is a guy that I believe would really blossom under Marinelli and could rack up five or six sacks per year with his coaching. He’s still young and he’ll likely come pretty cheap which is exactly in the Cowboys wheelhouse.
CEILING OFFER – 2 years, $4.5 million
2. HENRY MELTON – CHICAGO BEARS
28 years old, 6’3″ 295 lbs. – Drafted in Round 4 in 2009
Melton offers an intriguing possibility as his two best seasons (2011 & 2012) coincidentally came under the guidance of Rod Marinelli. In those two years, Melton accumulated 13 sacks, two forced fumbles and started all but three games. On the strength of those two seasons, the Bears gave Melton the franchise tag which was worth almost $8.5 million. Unfortunately for both parties, Melton tore his ACL in the third week of the season, robbing him of another year to show what he can do. In a lot of ways, Melton represents to the Bears what Spencer does to the Cowboys. Do you bring back a guy coming off a season ending injury that you franchised the year before? For Dallas, it might be worth it to give Melton a chance since he is still relatively young and there is that familiarity between he and Marinelli.
CEILING OFFER – 3 years, $10 million
1. PAUL SOLIAI - MIAMI DOLPHINS
30 years old, 6’4″ 340 lbs. – Drafted in Round 4 in 2007
When you think of the classic run-stuffer type defensive lineman, Paul Soliai really fits the mold. A massive man at 6’4″ and 340 lbs, he is the perfect type of big body to fill up a gap or two. He’s been incredibly durable during his career, only missing six games in the last four years. That alone should be attractive to the Cowboys. He does not make a lot of tackles but that is primarily because he is being double teamed every snap which should mean that playing him along side a Nick Hayden or a Tyrone Crawford would be good for both of those guys. Soliai made the Pro-Bowl in 2011 and is coming off a 2-year extension from the Dolphins that paid him $6 million in guaranteed money. Could throwing an extra $1.25 million his way lure him to Dallas? It’s possible, especially if his entire contract is guaranteed, which would not be a bad risk given his past abilities to stay on the field.
CEILING OFFER - 3 years, $13 million
Make no mistake, the Cowboys need to draft one, if not two lineman to add to the talent pool and bring in youth at a reasonable price but any one of these four guys would help if guys like Ben Bass and Tyrone Crawford and unable to provide a boost to this team. One thing is for sure, the Cowboys cannot continue to rely solely on DeMarcus Ware to carry the entire load by himself anymore.