Anyone that follows the NFL and wasn’t living under a rock somewhere already knows that the deadline for placing a club’s “franchise tag” on an unrestricted free agent has come and gone. It’s complicated but without going into all the mind-numbing details the “capologists” among us drool over, the franchise tag essentially allows a club to retain the rights to their free agent player for one more year by agreeing to tender an offer for what is the average of the top 5 salaries for that position in the league over the last 5 years. I know there is a lot more to it than that, but this is supposed to be light reading and that definition suits our purpose here.
Much has already been written about which free agents the Cowboys should go after, but now that the dust has settled, let’s look at which of those free agents are still available and might be realistic targets for the team beginning March 13th when the new league year actually starts and players can be signed. Of course, most if not all of these players may now be financially out of reach for Dallas since they decided to franchise their own Anthony Spencer eating up almost $9 million of what is reportedly around $20 million of available cap space this year. But, for sake of argument, here is the wish list of players still on the market.
1. Carl Nicks, Guard, New Orleans Saints – I am shocked that the Saints could not come to some agreement with Drew Brees and were forced to place the “exclusive rights” franchise tag on him. That means Brees isn’t even allowed to negotiate with any other teams and it means that Nicks is likely to test the free agent waters. The Saints will still try to sign him to a new deal, but he will be looking for more money than his fellow guard, Jahri Evans just got in 2010 ($56.7 million dollars/7 years, $12 million signing bonus). The Saints will have a hard time affording both Nicks and Evans. If I were Jerry Jones, I would be going hard after Nicks and figure out a way to make the money work. He would clearly solidify the inside of a still evolving offensive line.
2. Ben Grubbs, Guard, Baltimore Ravens – Nicks has gotten all the notice, but with Baltimore wisely choosing to franchise Ray Rice, Grubbs is another quality guard that will be a free agent. And, he just might be affordable for the Cowboys. I do not expect them to draft another offensive lineman in the first round so I think Grubbs might be a viable target for the Cowboys if the Ravens don’t get him under contract before the 13th.
3. Mario Williams, LB, Houston Texans – unless Williams is just so intent on staying a Houston Texan that he gives up money he could earn on the open market, there is no way the Texans can afford to keep him. He would be great to have opposite DeMarcus Ware, but, he will demand big-time money. There are teams that can afford him, but I don’t think the Cowboys are one of them. The franchising of Anthony Spencer pretty much eliminates any possibility of going after Williams.
4. Cortland Finnegan, CB, Tennessee Titans– The Titans used their franchise tag – but on safety Michael Griffin. Furthermore, they’ve indicated they won’t even make an offer to Finnegan leaving him free to pursue employment elsewhere. A bit of a shock for a guy who is considered a quality cornerback and is well known for his aggressive style. He wants something in the area of 5 years/$48 million dollars which the Cowboys could probably find a way to work. But, it speaks volumes that the team isn’t even trying to bring him back. Would the Cowboys take a chance on him or look for a better option?
5. Brandon Carr, CB, Kansas City Chiefs – With the Chiefs using their franchise tag on WR Dwayne Bowe and already signing CB Stanford Routt to a $20 million contract, the hot rumor right now is that the Cowboys will aggressively go after Carr starting March 13th. This is a must have if the likes of Nicks and Mario Williams are out of reach. He would solidify a shaky secondary and cross one glaring need off the Cowboys wish list prior to the April draft.
6. Carlos Rogers, CB, San Francisco 49ers – Rogers is already 30 and is looking for a 4-5 year contract at $5 million per year. He’s a quality player, but we’ve already seen what happens when age catches up to someone who was once considered a premier player (Newman, anyone?). I’m not sure any team – including the Cowboys – is likely to offer that kind of a deal and the odds are good that he ends up back with the 49ers.
7. Laurent Robinson, WR, Dallas Cowboys– Let’s not forget one of the Cowboys’ own in this discussion – among all the other needs, Robinson, appears to be a must have and everyone expects them to try and get a deal done to keep him in the fold. He’s the perfect combination of affordability and talent and already has an unbelievable chemistry with Tony Romo.
8. Paul Soliai, NT, Miami Dolphins – The Fins chose not to use their franchise tag this year saving cap space for an eventual big name free agent QB (think Manning or Flynn). That leaves Soliai free to find another team if they can’t agree to terms prior to the 13th. The Cowboys would love to land a quality, proven true nose tackle like Soliai because it would allow them to move Jay Ratliff to defensive end. I think this one could be a sleeper deal if the Cowboys don’t get one of the big name free agent corners. And, something like this would make the Spencer move look really smart.
Lots of dominoes still to fall between now and next Tuesday. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys make any kind of moves. As a long time Cowboy fan, I just don’t have a good gut feeling that the Cowboys are going to make any dramatic moves in free agency. That, unfortunately, means this team is not going to be measurably better. Is it too early to start looking forward to 2013? Come on Jerry! Do something!!