Will Roster Management ‘Ripple Effects’ Continue To Plague the Cowboys?
By Brad Austin
- Joel Dreessen (3yr /$8.5 mil) and Jacob Tamme (3 yr / $9 mil) Sign with Denver Broncos
Who knows if Dallas was even considering these guys at TE, or if they would have excelled in their system. I doubt the money needed would match the empty spot they would be asked to fill. I’m not suggesting they should have tried for either, even though both guys will be structured at around $2.5 mil cap hit each for 2012. But the constant reminder here is skilled tight ends come and go and Dallas continues to be void at the tight end position Martellus Bennett vacated.
A very strong blocking tight end is not on the roster yet and very essential to the run game in double-tight sets. Maybe the draft will solve that issue (compensatory 4th round pick received helps this task greatly), but how many solid immediate contributors are the Cowboys seeking to gain through draft picks? It’s seems a daunting number when scanning the free agent signings, and if 4 or above is expected it becomes highly unlikely. Just being aware of the limitations on solid immediate contributors one team can reasonably expect to find in a single outstanding draft should bring us all back to reality.
- Jeff Saturday Signs with Green Bay for 2 years / $7.75 mil (2012 cap hit should be around $3 mil)
- Samson Satele Signs with Indianapolis for 3 years / $10.8 mil / $5 mil guaranteed (2012 cap hit is $1.77 mil)
These last items truly hit several nerves at the very core. Did I really just read Dallas could have gotten either of these guys to seriously upgrade on Phil Costa for a mere $3 mil or less cap hit in 2012? In Satele’s case it was under $2 mil. And also the guaranteed money on either deal wouldn’t have caused uncontrollable damage if Dallas had to cut the player after one season.
These articles are a prime example of two high-quality general managers making solid moves at a position they realize is imperative to success. Green Bay lost a strong starter in center Scott Wells and smartly added Jeff Saturday to not miss a beat. Indianapolis lost Saturday at center, and signed Samson Satele to capably fill his shoes.
Both of these deals were completely within reason for the Cowboys to pursue and made all the sense in the world to strengthen the guts of the line. Similar sentiments on the center fiasco in Dallas were recently vocalized by Nate Newton on the Coop and Nate radio show on 103.3FM.
"“When I keep seeing that we’re ignoring center for some reason, I think if you’ve got the tip of the bullet, that’s the center, that’s your strongest point. Then you can go out and find guards…Each year there is an abundance of guys at guard.” “I will say this, guard versus getting you a quality center, I say put those two guys (Livings, Bernadeau) together and go out and get you a quality center…If he can’t block nobody, he can call defenses, and when the quarterback comes up to the line and changes the protection he can tell you who the one and two reads are. These guys are smart enough to direct the offensive line. Kyle Kosier from his right guard position was directing the offensive line, and that’s not right.” — Former Cowboys All-Pro Guard Nate Netwon"
FRANCHISE TAG CONSEQUENCES
After reflecting upon these articles and other 2012 free agency decisions, I couldn’t help but re-visit the negative ripple effects caused by the franchise tagging of Anthony Spencer, and just how significantly they may hamper next year’s team. Spencer in all fairness is a quality OLB with true performance value no higher than $4-5 mil a year. Yes, he is a very solid run stopper and asked to hold the line in Ryan’s defense while rushing less than DeMarcus Ware. That song has been on repeat all off-season.
However, he is only slightly above average when forced into coverage and the same goes for rushing the passer. He’s been brilliant in spots applying pressure and wildly inconsistent in other long stretches. And this covers both the Ryan defensive system and the proceeding ones he was a part of during the four years prior. His total skill package places performance value at half of what Dallas paid to keep him. Which is still a very respectable amount for a respectable player. Yet an $8.8 million man that clearly doth not make him.
- 2012 Opportunity Costs
Where could all that extra $8.8 mil in cap space have gone if Dallas had passed on Spencer, committed to a very high draft pick at OLB, and trusted Victor Butler as insurance? When added up quickly you realize an accomplished veteran #3 wide receiver (roughly $2.5 mil cap hit), a proven #2 tight end (around $2.5 mil), and a veteran center like Jeff Saturday ($3.87 mil) would have all three combined been possible for less than the cap amount consumed by Spencer in 2012. It also would have still been an option to grab David DeCastro if available with the first pick, and then a starting OLB in the second round with the great depth of talented OLB’s in this year’s draft.
The ripple effects of franchising Spencer will be felt all across the roster next year. As an example of these opportunity costs, if given a choice would a General Manager rather have…
- Option 1: OLB Anthony Spencer (Butler as depth), C Phil Costa (little proven depth), WR Kevin Ogletree (no proven depth), and vacant spot at #2 TE going into the draft.
- Option 2: C Jeff Saturday (Costa for depth), WR Brandon Lloyd (no depth), TE Joel Dreessen, and a vacant OLB spot going into the draft. (All 3 of these named players now have a combined 2012 salary cap hit below $8.8 million)
Position by position, Option 2 trumps Option 1 all day long with the exception of OLB. The only assumed advantage over Option 2 is Spencer, and that is debatable. Dallas likely won’t use a high 2012 draft pick on either center, wide receiver, or tight end…so there would likely be no upgrade over those named players in Option 2.
Gambling on a first or second round OLB to replace Spencer in order to solidify all those other key positions for the same cost, was almost a no-brainer. Even in the second round a high-motor, aggressive player like Shea McClellin of Boise St. (and his career 20.5 sacks) will be found and likely will start at OLB for someone next year. As for other skills, McClellin wowed scouts at the Senior bowl with his ability to drob back and play in coverage.
At the very least the top OLB’s in this draft would likely inject a needed boost into pass rush. Sure the pick could’ve been a bust, but so could any first or second round draft pick, that’s the risk you always take when seeking a new starter high in the draft, and one Dallas will take at another position this year.
Both of these options above were readily available to the Cowboys, yet the safe, status quo route was clearly selected. And the 2012 Dallas Cowboys will start the same players at those positions (minus Laurent Robinson) as they did in 2011, yet at a much greater financial expense than last year. All the while passing on the chance to strongly upgrade at minimum two of those starting spots mentioned above, if not more, and at the same expense as the franchise tag.
- Effects Leak Into 2013
Let’s look beyond 2012 and into the 2013 off-season, where the franchise tag ripple effects continue to be noticeable. Spencer will again become a free agent in 2013. The OLB position will re-emerge as an absolute must to fill, assuming Dallas doesn’t draft one early in 2012 anyway. And if they do it makes even less sense why they sacrificed properly addressing all those other key positions to keep Spencer. Remember, the draft can only give so much and Dallas needs alot. Adding a 3rd OLB early in the draft now would cost them elsewhere. With a large number of defensive holes, Dallas needs their first few picks to be on the field, not merely providing depth and rotation.
If Spencer had been released from the beginning, and the position was addressed very high in the 2012 draft, the need to address the position again in 2013 would likely have been eliminated, allowing Dallas to focus elsewhere. With Spencer remaining the starter and no OLB being likely selected high in the 2012 draft, Dallas is back where they started at OLB next year. Ripple Effects trickling down everywhere and they continue…
Also by using Spencer money elsewhere like Option 2 above, Dallas wouldn’t seek to fill the #3 wide receiver spot in either the 2012 or 2013 drafts. Nor would they be forced to grab a center next year if they didn’t feel it was necessary. Jeff Saturday had more potential to squeeze two quality years out of the center position before being replaced, than Phil Costa does after another year starting. And with Saturday starting for Dallas in 2012, the Cowboys wouldn’t have been hoping all four starting offensive lineman (not named Tyron Smith) improve enough to hold their own.
To wrap up all of my various tangents and ramblings today, on one Saturday afternoon there was clearly an underlying theme in Cowboys news displaying how the ripple effects of poor past roster decisions continue to hinder a reclaiming of glory for Cowboys fans. And more importantly the present and future effects are beginning to spread quickly with the current roster management.
Although most people are down on Doug Free, I happen to have faith he will regain his form back at right tackle that once made him the prize free agent tackle on the market just a few years ago. The key here is to sure the middle up by at least one spot in the draft and narrow the finger-crossing to a few positions along the line. If that can be done before the Cowboys enter summer camp, things may get back on course, and new positive ripple effects on offense may begin to overtake their counterparts.
On a brighter note, the highly positive and influential ripple effects likely to be created by Brandon Carr, Dan Connor, and talented defenders added in the draft should be a huge breath of fresh air for Cowboys faithful. The 2012 Dallas defense isn’t all that far away from making a complete turn-around with just a few proper rookie additions in this deeply defensive draft. Let’s hope Jerry realizes playing the lotto with the offensive line will demand stockpiling a very potent defense to remain a contender in the newly resurgent NFC East.
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