Austin On Dallas: Ex-Longhorn FA Would Revive Idling Cowboys
By Brad Austin
The former Longhorn I’m speaking of is NOT the highest rated safety on the draft board come April…aka Kenny Vaccaro. Most of us familiar with Vaccaro’s game already know he would be a fireplug in the Cowboys’ new (Tampa-2 style) 4-3 defense for years to come.
If still available and no starting safety is added prior to the draft, Vaccaro would be my lock selection at 18. His skills are an ideal fit for Monte Kiffin’s swarming defense, and would finally quench the burning thirst for great safety play in Dallas (post-Darren Woodson).
WITH ALL RESPECT TO ‘BIG HENRY’
The player I’m eluding to here is NOT even Chicago Bears’ mammoth Pro Bowl DT, Henry Melton.
Somehow Melton washed off the massive drool bath given by Cowboys’ Fans in time to sign his franchise tender with Chicago.
On Big Henry’s behalf, were Chicago to offer Melton head-up for Anthony Spencer right now, I’d have accepted yesterday.
Tyrone Crawford, Henry Melton, Jay Ratliff, and DeMarcus Ware would suit my needs just fine as the starting D-line for the 2013 Cowboys.
The surprise free agent I AM touting is former Texas Longhorn, and recently released Oakland Raiders’ safety Michael Huff. Huff is a very versatile defensive back with proven skills to start at both corner and safety on the NFL level.
Oakland’s 1st round pick in 2006 was an All-American safety at Texas, then starting safety for the Raiders from 2006-11. In 2012, he was forced to start 14 games at cornerback due to injuries at the position.
Out of his natural position last season, Huff had an inferior year according to his normal playing standards, yet still ranked a respectable 32 out of 74 CB’s with 500+ snaps.
Natural corners in the NFL occasionally slide back to safety and have success, but very rarely the other way around.
In 2010, Huff graded out as PFF’s 2nd best safety in football. Jumping to CB in 2012 and grading above both Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne speaks volumes for his versatility and coverage abilities.
In 7 seasons with Oakland, Huff started 93 of 108 games while amassing 438 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 11 INT’s.
REALISTIC MARKET VALUE
By no means is this a fairy tale scenario with Dallas wishing on the star of a marquee free agent they have no shot at affording. Huff just hit the market on Monday as the Raiders chose not to absorb his $4 mil roster bonus due Thursday.
His atrocious 2013 cap hit (created through their own poor contract structuring) would have consumed nearly $11 mil. By designating him a June 1 cut, they will still have to account for absurd dead money in 2013 and 2014.
The Cowboys have a few remaining tricks up their sleeve to clear space for one solid FA signing. Vastly under-performing fullback Lawrence Vickers might be a place to alleviate $1.1 mil. His 18th rank of 25 fullbacks playing 150+ snaps is no better production than Dallas could get from a cheap UFA rookie.
It’s hard not to assume they are counting on an impending Tony Romo extension to clear the way for a decent free agent fund and inking the draft class. I have no doubt Jerry will extend his poster boy likely sooner than later.
Wednesday’s release of Marcus Spears freed up $2 mil helping the cause, though mostly towards signing the draft class after June 1.
Unlike defensive ends, safeties don’t command as hefty of a price tag in the market.
2013’s top FA safety, 28-year-old Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson, signed a 5-year deal with Tampa Bay worth $8 mil per season.
$8 mil is nothing to sneeze at, but Goldson was the best safety available and 2 years younger than Huff.
Age police hold off on the task force…let’s recall the $10.6 mil Spencer is 29, Ware turns 32 in July, and Tony Romo is 33 next month.
All 3 of those veteran Cowboys have an NFL market value of $8+ mil as we speak. Huff is 30 years old and attainable for around 4 years / $5-$6 mil per season. A responsible contract structure could land his 2013 cap hit around $3-$4 mil.
‘HUFF DADDY’ COME HOME
With Spencer, Ware, and Crawford locked in and solidifying the DE spots, that ongoing concern is handled. With Michael Huff joining Barry Church and Matt Johnson as the top safeties, Dallas will no longer need to burn a high draft pick there.
So what positions would remain in despair on the Cowboys’ roster? Simply DT and OL. Dallas could focus their top 3 draft picks on locking in a rookie starter at both DT and OL.
There’s no doubt with the 2013 draft heavily tailored to those exact positions, the Boys could begin May with a solid starting cast preparing to legitimately compete for the NFC East crown.
Rounds 4-6 of the draft and rookie UFA’s could be targeted for depth and special teams.
With one reasonably attainable free agent acquisition, Dallas could solve the growing uncertainty at safety. All the while acquiring a versatile DB who can slide over to effectively cover receivers in the nickel and dime packages.
Along with tremendous benefits to the secondary, Huff would eliminate safety as an early draft priority. Which in turn conveniently makes room for locking up a top-level DT and OL selection on the first day.
One (non-blockbuster) FA signing and 2 high draft picks later, Michael Huff would have helped Dallas turn the corner in the furious race for the NFC East crown.
The talented native Texan would be coming home rejuvenated to once again play for his home state. Far away from the bottomless pit, aka the Oakland Raiders.
It’s a win-win situation for all parties involved. All that’s left now is for Jerry and Stephen Jones to play Monopoly with the books once more tonight for old times’ sake.