Any look at the Cowboys prospects in free agency has to start with the fact that Cowboys currently have negative cap space for 2014. After a disappointing 8-8 season the Cowboys desperately need to find a way to improve their defense, especially with the impending free agencies of Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher. Reconciling team needs with cap troubles means this offseason will be one of Jerry Jones’ most trying to date.
Potential Cap Casualties
With negative space, many moves need to be done as soon as possible. Let’s take a look at those most likely to occur. All cap savings are courtesy of overthecap.com
– Almost every single player that can have their salary prorated to a bonus will have to do that. It’s already happened with Tony Romo, Sean Lee and Orlando Scandrick and could happen with more players.
– Demarcus Ware’s contract has to either be released or restructured. Ware is the only player on the roster that, if cut, would save over $2.5m. Cutting or restructuring Ware could create upwards of $7m in much needed space.
– Mackenzy Bernadeau, Jermey Parnell, Phil Costa, DeMarco Murray, Bruce Carter, Dez Bryant, and Justin Durant are the only other players on the roster who would create over $1m in space by being cut. I would expect Parnell and Costa to be gone while Carter, Durant, and Bernadeau are plausible given the Cowboys dire situation.
– The Cowboys could look towards the June 1st cut designation to free up even more space. Cutting a guy like Kyle Orton would only save $995k, but if it were designated as a June 1st cut it would save $3.3m against the cap.
The Cowboys are backed up in a corner this offseason. They were bailed out a tiny bit with the cap being higher than once thought, but that also gives every other team a chance to spend more and get a leg up on Dallas. Obviously I don’t expect any improvements from Dallas to come through free agency this offseason. The draft and veteran minimum fillers are really all the Cowboys can absorb at this point.
With Jason Hatcher on the open market and Nick Hayden currently penciled in as the other starter, one can see why this is an enormous need for the Cowboys. While Hatcher was one of the best at the position, Hayden was easily one of the worst. The veteran tackle’s -27.4 grade was the second worst among defensive tackles last season and he graded out equally bad against the run and pass. Ben Bass, Corey Irvin, and Frank Kearse are the only other defensive tackles on the roster right now which means that the position needs to be addressed in a big way.
Free agent fix: Unfortunately I think the Cowboys chances at Jason Hatcher are slim to none. Their best chance at an impact player will come from the draft, but they should still sign some value free agents at the position. On that front I’d either go with Nate Collins or Leger Douzable. Collins showed promised in a limited role before tearing his ACL last season and Douzable has bounced from team to team in his six year career but has a career grade of +13.5 in 1086 career snaps.
Last season Bruce Carter, Ernie Sims, Davonte Holloman, and Justin Durant combined for a run defense grade of -40.8. That lack of production around Sean Lee turned their run defense into the fiasco that it was. While Carter provides value with his coverage ability and is fine in nickel situations, the Cowboys could use a base linebacker that can get it done against the run consistently.
Free agent fix: The good thing about this need for the Cowboys is that two-down, run defending linebackers aren’t coveted highly in free agency. A guy like Akeem Jordan could be a good fit in Dallas as he was superb against the run last year as a base linebacker with the Chiefs.
DeMarcus Ware and George Selvie made a fine starting duo last season in Dallas with grades of +12.6 and -0.4 respectively. The problem in Dallas though is that they can’t play every down. The Cowboys were unable to find even reasonable production from their backups as Kyle Wilber, Jarius Wynn, Caesar Rayford, Edgar Jones, Jason Vega, and Everette Brown combined for a grade of -36.6. Dallas desperately needs to find more veterans like Selvie who can at least play at an average level on a minimum contract.
Free agent fix: While this is definitely a position I believe the Cowboys will address in the draft, I wouldn’t be surprised if they got a veteran free agent to ensure they don’t have another breakdown like last year. If the price is right, I think a guy like Mike Neal from the Packers could do wonders in a 4-3. Many of his struggles last season came from switching from 3-4 end to outside linebacker, but he’s flashed pass rushing talent in the past and could be looking to go to a 4-3 scheme.
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