NFL Free Agency: 6 Players the Dallas Cowboys Should Target
March 13th is fast approaching, in what promises to be a much anticipated free agency frenzy. This is the first opportunity teams can actually take major steps to either improve upon the successes of their 2011 season or begin their rebuilding and retooling processes. For the Dallas Cowboys the free agency kickoff means pursuing, courting and hopefully landing the targets they not only desire but also acquiring players that will be building blocks for the future.
With all the offseason talk focused on filling defensive needs, I also feel that the offense is not exempt from the same discussions. The other factor in the free agency equation is what to do with our own free agents like Laurent Robinson and Anthony Spencer. Big decisions loom for Jerry Jones in the both the personnel and business departments but with anywhere between $12 to $18 million in cap space, I expect the Cowboys to be active in free agency. How active is anyone's guess, but with Jerry Jones you never know what to expect.
With the 2011 season officially over and the 2012 season about to begin, I want to focus on the six free agents who I feel will substantially improve this team, fill some major needs and put the Cowboys in prime position to maximize their draft picks. With several hundred free agents available, it's hard not to get excited about the number of directions the Cowboys could go in; but you also have to stay somewhat guarded in your expectations.
While some of the names will be redundant and expected, let's take a closer look at the six free agents I targeted that the Cowboys must land.
Carl Nicks, G
Nicks is one of, if not the, top guards in football. He's equally talented at protecting the quarterback and steamrolling through defensive lines to open holes for the ground game, which will feature DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones. Quite frankly Nicks would instantly turn one of the Cowboys' biggest offensive weaknesses into a strength by elevating the running game and providing the depth in the pocket Tony Romo needs.
Prying him away from the Saints is going to be a tall order that will require some serious allocation of the salary cap. With the Cowboys having so many needs to fill, I don't think Jerry Jones would be in a position to enter a bidding war for his services.
There's absolutely no denying what Nicks could do for the Cowboys and this free agent pickup would allow them to focus their first two picks on defense in the draft. He played college football at Nebraska and has ties to Bill Callahan; but will that be enough to lure in one free agency's crown jewels?
Failure to land Nicks would force the Cowboys into plan B and C options for the rest of free agency and would probably alter their draft strategy.
Laurent Robinson, WR
Robinson is arguably one of the only Cowboys free agents who'll be made a priority to bring back. He exploded onto the scene in Dallas and wound up with 858 yards and 11 TDs in 2011.
He will hit free agency as one of the top No. 3-wideouts available and will also draw plenty of interest from other clubs. Some teams may even view him as a No. 2, in which the case the Cowboys wouldn't be able to retain his services. Robinson might have the mindset that this could be his chance to cash in or leverage the Cowboys to get what he wants. Either way, his contribution to this team was very important and it was astonishing to see the chemistry he developed with Tony Romo.
Bringing him back would give the Cowboys one of the more talented trios of wide receivers in the NFL. He says he wants to stay but the question is will the Cowboys make that happen. If they fail to bring him back, some options that comes to mind are Robert Meacham, Early Doucet and Brandon Lloyd.
Cortland Finnegan, CB
Finnegan is well known for his tenacity and nasty demeanor both on and off the field, but that shouldn't stop Jerry Jones' view of what he can mean to the defense. Only 28, Finnegan still has some productive years ahead, and though he's not a true shutdown corner, he'd be a significant upgrade over what the Cowboys assembled as a secondary in 2011.
Although Finnegan lacks a fully polished game, and he's not considered elite, he makes up for it with solid technique and an aggressive style that tends to annoy opposing receivers. His showdown with Andre Johnson on a number of occasions shows what type of toughness he can employ if a member of the Cowboys. Quite frankly the Cowboys could use a hard-nosed, nasty, aggressive corner who can get into the heads of receivers.
It's hard to find two corners on this team with similar attributes. It will be interesting to see what the market bears for a player like Finnegan, but he needs to be on Jerry Jones' radar.
I could also see Carlos Rogers and Brent Grimes as alternatives, but Finnegan's intangibles are salivating. The recent release of Stanford Routt is also a possibility but at what cost and Terrell Thomas could be a sleeper in the free agent class. Landing a corner in free agency is a must for this team.
Scott Chandler, TE
At 6-foot-7, 263 pounds, Chandler is a former Cowboy who knows Jason Garrett's system. Chandler played in 14 games for Buffalo last season and went on to catch 38 passes for 389 yards and six touchdowns.
With the impending departure of Martellus Bennett, I feel the addition of Chandler would solidify the tight end position. Although John Phillips is a solid backup, the Cowboys need more production from the tight end position, due to the attention that Witten draws.
When Tony Romo was unable to get Witten involved in certain games last season, the offense took on a different personality and suffered in converting crucial third downs as well. Adding Chandler to the mix would not only give us another target offensively but he can keep Witten fresh and serve as an effective blocker. This could also be tremendous value pickup for the Cowboys and one they should consider.
Kyle Orton, QB
Certainly not a flashy or sexy free agent pickup, it is one that is necessary. With opposing defenses cranking up the pressure the propensity for injury at the quarterback position is very high. Just ask Tony Romo.
The fact that the Cowboys put in a waiver claim for Orton proves how they feel about him and, by the same token, Stephen McGee. Although I don't believe the Cowboys are giving up on McGee, he simply is not ready to be the full-time No. 2 in Dallas.
Orton has a solid skill set, can manage a game and has played in pressure situations. He's been a starter in Chicago and Denver, played a few games in Kansas City and would be a great fit in Dallas. It's simply about insurance, and the Cowboys need that.
If the Cowboys not only pass on Orton or any other veteran quarterback, they may have to consider spending a draft pick on another developmental prospect. The only other option is Chris Griesen as the No. 3, but that simply won't cut it.
Jerry Jones, sign Kyle Orton.
Paul Soliai, DT
Soliai is a true run-stopper up the middle and can occupy more than one blocker. His speed and overall athleticism are exceptional for a guy with his size. He's 6-foot-4 and 335 pounds and is a true nose tackle. A converted guard who's blessed with rare size and strength for a defensive tackle, he would allow the Cowboys to finally be more versatile with Jay Ratliff, which would only make this defense more unpredictable and hard to stop.
In my mock draft, I have the Cowboys targeting Brandon Thompson, another defensive tackle, but this free agent acquisition could give this team the same flexibility that Carl Nicks would. He's only 27 years old and could be a nice building block for the future. With rumblings that Anthony Spencer could be franchised, defensive line becomes a must in free agency, and Soliai is a must have.
The possibilities for the Cowboys in free agency are endless. Could Jerry Jones make a play for Mario Williams? Wes Welker? Mario Manningham? Jermichael Finley? Other noteworthy players? Of course. We're talking Jerry Jones here.
The reality is that it's unlikely. The Cowboys need to maximize the cap and minimize needs one decision at a time. Let's see what those decisions amount to on March 13th.