Letters to Mr. Jones No. 3: Is Brandon Carr a Top #1 CB or a Good, Young #2?

Tobi WritesAnalyst IMarch 14, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 24:  Brandon Carr #39 of the Kansas City Chiefs breaks up a pass intended for Darrius Heyward-Bey #85 of the Oakland Raiders during the game on December 24, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Dear Mr. Jones,

I am quite excited to learn that you have reclaimed some cap space by releasing 2 non-contributors from last season, Terrance Newman and David Beuhler, and have restructured the contracts of Orlando Scandrick and Doug Free to create space.

This is much of the plan that Calvin Watkins explained that could get the Cowboys up to around $27 million in cap space this year.  Now, things have changed since then.  Yesterday the NFL announced they would be taking away $10 Million in cap space from the Cowboys over the next two years—depending on when, in that time frame, you choose to surrender it. 

Additionally, Anthony Spencer is still designated a franchise player, so at least for now he eats up another $8.8 million—although it sounds like you are working with Spencer to get him on a multi-year deal, creating less of a hit this year.

To my simple math, that is $12.5m to start.  Minus $8.8 million for Spencer (for now).  Plus $8.56 million for renegotiating Scandrick and Free's deals. Plus money recouped by cutting Newman—Watkins, in the earlier cap article, said if Newman was cut today or later:

"Cowboys officials can designate him a post-June 1 cap casualty, which frees up $6 million in cap space."  Beuhler had a cap figure of $1.63 million due this year.

That gets me to $19.89 million available, but I am just throwing Beuhler's cap hit into the pile and my calculations do not reflect the cap space the NFL is taking from you and may not reflect smaller deals you may have worked with backups.

Today, Watkins and Todd Archer put the team's current cap space position at $15.82 million and noted an additional target to create additional cap space.  "Reworking DeMarcus Ware’s contract would save the Cowboys [an additional] $3.26 million."

I think it is easier for most fans to conceive that the Cowboy's starting position for re-signing their own players and other free agents could be in the ballpark of $30 million if Ware and Dez Bryant are reworked. 

If you decide to concede the $10 million cap space hit to the NFL this year, the number is $20 million.

That is really great news to Cowboys fans Mr. Jones.  If you get Spencer on a mult-year deal that averages a little under $7 million, without too much work on his contract, his cap hit this year may be as low as $5 million.   $15 million would give you the money to definitely sign one or maybe even two top free agents this year if you chose.

For your team to win the Superbowl this year, you need to hit on the plums of this free-agent class that you land.

On the negative side, with respect, I think we all worry that you may fall in love with a guy who has great assets but isn't a great fit for the team. We aren't trying to be hurtful, but consider our perspective.  Joey Galloway?  Roy Williams?

Which brings us to Kansas City CB Brandon Carr, with whom you are meeting with today.

Is Carr the guy you want to shoot your cap space on?

Brandon Carr

The word out there is that the Cowboys are looking at making a run at either Carr or Cortland Finnegan.

Later articles speculate that Finnegan's shorter height makes him more similar to the kind of inside CB you already have in Scandrick and you will probably have strong competition from Jeff Fisher's Rams for him, so your preference is Carr with a small possibility of making a run at a guard as well.

Carr is 6-0, 25 years old, and by all accounts a very promising CB.

My question for you to consider is whether he is truly worth the money you are considering paying him, or are you preparing to pay a premium because he is young?

KC sees him as a second CB. They signed Stanford Routt to a 3-year deal at $18m. If Routt is worth $6M to KC, one would think that Carr is going to get more in free agency.

Is Carr an elite #1 CB or merely a solid young kid who can capably handle a CB slot? If he isn't a #1, the fact he has 8 INTs total in 4 seasons as a starter has to be a little bit of a red flag on a team whose secondary cannot generate turnovers.

There are worse CBs in that regard, but it is a point worth considering.

It isn't relevant whether he is one of the best CBs out there in free agency.  (Although it maybe should be something of a concern that former Superbowl winning NFL coach Brian Billick has him as the 31st-best free agent this year.  Carlos Rogers is 21st on that list.)

On the flip-side, Walterfootball.com loves him despite his short track record, pointing out that he only allowed 49% of his passes to be completed.  They absolutely think he is a #1 CB.

Carr was not even mentioned in a USA Today list of the best cornerbacks in the NFL last year.  They listed 20 cornerbacks.  Now, to be fair, Carr is young and they survey sports writers, not GMs or coaches, but it still brings up the proper perspective question.

Forget this class of free agents...How does Carr rank vs. the rest of NFL CBs?

Is he a guy who could be a #1 CB—say in the top 40 CBs in the league?

Or is he a legit #1 CB—maybe in the top 20 or so in the league?

Or is he one of the better #1 CBs in the league—say top 10?

I am not a professional scout and Kansas City has not been a fun team to watch in quite a while.  I can hunt down highlights to form impressions, but that isn't helpful.  You needs entire games broken down.  I can't answer that question, but you have a number of scouts in your employ who can.

The question isn't whether Rob Ryan can work with him.  Ryan may not be here in 2 years.  The question is: "What are you likely to get if you sign Carr?"  Can he man up with a top receiver or is he more of a zone player?  What direction does his addition steer your defensive scheme?

Unless he is a top-10 CB or will be soon, this is not a good player to pay $8-10 Million dollars a year. That is almost half of your best case scenario with cap space.

Are you going after him because he is fantastic or because Nnamdi Asomugha pantsed you last year and signed with Philadelphia when you thought you had him in the bag? Is this about Carr or your need to rebound by signing a sexy name and a "top CB?"

GMs are impressed with Carr's age and measurables along with his play, but you need to force yourself to answer the question: "Is he an elite CB?"

If not, Mr. Jones, to protect your team, you need to have the courage to eat a little crow and walk away.

Are you overpaying for 2-4 added years of youth vs. the other free agent candidates?

If Carr is Deion Sanders (or even Deion-lite), absolutely go ahead and get him. If he isn't definitely a #1 --- if he is just a young promising CB--- you very well may be pissing money away on another Roy Williams-type scenario.

I think most Cowboys fans would rather have the #3 guard in the NFL than the #25 CB, regardless of the relative sexiness of each position.

The fact is, there are a lot of promising raw CBs in this draft. You don't need to fork over $8-10 Million per year to get one. That kind of money should be reserved for pro-bowl-caliber free agents.

I think 5-8 of the corners in this draft could have decent NFL careers. Even if you assume a 50% bust rate on the top corners. (I don't think it is necessarily the case, but once you fit in opportunity busts—ie. not fitting the schemes, then maybe.)

I think Dallas could spend their second on a CB and get a starter out of this draft.

But, I understand what you are probably thinking.

You don't really know which way Mike Jenkins' career will go.

There are two elite, ready to go, man coverage guys in this draft, LSU's Morris Clairborne, who will be gone before you pick and Northern Alabama's Janoris Jenkins.

The latter has a 2 cent head and shouldn't be touched with a stick—let alone taken with a relatively high pick where it appears pro-bowl-level talent will be on the board. (Dre Kirkpatrick is widely praised for jamming WRs at the line, but really is questioned on his coverage after that in most scouting reports.)

The lack of elite, developed cover guys in the draft are reasons to sign a free agent CB—but not reasons to overpay for one.

All the other CBs are zone guys, need work, or will be available later.

I get why signing a CB in free agency is mandatory if you don't sign Williams, but I ask you to really think, "Is signing this particular CB required?"

If you sign Carr, there is a very good chance he will be the only top-level player you can afford this year.

If he is the real deal, by all means sign him, but this ominously sounds like the kind of mutual respect between you and a prospective Cowboy that has turned into a bad deal for you in the past.


Other options

As always, while I may suggest things, my goal is not to tell you who to get, but instead to challenge your thinking to confirm it is optimal.

Carr hits me as "buying high," something you frequently do and it rarely works out. Honestly, the Deion Sanders deal was probably the only time it has worked out for you.


Terrell Thomas

My personal favorite "buy low" play for a free_agent CB would be for you to spend a lot less money and sign 27-year-old New York Giants CB Terrell Thomas.

Thomas is a not going to get paid starter money by the Giants, and there are very good odds he won't be able to hold on to a starting spot opposite Corey Webster (6.8M) with last year's first round pick Prince Amukamara (1.8M cap hit this year) likely to be pushed by the staff and pick up extra reps while Thomas rehabs.

Thomas is, after all, still rehabbing his knee. He can't even perform for teams in interviews. That injury crushes his value. The talk is that he wants to rebuild his value on the market and is closing in on a short-term deal with the Giants.

He is vulnerable to a good sales pitch. He has never made big money in the NFL. His salary in 2011 was 600,000. Being a 3rd CB in NY is not going to help his value. He could be told that. He has his two rings and reasons to bolt for more money and better playing time.

He is a very good and involved tackler and can cover man to man. In two years as a starter, he provided decent coverage and, more importantly, had two 5-interception seasons. That kind of consistency in ball-hawking and production at a bargain rate would look great in Dallas.

Dallas has consistently underrated the value of ball-hawks in favor of good coverage guys and, as a result, the team's secondary is consistently awful at generating turnovers. Adding a guy like Thomas and another ball-hawking prospect or two in the draft could dramatically turn that around with little financial investment.

This hurts the Giants, who then probably re-sign Aaron Ross, a much lesser player to be their #3 CB. That could be the difference in a key game vs. your division rival.

You would be offering pretty much the same thing in terms of playing time as the Giants. You could offer him a 1-year deal at double or maybe slightly more than what the Giants are offering. He may be twice the player as Orlando Scandrick, and you might land him for half the price (or less). It could be $2-4 million. Let's say $3 million.


Carlos Rogers

A little weary about going with a CB coming off a knee injury?  I personally think you just burn a couple picks on CBs in the draft, but there are other options out there.

The word at the Landryhat.com is that San Francisco CB Carlos Rogers is not getting a lot of love in free agency and is hunting for a 4/5-year deal at $5M per year.

He was a 2nd-team all-pro last year, implying he was judged the 3rd or 4th best CB in the league last year. He may be 30 and is coming off a career year last year, but he probably still has at least 2 solid years in him as a #2. At worst.

With a longer deal, you could easily get the first-year hit to $4M.

Imagine getting Rogers and Thomas for less than you would pay Carr. Or, for that matter, about what you pay Scandrick.

Even with cap hits of $5 million (Spencer), 3 million (Thomas), and $4 million (Rogers) that still leaves $8m left.  If you only sign one of these CBs, that number is potentially $11-12 million for Tony Fiammetta and other free agents.

What could you do with the rest of that money?

Well...A lot, but we will pick it up tomorrow.



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