With the 2012 NFL draft now just a matter of days away, each NFL franchise has had the opportunity to improve its roster by essentially overpaying for veteran players either from other rosters or their own.
The Dallas Cowboys were among the busier franchises in the opening days of free agency, which kicked off in mid-March. But while the biggest names in free agency are all spoken for, there are still a number of players out there still looking for homes in the NFL for 2012.
Let’s take a look at five veteran players still on the market that could possibly help America’s Team as it tries to regain significance in what was a rather tepid NFC East division in 2011.
There is no crystal ball here and this is not a prediction of things to come, especially with the draft coming, which could certainly make some of these names and their respective positions no longer a priority. But any future holes that remain following the April 26-28 NFL draft might be filled with players such as these.
The Cowboys have a rich history at the safety position, which includes names such as Darren Woodson and Roy Williams over the past 20 years. Charlie Waters, of the Doomsday era, still leads the franchise in postseason interceptions—and he came into the league in 1970.
But the switch to the 3-4 defense in 2005 essentially killed the career of Williams in Dallas and absolutely nothing has happened at this position since. It’s almost as though the Cowboys really don’t know what they’re looking for here.
A number of mock drafts project the Cowboys selecting Mark Barron, easily the top strong safety prospect from 2011 national champion Alabama. This move could certainly happen, although I don’t see the Cowboys taking a safety with the 14th selection.
Last month’s signing of veteran Brodney Poole should leave nobody thinking that the safety position is fine and dandy at this point.
If the Cowboys do not select Barron or any other safety prospects in the draft, then Chris Hope might be an attractive option. Hope has some miles on him, but he certainly has been a part of some strong defenses, especially while with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hope may or may not qualify as a strong safety in the Dallas scheme, but this shouldn’t scare the Cowboys too much. Dallas is known to play guys out of position anyway, and Hope would bring a veteran presence to a defense that aspires to improve significantly this coming season.
The Tennessee Titans signed Hope to a six-year contract following Pittsburgh’s win in Super Bowl XL, and they don’t seem too interested in retaining his services.
One way or another, the Cowboys have to get better at the safety position, and Hope could be a consideration later as opposed to sooner, especially if the price is right.
While it would not seem likely that the Cowboys would sign another veteran cornerback after well over-spending on Brandon Carr from Kansas City, don’t be surprised to see another move in the secondary. This could be especially true if no significant acquisitions surface following the draft.
Understand that Carr doesn’t change the Dallas defense as much when you consider that his addition comes as Terence Newman is lost. From a numbers standpoint, this is a push.
I think Carr upgrades the left cornerback position from a physical standpoint, but this is all we know right now. With only Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick as the other starting-caliber corner backs, don’t be shocked if Dallas goes looking for a bargain at the position, kind of like they did in 2005 with an aging but still capable Aaron Glenn.
Lito Sheppard has never been a shutdown corner, but he's certainly been known as a killer of the Cowboys. His history with Philadelphia aside, Sheppard has become somewhat of a journeyman throughout the last few seasons after being traded by the Eagles in early 2009.
Three teams in three seasons doesn’t suggest that Sheppard is closing in on any long-term deals anywhere, but he can still play. Sheppard would not need to fill a major role in Dallas but could certainly add quality depth.
Sheppard turns 31 on Sunday and should still have enough in his tank to offer a team like Dallas a year or two on a highly reasonable contract.
So long as starting tight end Jason Witten graces the Dallas offense, the tight end position is pretty well manned. Following the departure of Martellus Bennett, who offered next to nothing in Dallas in his first four seasons, only the serviceable John Phillips resides on the Dallas roster along with Witten.
Dallas could certainly draft a tight end in the upcoming draft, but it’s unlikely they will use a first-day pick on a tight end.
As NFL offenses continue to sling the ball around the yard like a game of Madden 2012 on a video game console, having two tight ends as proven weapons is once again becoming a popular trend. You could argue that New England’s Super Bowl appearance last season was due primarily to the fact that quarterback Tom Brady had two tight ends to throw to—it’s not like there was anything frightening at wide receiver.
If the draft yields nothing in terms of depth, the Cowboys might look to add more of a pass-catcher than Phillips, who is a little better as a blocker than a receiver.
So what about Jeremy Shockey?
At one time, Shockey was among the top two or three tight ends in the NFL, but at 31 years old, his best days might be behind him. But can you imagine adding Shockey to an offense that already includes Witten?
Following a one-year deal he signed with Carolina in March 2011, it looks like Shockey will play for his fourth team in six seasons in 2012, at least if you’re like me in believing that Shockey will not retire. At 31 years old, he likely has another couple of seasons in him, provided he can stay healthy, and this could mean an interesting temptation for Dallas on a one-year deal for a manageable price.
It remains to be seen what exactly the Cowboys will do at the nose guard position, which has been poorly manned by Jay Ratliff for too many years now.
If University of Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe is selected in the first round, then this idea is out the window. If not, then the Cowboys really have to be thinking of ways to improve a run defense that gave up 4.4 yards per carry in 2012, the second of two straight regressing seasons for the Dallas defense.
Shaun Rogers is a monster of a defensive tackle. While he doesn’t have the athleticism of Poe—nobody weighing close to 350 pounds does—he would bring experience, depth and certainly some versatility to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's developing 3-4 scheme.
So long as Dallas continues to go so small on the defensive line, the Cowboys are likely not a championship contender.
Having just turned 33 in March, Rogers may have enough left to give Dallas a year, perhaps two, as hopefully, long-term plans are made for the nose guard position simultaneously. The Houston native and former Longhorn from the University of Texas might relish the opportunity to come back to the Lone Star State for a last hurrah and possibly a chance to win a championship.
Yes, a player like Rogers could be the difference between a defense that wilts late in the season and one that is bigger and stronger down the stretch.
While not a likely move, considering Rogers on a one-year deal for little money, all things considered, would offer the kind of low-risk, high-reward scenario that owner Jerry Jones is known to love.
Braylon Edwards was the third overall selection in the 2005 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. Yet despite having tremendous physical ability, Edwards has had difficulty in entrenching himself into an NFL offense.
There are several reasons for this and these include lousy quarterback play in Cleveland and everywhere else this Pro Bowl wide receiver has been. Following the Browns, Edwards suffered through having to hope New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, and then San Francisco signal-caller Alex Smith, could get him the ball—and neither could do that.
The Cowboys were not able to retain the services of out-of-nowhere sensation Laurent Robinson, who led Dallas receivers with 11 touchdowns last season. We already know that Jesse Holley is not likely return despite the fact he made a nice, feel-good story on a football reality show a few years back.
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are the two primary receivers that Tony Romo will rely on this coming season, but can anybody really ignore the potential of adding a talent like Edwards?
Edwards signed a one-year contract for $1 million with San Francisco last season and was released following another subpar season. But let’s remember that the 49ers were in the process of trying to land quarterback Peyton Manning before that future Hall of Fame passer signed with Denver.
Smith is a second-tier quarterback who couldn’t hit one dang wide receiver in the NFC championship game in his own ballpark back in January. Since Edwards wasn’t even on the roster at that point, the evidence clearly shows that the quarterback was much more of a problem than Edwards.
From one month to the next, nobody knows what Bryant might do. Austin is a good receiver, but he's also as over-rated as any player I can think of off the top of my head.
Who comes after these guys?
Dallas should keep a close eye on Edwards and not only for depth. Edwards has enormous potential in any offense that features a quarterback that can get him the ball.
Tony Romo can certainly do that.