It has been known for some time now that the Dallas Cowboys are $20 million over the NFL’s anticipated $123 million dollar salary cap. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has targeted several player’s contracts that he would love to restructure—provided that he wants to go shopping this offseason, and of course he does.
Future Hall of Fame pass rusher DeMarcus Ware has agreed to restructure his contract which should save the Cowboys around $4 million in cap space. With quarterback Tony Romo next up for an extension, more room should be created in the coming days.
The free agent signing period begins on March 12 and I will not pretend to know how much the Cowboys will have to spend on free-agent talent from either their own roster or elsewhere.
Since dollars and ''sense'' will have to play a role during Jones´ coming shopping spree, I don’t expect to see a ton of money available and a bunch of new faces arriving at Valley Ranch in time for training camp later this summer.
Here’s a look at five Dallas free-agents that might be worth keeping, especially when considering just how little money will be available to the Cowboys prior to the 2013 NFL Draft in late April.
These players are not about flash and pizazz but rather maintaining pieces of yesterday that could still fit tomorrow.
Here's an example of quiet consistency.
It’s not uncommon for NFL fans to have no idea who their team's designated long snapper is, unless things are going wrong—then they'll know all about it.
L.P. Ladouceur was picked up by the Cowboys as an undrafted rookie following a training camp stint with the New Orleans Saints. Since that time, the French-Canadian has manned a position that is seen frequently during football games but is never a focus until things go wrong.
Having a good long-snapper is of utmost importance to any football team and Ladouceur fits this mold as well as any other at his position.
When was the last time you saw a snap make it passed the holder on a field goal or a punter?
I can't remember a single one.
On a personal note, Ladouceur got married last April and just became a father for the first time in December. His wife, Brooke Worthington, is a native of nearby Weatherford, Texas and it would not seem like he is in a hurry to go anywhere.
Barring an unforeseen option that is better or cheaper, Ladouceur is definitely worth keeping.
So long as Jason Witten graces the Dallas offense with his presence, there will never be much urgency in adding another tight end to the roster. I say this despite the early draft selections of backup tight ends Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett in 2006 and 2008, respectively—neither are still with the Cowboys obviously.
John Phillips is a four-year veteran with the Cowboys and he's exactly the type of player that Dallas needs moving forward.
Since Jones has never felt shy about paying more visible tight ends, in addition to Witten, Phillips represents a guy who's not likely to break the bank and, at 25 years of age, he’s got a lot of football left in the tank.
James Hannah, like Phillips, is a 6th Round draft selection that just completed his rookie season. But the similarities between these two backups to Witten stop there.
Hannah figures to be an additional weapon in the passing game at some point in the future.
Phillips is more of a blocking tight end that may not catch a lot of passes but has always been money in pass protection—and it's not like Phillips can't run a route for a possible reception though.
Assuming that Dallas doesn't want to spend money in free-agency at the tight end position, and I highly doubt this is the case, Phillips is a veteran who serves multiple purposes.
With Hannah already on the roster, the Cowboys are already set at tight end.
The safety position has it's concerns in Dallas.
Not since Darren Woodson and Roy L. Williams has Dallas had anything resembling an intimidating playmaker roaming in the secondary.
This is why there is speculation that the Cowboys might be considering a first-day selection at this all-important position in the upcoming draft. Among the names mentioned most are Kenny Vacarro of Texas and Matt Elam out of Florida.
The Cowboys already have money invested in incumbent starters Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church, the latter expected to return from injury last year to man the strong safety position.
Numerous injuries to the Dallas defense in 2012 forced three-year veteran Danny McCray into more playing time than the Cowboys had probably hoped. He was exposed a few times in coverage and didn't seem to change the direction of a disorganized and depleted unit that never found much effectiveness under ousted defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, now with New Orleans—the Saints are going to love that ride!
Keeping McCray is about depth and special teams as opposed to the expectation that he is ever a starting option ahead of Church. In this role, I expect he would be an ideal piece of the puzzle moving forward.
Should Dallas take a safety in the first round it would not only be a questionable move, but I believe that the odd man out would be Sensabaugh as opposed to Church. This means that free safety will be the position desired by Dallas.
Not saying that Vacarro can't play free safety, but with Church and McCray, in this case anyway, the Cowboys would be deeper at strong safety. McCray is strictly a strong safety at his size and weight.
Keeping McCray should be easy given his status as a restricted free agent, meaning he's likely to be back anyway.
Perhaps Dallas should consider a modest commitment in this case seeing as how unrestricted free agent safeties Eric Frampton and Charlie Peprah are older and would be more expensive.
Five-year veteran cornerback Mike Jenkins is a former 1st Round pick from the 2008 NFL Draft.
I have always liked Jenkins as a player and I just couldn't hold anything against him following a Sunday Night Football blowout loss to Green Bay in 2010. That particular game was the last for former head coach Wade Phillips. It's also the game where Dallas players, namely Jenkins, were accused of quitting.
Phillips deserved firing and I would have quit as well that season.
Having said that, Jenkins has played very well at times. He's physical, has good height and he's not a guy who gets beat deep very often.
Biggest problem with Jenkins is health and dependability in this regard.
Now, many will say that Jenkins hasn't lived up to expectations as a first round pick, and they obviously do not take into account that the Dallas defense against the run always stunk following the switch to the 3-4 in 2005.
If you can't stop the run, you not only will not be getting many picks but you'll also have a lot of guys in the secondary making tackles on guys like Brandon Jacobs who far outweigh corners like Jenkins.
And we wonder why Jenkins has been banged up so much?
Secondary is needed like never before in the pass-happy circus that has become the NFL and Dallas would be wise to keep Jenkins around—but only if the price is right.
That price might be right.
Jenkins wants to start and it's not likely that he'll unseat starters Brandon Carr or Morris Claiborne.
But who else is going to pony-up big dollars for Jenkins?
Well, some team might but I don't think offers are going to come flying in for Jenkins, meaning that he should be relatively cheap.
Finally, consider the alternative to Jenkins, which will be a another pup out of college because it won't be a high-priced free agent from somewhere else.
Think of Jenkins' potential in this new defensive scheme that should force more pressure, sacks and turnovers.
I believe that Jenkins could be part of that formula—and forget that ''Dark Age'' of Dallas defense in the 3-4.
If the Cowboys can turn the page, Jenkins might be able to as well.
But once again, only for the right price.
Ernie Sims was drafted in the 1st round of the 2006 NFL draft. Chosen ninth overall by the Detroit Lions, Sims would spend only four seasons with the Lions before being traded to Philadelphia in a three-team deal worked between the Eagles, Lions and Denver Broncos.
Here's another guy who probably hasn't lived up to expectations but I generally get tired of hearing about expectations surrounding a player. In a game that involves so many working parts, it's just flat stupid to determine that a player is a failure because his numbers don't look good enough while playing on a lousy team.
Well, Marinelli is now defensive line coach for the Cowboys and since he just arrived last month, this had nothing to do with Sims signing with Dallas off the street last October in an attempt to replace injured Sean Lee.
Sims will command little more than the veteran minimum and his limited performance with the Cowboys last season is more than enough to merit bringing him back, even for depth purposes. Sims is a classic 4-3 linebacker who was never a good fit in the Cowboys' 3-4 experiment. It's not like Dallas had many other choices.
The Cowboys will likely add a linebacker in the 2013 NFL Draft but keeping Sims would allow the team to focus on much more dire needs like the offensive and defensive line.
Sims may not be a long term answer at the age of 28, but he's got plenty left in the tank and would provide very solid depth and experience which could certainly help the transition back to the 4-3 defense.