After oversleeping for two weeks, the Dallas Cowboys are finally ready to stop pounding the snooze button on free agency. Don't expect a cannonball, but at least Dallas is getting a feel for the second wave of the process by bringing in three unsigned players this week.
Those veterans, according to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, are Justin Durant, Michael Huff and Will Allen.
The issue, according to Hill, is that the Cowboys are just $102,000 under the salary cap and have already restructured contracts belonging to Jay Ratliff, Nate Livings, Miles Austin, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Brandon Carr, Jason Witten, Orlando Scandrick and DeMarcus Ware.
It's not an absolute necessity that the Cowboys extend Tony Romo's contract in order to sign a free agent, but it sure would help. The team is stuck with Doug Free until June 1, and there are very few restructure candidates remaining.
Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Kyle Orton, Morris Claiborne and Jermey Parnell are the only guys on the roster not entering contract years and slated to make more than $1 million in 2013. But none will make more than $1.6 million, and there's very little wiggle room. Four of the five are scheduled to be free agents in 2015.
Plus, the Cowboys are already projected to be millions of dollars over the cap next offseason. These restructured deals lead to long-term pain, and I don't think Dallas can afford to keep sacrificing for short-term gains.
So yes, if they feel really strongly about Durant as a starter on the strong side, or Huff or Allen as replacements for Gerald Sensabaugh, they can pull a rabbit out of their hat by reworking Orton, cutting Parnell or even paying Free extra to walk early.
But the best solution—assuming they're not willing to give Anthony Spencer a long-term deal to do away with the franchise tag—is to find common ground with Romo, who is currently counting $16.8 million against the 2013 cap and is scheduled to hit free agency next March.
It's been reported by Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas that the 'Boys are close to a deal with Romo, so it's possible they're bringing in guys like Durant, Huff and Allen in anticipation that money will be freed up in the near future.
If that's the case, it's a good scenario.
Alex Albright, Ernie Sims and Kyle Wilber are currently projected to compete for the open linebacker spot left by Dan Connor, but Durant, who is only 27 but has 68 career starts under his belt as a 4-3 linebacker, would immediately help the run defense.
Matt Johnson, who is essentially a rookie after missing all of the 2012 season, is the only real option right now at free safety. And with the offensive line expected to be a major focus in the draft, the 'Boys would probably love to get a veteran like Huff or Allen under contract ahead of time. Johnson has major injury concerns and might not even be ready for such a role.
Huff and Allen are both 30 and have starting experience. Huff has a bigger name and reputation, but both would be upgrades and would come relatively cheap.
The Cowboys have to put faith in recent draft picks. This is a team built almost fully by the draft, and that'll continue to be the case as they cut costs to stay under the cap in future seasons. But a little insurance is necessary. In order to get that, they'll have to wrap things up with their franchise quarterback.