Dallas Cowboys Should Use Newfound Cap Space to Sign Andre Smith

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistApril 1, 2013

May 22, 2012; Cincinnati, OH USA; Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith (71) during organized team activities at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

When us "apologists" make our "excuses" for Tony Romo, high on the list is the fact that Romo is always running for his life behind a poor offensive line. So it would be fitting if the Dallas Cowboys were to use the money Romo freed up with his new contract extension by improving said unit. 

The deal Romo signed last week created about $5 million in cap space for a team that had only a five-figure surplus to that point. They'll still need some of that cash to pay draft picks and late additions after injuries, but this and a possible agreement with Anthony Spencer would give the 'Boys the ability to at least make a decision. 

Option A would be to spend the cash on a veteran contributor on the free-agent market. That could be guard Brandon Moore, whom they've shown interest in. Or it could be a running back, as ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins suggests. Or it could be an offensive tackle or another safety or fill in the blank.

Option B would be to do nothing. This is a team that has already restructured contracts for about 15 percent of the roster this offseason. Those bills will come due in upcoming offseasons, and while the NFL lifting its $5 million sanction will help, and the salary cap could rise a little, the 'Boys would make things a lot easier on themselves next offseason if they were to set that cash aside. Remember, in the new collective bargaining agreement, you can carry cap space over. 

I'm not against either avenue, but I do subscribe to the carpe diem approach to managing pro sports teams. The Cowboys have so many key pieces in place right now, so one big move this spring could be a game-changer come fall and winter. 

For me, there's one scrap floating on the free-agent market that stands out in a big way. Andre Smith is a 26-year-old former No. 6 overall draft pick. He was rated by Pro Football Focus as the best right tackle in the NFL in 2012 after being ranked 10th in the same category in 2011. 

It is concerning that the Bengals don't even appear to be that enthusiastic about Smith, or that interest on the market has seemingly been lukewarm at best. Makes you wonder if Smith's reputation from his pre-draft issues in 2009 is costing him. The guy has at times been one giant red flag, and teams might fear what'll happen to him with long-term security in hand. 

The good news is that it's so late in the game that Smith is going to have to accept less guaranteed money now, which could cause him to stay motivated. Plus, bringing him in would give the Cowboys the ability to save some cash on June 1 by releasing incumbent starter Doug Free.

At the end of the day, Smith would be a major upgrade over Free, and that's the key. There's nobody else on the roster with talent that even stacks up close to what Smith can do. He'd make Romo's life much easier while also helping a running game that ranked 30th in yards per carry in 2012. 

This is a good draft for offensive linemen, and if Spencer's sticking around, the Cowboys have one less area to concern themselves with on April 25, 26 and 27. Still, grabbing a guy like Smith now would give them the ability to draft a top-end guard or safety early.  

If a top-tier safety or guard were available on the free-agent market, I'd be making the same argument in reverse, but Smith is better than any player remaining at those two positions, and the odds don't favor the Cowboys finding solutions in all three spots in the draft. 

The Cowboys have, however, drafted very well recently. If they think they can save this cash for the future and stay out of free agency the rest of the spring and summer, then that won't be the worst decision they've made of late. Smith is no guarantee, and he still surrendered seven sacks last season, so there's no definitively wrong move here. 

But if I'm in Jerry Jones' shoes, I'm rolling the dice one more time.