Creating Dallas Cowboys' Free Agency Fallback Plan
Due to salary-cap constraints, the Dallas Cowboys' free-agency period can really be thought of as one giant fallback plan. The 'Boys need to do what they can to become efficient bargain buyers in free agency, uncovering undervalued assets others are overlooking.
Much of what the Cowboys do this year will be dictated by which of their veteran players they decide to keep. Defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher will be chief among those decisions, with Ware all but guaranteed to be out of Dallas if he refuses a pay cut.
Each slide in this slideshow poses a question that Dallas might face in the coming weeks, with analysis on its possible fallback plan if things don't go according to plan.
What Happens If DE DeMarcus Ware Won't Take a Pay Cut?
If defensive end DeMarcus Ware won't take a pay cut, he's not going to be playing for the Cowboys in 2014. That might sound ridiculous for a player of Ware's caliber, but the truth is that Dallas simply can't afford Ware's $16 million cap charge in 2014. That's nearly $4 million more than any other player on the team.
It seems likely that Ware will ultimately redo his deal. You could argue that he should stand his ground, but it's really in his best interest to take a reduction in pay. The Cowboys have all of the leverage in this situation, and Ware knows that. He can take a pay cut from Dallas and still end up making more money than he'd receive on the open market.
But what if Ware doesn't want to take that pay cut? The Cowboys should be preparing as if that will happen, and if it does, they could be in some trouble.
One solution is to move Tyrone Crawford to defensive end. Crawford has versatility to play anywhere along the defensive line, so that helps Dallas quite a bit.
Another option is to bring in a cheap veteran defensive end as a safety net in the event that the Cowboys don't draft a starter this year. They can't afford someone like Lamarr Houston or Michael Bennett, but players like Corey Wootton and Willie Young are distinct possibilities.
What If DE Anthony Spencer Leaves Via Free Agency?
Another potential solution to the Ware problem is to re-sign defensive end Anthony Spencer. The Cowboys' willingness to do that will come down to Spencer's market value. If he's able to get $6 million or something comparable on the open market, there's no reason to bring him back.
Coming off of a season missed because of injury, though, Spencer's perceived value won't be huge, especially at age 30. If he doesn't cost too much money, it could make sense for Dallas to bring him back on a one-year deal simply to act as a buffer until the team finds a pass-rusher of the future.
But what if Spencer doesn't return, which is a very real, perhaps likely, outcome? You might argue that if Spencer signs with another team, it gives Ware more leverage, but that's probably not the case. Ware must take a pay cut to remain in Dallas, regardless of what Spencer does.
The Cowboys' fallback plan in this situation is really just to find the most value possible on a veteran defensive end. As mentioned, Willie Young and Corey Wootton are options, but Spencer is right in the mix. He probably even has a slight advantage due to his history with the Cowboys. In effect, Spencer is the fallback plan.
What If DT Jason Hatcher Doesn't Re-Sign with Dallas?
According to Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan, the Cowboys have opened up talks with both Spencer and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher. That's far from a guarantee that either player will be back in Dallas in 2014, but the Cowboys are probably determining where those players stand and how likely they might be to bring them back for another season.
Hatcher is in a much different situation than Spencer, however. First of all, he is going to be 32 years old when the season starts. No bueno.
Second, he is coming off of a career year. While his age will prohibit him from scoring a huge payday in free agency, he's still more likely than Spencer to receive a deal that's inflated due to his breakout year. If the Cowboys are seeking value, it seems like Spencer is more likely than Hatcher to offer it.
If the Cowboys do indeed sign one medium- to high-priced free agent, defensive tackle Henry Melton might be their man. If Hatcher leaves Dallas, Melton will provide the interior pass-rushing ability the Cowboys will desperately need. He had 13 sacks in the two seasons prior to his 2013 injury. And if Dallas is going to pay big bucks for a defensive tackle, better a 27-year-old than a 32-year-old.
If the Cowboys want to save their money to make sure they can re-sign left tackle Tyron Smith and wide receiver Dez Bryant, however, they'll need a fallback plan that doesn't involve Melton. In that case, Clinton McDonald and Adam Carriker (who can play anywhere along the line) will be low-priced options who could potentially offer value.
What If the Cowboys Don't Want to Rely on a Young Free Safety?
The free safety position has been a problem in Dallas for quite some time. The Cowboys have power in numbers with three young options in J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson. The problem is that all of those players have either struggled early in their careers or, in the case of Johnson, failed to remain on the field.
With a weak class of safeties in this year's draft, the Cowboys might consider signing a veteran at the position. They aren't going to sign a high-priced stud like Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward, but there are some intriguing options in the next few tiers.
Stevie Brown is interesting because, like a lot of the players who make sense for Dallas, he's coming off of a season-ending injury. That's not ideal, of course, just as is the case with Melton and Spencer. But because Dallas doesn't have all that much money to spend, previously injured players could be a smart route to go, assuming they're now healthy, because they're going to drop in cost.
Louis Delmas is another option for Dallas, though he might be just a tad out of the team's price range, as is Nate Allen, who could excel as a center fielder-esque free safety in the Cowboys' scheme.