Sunday, March 16 Update
Will Herring returned to free agency less than 24 hours after agreeing to a one-year deal with the Cowboys. Since the former Saints linebacker and core special-teams player had not signed the deal, the Cowboys decided to walk away.
The backup quarterback situation could also change drastically during free agency. With Kyle Orton potentially calling it quits following the 2013 season in which he started the final game, Williams also reports Dallas could be signing former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden:
The Cowboys expect a decision on Orton soon, but they believe he will have a hard time walking away. Because of a renegotiated contract last year, Orton would owe $3 million to the Cowboys if he retires. Orton, 31, is scheduled to make $3.25 million in base salary this season.
Dallas has liked Weeden since the Browns made him the No. 22 overall pick in 2012. He is 30, but he has played only two seasons, with 23 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.
Along with those potential moves, a former Cowboy star could be signing with a division rival.
Anthony Spencer, who has spent his entire seven-year career in Dallas, is now a free agent and has already visited with the Washington Redskins. As Brandon George of the Dallas News notes, the defensive lineman is also touring the facilities of the New York Giants:
Dallas Cowboys free agent defensive end Anthony Spencer will be visiting the New York Giants today and NOT the St. Louis Rams, according to a source. The source misspoke about the Rams visit earlier Sunday morning.
The Cowboys remain interested in re-signing Spencer if the price is right. But he’s coming off of microfracture surgery on his left knee and is still recovering.
Late last week, Spencer also visited the Washington Redskins, who ended up signing Cowboys free agent defensive tackle Jason Hatcher to a four-year, $27.5 million contract.
Thursday, March 13 Update
Not a great day for Dallas, as coveted defensive lineman Jason Hatcher has elected to stay in the NFC East and join the Washington Redskins, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Washington giving former Dallas DL Jason Hatcher a 4-year deal.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2014
It was not all bad news, as the Cowboys were able to on linebacker Will Herring, who will help shore up things on special teams. ESPN's Calvin Watkins had the news:
Pending a physical, the Cowboys are on the verge of finalizing a deal for LB Will Herring. Herring played with the Saints last year.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) March 13, 2014
Wednesday, March 12 Update
DeMarcus Ware officially signed with the Denver Broncos after being released by the Dallas Cowboys, as ESPN's Adam Schefter pointed out:
Filed to ESPN: Pending a physical, former Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware reached agreement with Broncos on 3-year, $30M contract include $20M gtd.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 12, 2014
The rumored breakup with Miles Austin is also happening, and Michael Fabiano of NFL.com noted what it meant for the future:
The Cowboys plan to release Miles Austin, opening up Terrance Williams to start opposite Dez Bryant.— Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano) March 11, 2014
Defensive linemen Terrell McClain and Jeremy Mincey were also added to the fold, as David Helman of DallasCowboys.com alerted fans:
Not news at this point, but the club confirms both Terrell McClain and Jeremy Mincey are officially Cowboys. Both passed physicals.— David Helman (@HelmanDC) March 12, 2014
Although uncanny, expect mostly silence from "Jerryworld" in free agency this offseason as Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys have dug themselves quite the hole and have no easy way out.
Thanks to years of horrible, nearsighted contracts, the Cowboys may have to part ways with a major name in the form of DeMarcus Ware on Tuesday (per Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill):
The cowboys are releasing ware , per source— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) March 11, 2014
The Cowboys will also release wide receiver Miles Austin, according to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Miles Austin gone, too, as Cowboys will designate him post-June 1 cut http://t.co/FubcBPxMQ6— Charean Williams (@NFLCharean) March 11, 2014
This offseason comes on the heels of a mediocre 8-8 season in which the Cowboys were never more than one game over .500 and touted one of the league's worst defenses.
That defense will surely be the focal point of the strategy for the front office as the team heads to free agency, but unless it is willing to send several stars packing, nothing of merit will come from the period and unproven rookies will have to pick up the slack.
The Cowboys entered the legal tampering period with just over $1.6 million in free cap space, according to Over the Cap.
For those keeping count, that is hardly enough to bring a single player on board.
Dallas earned this bit of wiggle room by forcing right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau into a pay cut, according to USA Today's Tom Pelissero:
OL Mackenzy Bernadeau's "restructure" with #Cowboys included a $1.15M pay cut in 2014 and a $1.75M cut in 2015.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 10, 2014
Bernadeau is far from the only player on the roster who will be impacted by years of ineptitude by the front office.
According to Joseph White of the Associated Press, via USA Today, Ware and Austin are likely to be the others punished this offseason:
The Cowboys, meanwhile, are still in a tight squeeze. They have been trying to restructure defensive end DeMarcus Ware's deal, which has a $16 million cap hit this year, just to have a modest amount to spend in free agency.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones has said it's unlikely the club will pursue any expensive players. Receiver Miles Austin, whose six-year, $54-million contract signed in 2010 got Dallas into trouble in the first place, is almost certain to be a June 1 cut that would save $5.5 million under the cap.
No matter who takes the cuts or is cut, expect a slight exodus of talent from Dallas rather than an influx in the coming weeks as Jones and Co. look to right the ship, both on the field and on the books.
List of Free Agents
|Jason Hatcher||DT||UFA||Redskins||Four-year, $27.5 million|
|Everette Brown||OLB, LB||UFA||TBD||TBD|
|Phil Costa||C||UFA||Colts||Two-year, $2.7 million|
|Edgar Jones||OLB, LB||UFA||TBD||TBD|
|Ernie Sims||OLB, LB||UFA||TBD||TBD|
|DeMarcus Ware||DE||Signed||DEN||Three-year, $30 million|
The names at the top should concern Dallas fans the most.
Jason Hatcher is coming off a career year at the age of 31 and posted 11 sacks while ranking as the No. 8 overall defensive tackle in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). His presence is not so easily replaced by what will likely be a rookie, and the same goes for Anthony Spencer.
A two-time franchise player for the Cowboys, Spencer played in just one game last season before he suffered a knee injury. In theory, this would make it easier for the Cowboys to bring him back than Hatcher—if they round up some free cash.
To make matters worse, the two have a lot of interest on the market already, according to ESPN's Calvin Watkins:
Anthony Spencer has nearly 7 teams interested in him.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) March 9, 2014
Jason Hatcher has 7-8 teams interested in his services.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) March 9, 2014
While this clearly reeks of agent speak, it goes to show that Dallas may not have the funds necessary to compete on the open market for their two biggest free agents.
The rest of the names are mostly depth that can be replaced through the draft and on the market, so this at least helps the front office as there are only two real priorities it should have in terms of retaining its own.
But seriously, other than the potential void created by Miles' likely imminent departure on offense, the Cowboys have to put all of the focus on the defensive side of things as the unit is in shambles after a miserable season.
It starts up front. If Dallas cannot find a few quality tackles, it does not matter who the linebackers are behind the line. As Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Star-Telegram points out, the team may have a serious interest in Chicago's Henry Melton:
Melton played under Rod Marinelli in Chicago and fits the Cowboys’ scheme perfectly. He is a local athlete who played at Grapevine High School and the University of Texas. He might come as a bargain because he is coming off knee surgery. He is a top-five talent at the position with 13 sacks in 2011 and 2012 combined.
Wishful thinking, but it does show how desperate the Cowboys will be for help. The same goes for defensive end. Adding more corners would not make a lot of sense thanks to Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne, but safety is another area in need of an upgrade.
At this point, the Cowboys have to do whatever it takes to upgrade Monte Kiffin's porous unit.
Cowboys Interested in Wesley Woodyard?
According to Watkins, the Cowboys have their eye on former Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
Woodyard is the definition of what the Cowboys are looking for this offseason—a bargain. He played middle linebacker with the Broncos last season, but was eventually benched in favor of Paris Lenon.
The good news here is that Woodyard can contribute at all three linebacker spots and play special teams. For a team with hardly any cash to work with, Woodyard is a perfect fit.
Latest on Miles Austin and DeMarcus Ware
Cowboys fans have had more than a month now to digest the fact Austin is likely on his way out, as ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer hinted:
From all the sounds coming from Valley Ranch, the Cowboys want to move on. Austin just couldn’t get going in 2013 with those hamstring injuries. I’ve long defended him and felt he was a good fit after what he did in 2012. But he just couldn’t get over those injuries.
More recently, Hill posted a telling picture on Twitter:
Mums the word on miles austin but they must know something at official cowboys pro shop. Clearance or clear out. Welp pic.twitter.com/clnzXUdFFR— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) March 10, 2014
As for Ware, his release was touched on earlier, and here's what Jones had to say about losing Ware (per NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano):
Jerry Jones: “A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult."— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) March 11, 2014
The team did officially tell him he needs to take a pay cut, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
The #Cowboys contacted DeMarcus Ware today to let him know they definitely wanted to keep him. But not at $13M per year. Decision time.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 4, 2014
Of course, Ware believed he could make a large amount of money on the open market (he sure can), as hinted by Watkins:
The issue with Cowboys and Ware is he believes he can get a payday in free agency if he's free. Is it worth for Ware to find another team?— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) March 7, 2014
Jason Hatcher Visiting Seattle
FOX Sports Southwest's Mike Fisher reports that free agent Jason Hatcher is visiting the Seahawks with more visits planned:
|Jeremy Mincey||DE||Two-year, $4.5 million|
|Terrell McClain||DT||Three years|
|Henry Melton||DT||One year|
Will Herring, LB
A seven-year pro, Will Herring is quietly a very good piece for Cowboys on special teams. He spent time in Seattle before moving on to New Orleans as purely a contributor on kick coverage.
Herring will do the same in Dallas and act as quality depth.
Jeremy Mincey, DE
Dallas fans won't like this.
With Ware gone, the Cowboys needed to do something to help replace his production. Now 30 years old, Jeremy Mincey has a total of five sacks in his last two seasons and was eventually cut in Jacksonville last season before latching on with Denver in a rotational capacity during the postseason.
Simply put, Mincey is not starter material.
Terrell McClain, DT
Terrell McClain is an undersized defensive tackle at 6'2" and 293 pounds who has one career sack in three years.
Houston allowed him to hit the market despite his restricted status, and Dallas is happy to have him simply because of the need for bodies in the trenches.