Dallas Cowboys 2011 Free Agency & Draft Guide: Which Free Agents Come to Dallas?

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Dallas Cowboys 2011 Free Agency & Draft Guide: Which Free Agents Come to Dallas?
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A few readers have asked me to take a look at the NFL free agents of 2011, so here you go.

In addition to analyzing the best available players at positions of need for Dallas, I’ve also provided my assessment on who is most likely to come to Big D, as well as whether the ‘Boys should indeed address the position in free agency or visit it during the draft.

Please note that there may be a few omissions from these free-agent rankings. Some “free agents” are restricted, franchised, etc.

Also, it’s quite difficult to obtain a reliable list of free agents. Some organizations are needlessly secretive about their players’ contracts, and there’s plenty of inaccurate information out there regarding free-agent statuses. If you notice a player who is missing or one who shouldn’t be listed, please notify me in the comments below.

  • Positions of Need Assessed (in order of importance): FS, RT, DE, CB, OG, SS, ILB, FB, RB, OLB
  • Other Positions of Need: K, NT (if Jay Ratliff moves to DE), returner, C, slot WR

 

Top Unrestricted Free Agents

FS

1. Michael Huff
2. Eric Weddle (Restricted)
3. Dawan Landry
4. Tanard Jackson
5. Donte Whitner
6. Darren Sharper

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy: Michael Huff

I really think you’ll see the Cowboys address the free safety spot in free agency. UCLA’s Rahim Moore (scouting report here) is the consensus top free safety prospect in this draft class, but many scouts have reportedly given him just a third-round grade. I think he’s a second-round talent and nothing more. Huff is the top free safety above, and to the best of my knowledge, he’s unrestricted.

Solution: Free agency

The 2011 safety draft class is simply too weak to find an immediate starter. If the Cowboys address the free safety spot during the draft, options (in addition to Moore) include Oklahoma’s Quinton Carter, UNC’s Deunta Williams and Temple’s Jaiquawn Jarrett (scouting report here).

 

RT

1. Ryan Harris
2. Matt Light
3. Tyson Clabo
4. Jared Gaither
5. Khalif Barnes
6. Jermon Bushrod
7. Willie Colon

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy: Ryan Harris

Why not? Harris is young, and his value has plummeted. However, he has a tremendous skill set and something to prove, so now is the time to sign him.

Solution: Free agency, if value is there, otherwise early rounds of draft

If the Cowboys can’t find a bargain in free agency, they’ll undoubtedly need to address the offensive tackle spot early in the draft. I’ve already analyzed Villanova’s Ben Ijalana, Boston College’s Anthony CastonzoUSC’s Tyron SmithWisconsin’s Gabe Carimi and Colorado’s Nate Solder.

Of those players, Smith and Castonzo are first-round options, while Carimi and Ijalana could fall into the second. I actually think the latter two players are the best fit at right tackle, and I would be extremely happy with either player in the second round.

For those interested (Mom), here are my current offensive tackle rankings (of those listed above):

1. Tyron Smith
2. Ben Ijalana
3. Anthony Castonzo
4. Gabe Carimi
5. Derek Sherrod
6. Nate Solder (third-round grade)

 

DE

1. Shaun Ellis
2. Tommie Harris
3. Cullen Jenkins
4. John McCargo
5. Brandon Mebane

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy: Cullen Jenkins

I’m really stretching it here with this free-agent list, as only Ellis and Jenkins have played as a five-technique defensive end in the past. The other three players have been three-technique players in 4-3 schemes, so they’re unlikely to land in Dallas.

Solution: Early rounds of draft

The draft seems like the obvious arena through which to upgrade the defensive end spot this offseason. There are plenty of talented linemen who project as 3-4 ends, including probable first-rounders Marcell Dareus (Alabama), Cameron Jordan (Cal)Nick Fairley (Auburn), J.J Watt (Wisconsin) and Adrian Clayborn (Iowa).

Options in Round 2 include Muhammad Wilkerson (Temple) and Cameron Heyward (Ohio State). All would be upgrades over the current Dallas defensive ends.

 

CB

1. Nnamdi Asomugha
2. Johnathan Joseph
3. Antonio Cromartie
4. Eric Wright
5. William Gay
6. Chris Houston
7. Ike Taylor
8. Chris Carr
9. Richard Marshall
10. Carlos Rogers
11. Will Blackmon
12. Kelly Jennings

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy: Johnathan Joseph

With this year’s cornerback draft class very strong, I don’t see any reason for the Cowboys to sign a middle-tier cornerback in free agency. Either go big or go home.

The top three cornerbacks on this list are top-tier guys (with Asomugha obviously in a class by himself). I don’t see Asomugha as a legit option, unfortunately, because he’s simply going to be too costly. Don’t forget that Dallas still needs to re-sign Doug Free, perhaps a few other free agents and its rookies.

Joseph is incredibly underrated, and if he can be had for second-tier money, the Cowboys could find a bargain.

Solution: Sign Joseph if the price is right, otherwise early rounds of draft

I’ve already broken down the games of Nebraska’s Prince AmukamaraMiami’s Brandon HarrisLSU’s Patrick PetersonTexas’ Aaron Williams, Colorado’s Jimmy Smith and Utah’s Brandon Burton. As of now, I’d rate these players as follows:

1. Patrick Peterson
2. Brandon Harris
3. Prince Amukamara
4. Jimmy Smith
5. Aaron Williams
6. Brandon Burton

If Peterson drops past the fifth pick, the Cowboys need to consider trading up. He’s the No. 1 overall player on my board. I love the upside of Brandon Harris in the second round or Burton in the third.

 

OG

1. Davin Joseph
2. Justin Blalock
3. Harvey Dahl
4. Robert Gallery
5. Richie Incognito
6. Alan Faneca

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy: Davin Joseph

Offensive guard is a difficult position to assess for the ‘Boys. Kyle Kosier, who I’d rank at No. 3 on this list, is also a free agent. The ‘Boys could re-sign him to a short-term deal (which I think is a good idea, as he graded out as the seventh-best Cowboy in 2010 and top lineman).

Solution: Re-sign Kyle Kosier and/or sign a free agent

Whether the Cowboys re-sign Kosier or pick up a free agent, I think they need to address the position in free agency. The interior linemen at the top of this year’s draft class are weak (Florida’s Mike Pouncey, TCU’s Marcus Cannon, Baylor’s Danny Watkins and FSU’s Rodney Hudson all figure to be in the second-round range).

I like Pouncey’s upside and versatility in the second round, and Cannon/Hudson are intriguing if they drop, but none of these guys “wow” me, (particularly Watkins).

 

SS

1. Quintin Mikell
2. Bernard Pollard
3. Atari Bigby
4. Brodney Pool
5. Roman Harper
6. Abram Elam

Most Likely to Be a Cowboy: None

Outside of Mikell, this is a very weak group of strong safeties. I think Mikell is extremely underrated, but the lack of talent behind him means someone will overpay for his services. That shouldn’t be Dallas.

Solution: Re-sign Gerald Sensabaugh, find depth late in draft

Like Kosier, I think Sensabaugh’s 2010 play went unheralded. He wasn’t incredible, but he yielded just a 57-percent completion rate, 6.95 yards per attempt and one touchdown (all while snagging five interceptions). You can see all of his numbers in my 2010 safety grades.

Whoever the Cowboys sign, they should probably look for a mid-to-late prospect at the position (assuming they don’t think Danny McCray or Barry Church is the future at strong safety). Options include Florida’s Ahmad Black, West Virginia’s Robert Sands, Idaho’s Shiloh Keo and Boise State’s Jeron Johnson.

 

ILB

1. Paul Posluszny
2. Barrett Ruud
3. Stephen Tulloch
4. Stephen Cooper
5. Takeo Spikes

Most Likely to Be a Cowboy: Paul Posluszny

The former Penn State linebacker is really the only option for Dallas in free agency. There’s no reason to sign any other aging players when you already have two of the same at the position.

Solution: Sign Posluszny if the price is right, otherwise mid to late rounds of draft

I really like Posluszny and think he would complement Sean Lee inside quite well. I don’t think he’s likely to land in Dallas, but I’d take a long look if the money isn’t exorbitant.

If the Cowboys look to the draft to upgrade the position, Martez Wilson is by far the best prospect. He might be available in the second round, and he could potentially play outside linebacker, too. However, the Cowboys’ more pressing issues make Wilson’s arrival unlikely.

Other possibilities include UNC’s Quan Sturdivant, Oregon’s Casey Matthews (yuk), LSU’s Kelvin Sheppard, NC State’s Nate Irving and Michigan State’s Greg Jones.

 

RB

1. DeAngelo Williams
2. Ahmad Bradshaw
3. Michael Bush
4. Cedric Benson
5. Darren Sproles
6. Ronnie Brown
7. Tim Hightower
8. Joseph Addai
9. Cadillac Williams
10. Ricky Williams
11. Kevin Smith

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy: None

The Cowboys will likely be in the market for a running back to fill Marion Barber’s shoes (not literally, as it would be difficult to get one’s feet through the concrete...thank you, I’ll be here all night).

This free-agent list is impressive, but the top players will be too pricey for the ‘Boys. Even a guy like Sproles, who could dramatically upgrade the Cowboys’ return game and be an insurance policy for Felix Jones, will probably command more money than Dallas is willing to spend on a position which isn’t really a gaping hole.

**Note: If Sproles’ asking price drops due to the abundance of talented free-agent runners, I think he’d be a really nice option for Dallas. Others will want a bruiser at tailback, but Sproles’ versatility trumps the short-yardage ability of the big boys. Plus, I think Jones and Tashard Choice are fine in short yardage.

You know I’m not going to just throw an opinion out there without proof...

That’s some mighty fine-tasting pudding.

Solution: Mid to late rounds of draft

I really don’t see the ‘Boys addressing tailback in free agency, but it’s certainly a possibility late in the draft. Potential draft picks include Syracuse’s Delone Carter, Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter, LSU’s Stevan Ridley, Auburn’s Mario Fannin and my personal favorite, Pitt’s Dion Lewis. I really like Lewis.

 

FB

1. Vonta Leach
2. Heath Evans
3. John Kuhn
4. Deon Anderson

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy: None

Again, I don’t see the Cowboys addressing the backfield through free agency. Leach is a stud, but he will probably re-sign with Houston. Meanwhile, Evans and Kuhn aren’t tremendous lead blockers, which is just what the Cowboys need out of a fullback. Readers know I like Anderson, but his time in Dallas is over.

Solution: Mid to late rounds of draft

Options include Stanford’s Owen Marecic, Pitt’s Henry Hynoski and USC’s Stanley Havili, although it’s just as likely the Cowboys roll with Chris Gronkowski.

 

OLB

1. Manny Lawson
2. Matt Roth
3. Thomas Howard

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy: None

This isn’t even a question. Teams simply don’t allow stud 3-4 outside linebackers to hit the open market.

Solution: Mid to late rounds of draft

Unlike many other people, I think the Cowboys are just fine at outside linebacker. Anthony Spencer will rebound (he wasn’t as bad in 2010 as people think) and Victor Butler is ready for a bigger role.

Of course, you can never have too many pass rushers, and draft options include UNC’s Robert Quinn in the first round (if the team deems his value to great to pass up) or Nevada’s Dontay Moch, Stanford’s Thomas Keiser, UCF’s Bruce Miller and Fresno State’s Chris Carter in the mid-to-late rounds.

 

Overall Free Agency/Draft Plan

The Cowboys desperately need to find a starting free safety in free agency. In my opinion, no rookie safety is worthy of starting. There are also some quality offensive tackles on the market, but the abundance of talented players at that position projected to go in the late-first or early-second makes signing a free agent less likely.

I don’t see the Cowboys signing a defensive end in free agency, as the draft is stacked with 3-4 end prospects. Cornerback is a tricky position, but I think you’ll see the Cowboys address that spot via the draft as well.

At guard and strong safety, the Cowboys’ best options appear to already be on the squad. Kyle Kosier and Gerald Sensabaugh won’t demand top dollar and are underrated players, according to my film study.

The inside linebacker, tailback, fullback and outside linebacker spots could all be upgraded, but they aren’t pressing issues. It’s possible the Cowboys will look to find value in free agency with a player like Paul Posluszny, but all four of these positions are probably only options in the middle or late rounds of the draft.

 

Dream Upgrades/Roster Moves (Realistically)

  • FS: Michael Huff
  • RT: Ben Ijalana (Villanova)/Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), second round
  • DE: Marcell Dareus (Alabama)/Cameron Jordan (Cal), first round
  • CB: Aaron Williams (Texas), third round
  • OG: Davin Joseph (and Kyle Kosier)
  • SS: Gerald Sensabaugh
  • ILB: Nate Irving (NC State), fourth round
  • RB: Dion Lewis (Pitt), fifth round
  • FB: Undrafted free agent/Chris Gronkowski
  • OLB: Steven Friday (Virginia Tech), seventh round
  • K: Kris Brown/David Buehler duo
  • NT: Jay Ratliff likely to stay put
  • Returner: Jeremy Kerley (TCU), sixth round
  • C: Develop Phil Costa
  • Slot WR: Jeremy Kerley (TCU), sixth round
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