Dallas Cowboys: Free Agency Needs Post-NFL Draft
By Bobby Shores
National Football Authority
The Dallas Cowboys fell harder than any other team last year when they went 6-10 and failed to even be competitive for most of the season.
On paper, they appear to have two-deep talent at the skill positions, but their foundation is shaky and needs to be upgraded. By signing one “star” free agent and a few contributors, this team should be back in the playoff hunt in 2011.
The Cowboys showed they are happy with their first stringers by only picking one guaranteed starter in the draft, offensive tackle Tyron Smith from Southern California.
The rest of the Cowboys draft picks range from immediate contributor (running back DeMarco Murray), to guys that will compete and provide depth (offensive guard David Arkin and center Bill Nagy), to players that are projects (cornerback Joshua Thomas and wide receiver Dwayne Harris) to another injured linebacker that has potential if he recovers from his knee injury (Bruce Carter). Most of them should contribute to a subpar special teams unit from the moment they are allowed on the field.
The Cowboys could use players all over their roster, but the most important areas of need are offensive line, defensive line and secondary.
The Cowboys highest priority should be the immediate re-signing of left tackle Doug Free, who for some inexplicable reason was not franchised before the lockout. Last year, Free excelled in protecting the quarterback’s blind side and proved that he could be an elite left tackle in the NFL, as he was the lone bright spot on a very underachieving unit, and should be highly sought after whenever free agency begins.
Rookie tackle Tyron Smith, who most personnel people had rated as the No. 1 tackle in the draft (even though he was only the second best tackle on his college team), should immediately step in and replace an aging and broken down Marc Columbo at the right tackle position.
The guards need to be upgraded with left guard Kyle Kosier being an unrestricted free agent who is unlikely to return. They also must get better production from right guard Leonard Davis; who was beaten like a rented mule during the majority of the 2010 season.
Depending on how negotiations go with Doug Free, some possible guard targets for the Cowboys are: Atlanta’s Justin Blaylock, Baltimore’s Chester Pitts and/or Tampa Bay’s Davin Joseph.
The Cowboys have only one defensive end currently under contract in Igor Olshansky, and he was nothing more than a warm body on the field last year. The other starter, Marcus Spears, and the top two rotation defensive ends, Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher, are all scheduled for either unrestricted or restricted free agency (depending on 2011 rules).
Without any quality 3-4 defensive ends on the market, look for the Cowboys to make a desperate push to re-sign their own potential free agent defensive ends, Bowen in particular. They could already have an “under the table” deal with Bowen and Hatcher as that is the only logical explanation for the decision not to acquire any depth in the draft.
Some affordable options for them in free agency are San Francisco’s Ray McDonald and Demetric Evans. As both are veteran, situational players that would provide depth and not much more.
The Cowboys secondary was one of the weakest areas of the team last year, and they did not address it in the draft with any immediate contributors.
Look for them to release the oft-injured and overpaid Terence Newman, leaving young corners Michael Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick to man the outside.
Free safety is the position that needs the biggest upgrade in the Cowboys secondary after the Alan Ball experiment failed. Ball should be moved back to cornerback, his natural position, where he will provide depth as the third or fourth corner. 2010 fourth round draft pick Akwasi Osusu-Ansah has proven to be nothing more than a developmental player, as he was injured most of last year. So the Cowboys are still not sure what ability he possesses.
With former Rob Ryan draft pick Michael Huff set to hit the free agent market, look for the Cowboys to make a strong run at him. In this potentially “lockout shortened” off-season, Huff’s familiarity with Ryan’s defense and solid play the last couple of years should make him the Cowboys highest value free agent target.
Gerald Sensabaugh was average at the strong safety spot and seems determined to test the free agent waters. The Cowboys would be wise to bring him back on another short-term deal if somebody does not overpay for him. If Sensabaugh is not retained, look for the Cowboys to target Baltimore’s Dawan Landry, Philadelphia’s Quintin Mikell or Buffalo’s Donte Whitner.