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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Free Agent, Roster Analysis: Who Will Play Free Safety?

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Jonathan Bales

After a not-so-brief hiatus from Cowboys-related writing, the end of the NFL lockout has coincided with the end of my own personal lockout, and Jon Burgundy is thus back to deliver the news.  A lot has happened in the NFL over the past 48 hours, including a ton of Cowboys transactions.  Below are my thoughts on some of the Cowboys’ major moves.

  • Marion Barber, Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Roy Williams and Kris Brown have all been released.

Barber and Colombo come as no surprise.  I gave Barber a 71.3% (C-) in my 2010 Running Back Grades–one of the worst of anyone I graded at any position.  That was really a bit too high in hindsight, as Barber’s pass protection was the only thing that saved him from a worse percentage.  He converted just 66.7% of runs with 1-3 yards-to-go (compared to 88.2% for Felix Jones).  Due to the drafting of DeMarco Murray, Barber will not be back with the team.

The same is not certain for Colombo.  Some are claiming the Cowboys could bring him back, but I still do not see that happening.  Colombo was absolutely atrocious in 2010, receiving a 63.0% from me–the worst grade I have ever handed out.  He gave up nine sacks, 11 hits and a ridiculous 40 pressures last season.  With the signing of Doug Free to a four-year deal, I can’t see how the ‘Boys could bring back Colombo (although they did cut both Robert Brewster and Davis, so perhaps they see him moving to guard?).

The releases of Davis and Williams come as a bit more of a surprise.  I graded Davis as the third-best offensive lineman on the team in my 2010 Offensive Line Grades with an 80.6% (B-).  Davis is known as a mauler, but I gave him a high grade in pass protection because he yielded just one quarterback hit all season.  He is not supposed to be back in Dallas, so it is quite unclear who will be starting at right guard for the Cowboys this season.  Phil Costa? A free agent?

Williams’ departure from Dallas will come as a pleasant surprise to a lot of Dallas fans.  I’m for it as of now, as Williams was contributing very little to the team in the back half of the 2010 season and his release paves the path for increased production from Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree.  It will be interesting to see if the ‘Boys re-sign Sam Hurd or look to the free agent market for their fifth receiver.

Kicker Kris Brown’s release comes as somewhat of a surprise, but the Cowboys are planning to have David Buehler compete with undrafted rookie Dan Bailey of Oklahoma State.  Buehler looks to be on track to win all kicking duties, which I do not support.

  • Terence Newman, Alan Ball, Alex Barron, Keith Brooking and Igor Olshansky all remain on the roster, as of now.

The Cowboys could have saved quite a bit of money by releasing Newman, but I think retaining him is the right move.  He had a horrible season in 2010 (by his standards), and I ranked him as just the 22nd-best player on the team in my 2010 Player Rankings.  His status is not sealed, however, as cornerbacks like Nnamdi Asomugha and Johnathan Joseph are still on the market.  Asmougha is a long-shot for sure, but the chances of the Cowboys signing Joseph are higher.  Still, I think the Cowboys 2011 cornerback crop is already on the team.

With no chance of Ball starting at free safety in 2011, it will be interesting to see what the Cowboys do with him and who will fill his shoes.  I think they will keep him on the roster as a cornerback/emergency free safety.  Current free safety options might include Michael Huff and Donte Whitner.

With Colombo and Brewster currently off of the roster, it will be interesting to see if the Cowboys keep Barron for insurance purposes.  He does have the ability to play both left and right tackle, and his 2010 season was marred by that dreadful opening night game in Washington.

As of now, I think you can expect Brooking and Olshansky to stay on the team in 2011.  I would have cut both players, but a case can be made for the pair as well.  Brooking offers obvious leadership ability, while Olshansky is one of the only defensive ends currently under contract.  The ‘Boys will likely let Marcus Spears walk and sign Stephen Bowen or Jason Hatcher (or perhaps both).  If the team decides to splurge for veteran end Cullen Jenkins, Olshansky could still be released.  Here are my 2010 Defensive Line Grades.

  • The Cowboys have agreed to a four-year, $32 million deal with Doug Free.

$17 million of that is guaranteed.  The deal is huge for Dallas, as they now have their offensive tackles of the future in place for the next four years.  It should also seal Colombo’s fate, although that is not yet a certainty.

Free will probably stay on the left side of the line in 2011 before possibly switching places with rookie Tyron Smith.  I think that scenario is ideal.  I graded Free lower than most in 2010 with a 83% (B-)–lower than players like Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Spencer Gerald Sensabaugh and fellow lineman Kyle Kosier.   Still, he has improved throughout his career and I think he has the potential to be one of the best right tackles in the NFL.

Check back for more free agent updates, news and analysis.

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22 Responses to Dallas Cowboys Free Agent, Roster Analysis: Who Will Play Free Safety?

  1. Derek says:

    Great to have you back.

  2. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Yes, I agree w/ Derek.

    I’m interested in knowing your thoughts on cutting Newman for a run at Jonathan Joseph.

    Overall, I like the youth movement. Youth on the O line, youth @ RB and youth at WR. Seems like we’re gonna stay somewhat elderly on defense.

  3. Rick says:

    Great for football to be back.

    Jonathan, I’ve heard that Barron is a free agent, one unlikely to draw much of any interest from any team. I’d rather have Colombo as swing tackle than him (swing tackle here meaning, if Free gets hurt, Smith plays LT and Colombo RT) UNLESS Sam Young beats him out in training camp. For the vet minimum, I think Colombo is worth keeping as a backup.

    Also, I’ve heard a lot of Abram-Elam-to-Dallas talk.

  4. Tyone–If the Cowboys can get Joseph for under $8 mil/season, I’d do it. He’s really a premiere CB and better than Newman at this point. Otherwise, I’d retain Newman.

    Rick–Heard the same talk of Elam to Dallas. At this point, I’d prefer Whitner or Huff, but not if the contracts are too large.

  5. Rick says:

    Whitner? Most Bills fans say he’s an in the box guy with issues in coverage. Doesn’t seem like what Dallas should be looking for in their FS.

  6. Rick–I’d say the same about Elam, who PFF graded as just the 25th best coverage safety in the NFL and 61st overall. Huff would be my top-rated guy by far, and I think the ‘Boys need to bring back Sensabaugh. Others will disagree, with Sensy was one of the top players on the team last season.

  7. Scott says:

    welcome back! just in time for the action.

  8. Vince_Grey says:

    Welcome back my friend.

    Bowens is now a Redskin, so DE is looking a little thin to say the least.

  9. Vince_Grey says:

    I don’t see Joseph as long term major upgrade over Newman. I’d stick with TN and draft a CB or two next year.

    FA safeties are going for serious $$$ right now, and I’m not in love with Huff or any of these guys. Not enough to sign to a long term, high dollar deal.

  10. Vince_Grey says:

    What do you think of Haynesworth to Pats?

    Most think this will be Randy Moss revisited, and AH will be an all pro again under the hoodie, but I see this as a slightly desperate move to win another SB NOW before Brady retires.

  11. Vince..interested in knowing who you’d prefer the ‘Boys to sign, seeing how you don’t like any FS free agents. I think the Haynesworth move is a good one because he can be cut before the season starts without losing a penny. People say the Pats are great at resurrecting careers, but I think it is more of them jumping on talented players who have had ‘down’ years and watching their play just return to a ‘normal’ level.

  12. Greg Kemp says:

    Welcome back Jonathan – its about time, man!

    If you look at Elam’s number from his only two starting seasons and then take an equivalent 2 seasons for Huff you will see that Huff only has a slight edge. Both over 4 solo tackles a game, around 2 sacks per season, and 2 forced fumbles per season. Huff averaged 9 passes defensed per season and Elam 6. But Huff will command a heftier price but there are questions about Huff’s consistency and toughness. Elam statistically is vanilla and maybe does not have the size or speed or Huff, but just for a SS it might be worth it.

    I think a legit FS should be sought as well. Sensy has poor coverage technique, horrible ball tracking skill and his instincts/play awareness is not something to be repeated from last year.

    But, just for the sake of hope and interest, does anybody have any rumors or insights into who Dallas might be targeting on DL or any FAs?

  13. chris stallcup says:

    Apparently cowboys are very interested in cullen jenkins

  14. Rick says:

    Greg, you can’t evaluate safeties purely on their stat line. Otherwise Sensabaugh would be worth the $6-7M a year he wants.

    You CAN evaluate safeties like this: Elam will come cheaper. Elam played well under Rob Ryan last year. Michael Huff had a good year last year (not coincidentally, his contract year), and sucked when Rob Ryan was his coordinator.

  15. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    The more and more I think about it, the more I’m an advocate of starting one of the young guys at either S position (either Church at SS or AOA as FS), picking up a very cheap FA for the other, cutting Newman and signing Nnamdi – here’s why…

    Newman was good but is declinging. Nnamdi may have already reached his peak as well but will certainly be an improvement. Nnamdi is more physical than Newman and when coupled w/ a guy like Ryan who enjoys/adovates physical play, that might inspire Jenkins and Scandrick to be more physical as well. And, having a shutdown corner – at least for the upcoming year – will help the FS a lot. Overall, I think the secondary improves w/ Nnamdi and the cost isn’t appreciably more (about 3-4 million) than Newman is going to be paid. Signing Nnamdi essentially pays for itself, revenue wise, after JJ gets through marketing that he brought the highest profile FA out there to Dallas…

    As far as the safeties go, AOA couldn’t be worse than Ball was last year. And he’d be WAY cheaper than Elam, Huff or the others.

    The salary cap necesitates that sooner or later, each team has GOT to get worthwhile production from players who don’t cost a lot. No team can afford to have every starter making elite player money. Dallas has huge contracts at the CB (Newman), LB (Ware and to some degree James and Brooking), QB (Romo and Kitna), WR (Austin), TE (Witten), LT (Free), DE (Olshansky) and NT (Ratliff) positions. Sooner or later you gotta trust your ability to draft and develop and go w/ a younger guy at a few spots. Spencer is a good example of that – he will make $1 mil in base salary this year but has continued to play well beyond his cost.

    Side note: I know this site and everyone on it loves Doug Free but does 4 year/$32 mil seem high for him? Tyson Clabo is a proven T and Pro Bowler (albeit he plays RT for the Falcons) but he got 4 year/$25mil – 7 million LESS.

  16. Vince_Grey says:

    JB – I’d take just about any of these safeties… at the RIGHT price. The jack Weddle got made me go whoa! WAAAAAY too much IMO. The key is the amount it takes to get these guys. Don’t blow your cap any more than it’s blown now (We’re like $20 million plus in dead money next year already).

    I see JJ and son sitting back and letting the high dollar bidding settle down and then see what bargains are left. In our cap situation, I think that’s smart. If we were really like ONE player away from SB, I might argue going for it and to hell with the cap, but I just don’t see that right now.

  17. Vince_Grey says:

    Tyrone – Boy, do we disagree. I wouldn’t go near Nnamdi for the cheese he’ll get, even though he’s a top CB. We are a lot more than one player away from SB.

    We better figure some way to fix d-line though.

    As for Free, I was VERY pleased at the numbers. I was thinking they’d go a lot longer in years and at a lot higher signing bonus. Of course, 4 years from now, when Free is 31, if he’s a Pro Bowler and healthy we might regret only going 4 years instead of 6-7.

    You are the first and only person (Barring the true idiots) who I have seen have a problem with Free’s contract. Most say it’s a great deal for both sides.

  18. Tyrone–At FS, I’d still prefer to see a veteran. Now if it comes down to signing Huff OR Asomugha, I’ll take Nnamdi. As you mention, he won’t count too much more against the cap this year than Newman, and he still has probably four years left as a top 4 CB (or more, who knows?). You know I love AOA, although I would have liked to see Danieal Manning come to Dallas. He just signed with Houston, whose defense looks a whole lot better right now.

    On Free, I don’t mind the contract solely because I think he’s the type of guy who will keep working. I’d rather overpay a little (even though I think his deal is about market value due to his age) than get a “deal” on a guy who is going to cash it in once he’s paid. From that perspective, I agree with Vince.

  19. Greg says:

    Rick – while I agree that the stat line is misleading because circumstances, schemes, talent, etc are all difficult to compare output between 2 different players on 2 different teams, you can look at the general tendencies of a player: how many tackles (roughly a game), forced fumbles (a very good idiosyncratic stat), and passes defensed (ball awareness). These three stats give a good frame of how close to the ball a DB is. So I guess what I was showing with the stats, that if Huff is a target at safety, Elam might be in the ballpark in his typical game/season behavior but a better price. And if he is SS at a cheap price, then an experienced FS like Brodney Pool could perhaps be acquired as well to mentor AOA. I would rather see experience at FS too because there are position and scheme calls that get dictated sometimes from the FS.

    But to your statement about Sensy and in comparing 2 years of stats like Huff and Elam, he averaged: 3.4 solo tackles per game, 9 passes defensed per season, 1 sack per season, 3 interceptions per season, and no forced fumbles.

    Not better than Huff and not much better than Elam

  20. chris stallcup says:

    Well it seems as if cowboys are making a late push for asomugha

  21. john coleman says:

    JB- No more longterm silences please.

    It seems a though we have decided to sit back and wait in FA. Which I love! Enough of the overspending already.

    I would expect us to clean up late in the FA period with whatever pieces we need.

    I have been advocating staying away from FA’s, because of the dollars. I like the fact that we have took care of some of our own.

  22. Rick says:

    I wouldn’t use tackles, interceptions, PDs, and sacks as the stats to analyze, Greg. I would look at missed tackle percentage, touchdown allowed:interception caught ratio, yards per attempt allowed, and completion percentage allowed.

    And I will continue to reiterate how much Huff sucked when Rob Ryan was his coordinator. Ryan benched him twice for his on field play and his intangibles (work ethic, intelligence, etc.). He hasn’t been a good player until last year, his contract year. There’s a reason he’s drawn little interest on the free agent market.

    Granted, Elam has drawn little interest outside of Dallas… but he played fairly well in Ryan’s scheme the last two years. He’d be a Cowboy if the team weren’t cap-strapped; instead, they’re holding out until he gives in and signs a cheap deal.

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