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

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.


Cowboys’ Wide Receiver Situation: A Closer Look

Earlier today we posted our Dallas Cowboys 2010 projected depth chart.  We are predicting that, barring a trade, the ‘Boys will keep six wide receivers on the roster. Since neither Patrick Crayton nor Sam Hurd were dealt on draft day, it is unlikely another team is going to yield a draft pick for them.

But will one of the Cowboys’ pass-catchers be released?  NFL Network recently took a look at the situation:

If a Cowboys’ wide receiver is cut, it will almost certainly be either Crayton or Hurd. Obviously Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are locks to make the roster.  It won’t make many fans happy, but Roy Williams isn’t going anywhere either.  We can also throw Kevin Ogletree in that group, as his play in 2009 justifies his stay (particularly at such a young age).

While Crayton and Hurd were on the trade block, both still have valuable roles in Dallas.  Crayton may have lost his return duties, but he is still the team’s only true slot receiver. He doesn’t do anything extraordinary, but he is a reliable player who goes over the middle and rarely drops balls.  The #1 reason he would be released is financial–he is certainly getting paid more than a #4 WR should make.  Still, Austin, Bryant, Williams, and Ogletree are big, physical receivers who aren’t necessarily well-suited for slot duties.

Hurd’s main role on the Cowboys is on special teams. He is arguably the team’s best player in that area.  Don’t think for a second the Cowboys don’t value his contributions in the oft-overlooked third phase of the game.

If the Cowboys do release a wide receiver, we expect Hurd to be the one to leave. However, the Cowboys are in a position to truly keep the best (or near the best) 53 players.  Is Hurd really on the fringe with players like Curtis Johnson, Marcus Dixon, and Travis Bright?  We don’t think so.

Ironically, the Cowboys’ wide receiver situation may be linked to the foot of kicker David Buehler.  If Buehler can win all kicking duties and save a roster position, Dallas may be able to afford the luxury of keeping six wide receivers.  If Buehler struggles, the most likely roster spot to suffer would be the sixth receiver spot.