Free Agency in the NFL is like Christmas. You know it’s coming, the anticipation becomes palpable in the last few hours, and everyone pretends they’re not peeking at their presents early. Normally, Cowboys fans are spectators–we’re lucky if Dallas signs one player during this time–but this season America’s Team was at the forefront of the headlines scrolling at the bottom of SportsCenter in the early afternoon. A few players aren’t with the team any longer, and a few new jerseys will be in the pro shop. Here’s the breakdown.
Laurent Robinson leaves the team. A lot of articles and airtime is already being devoted to this, so there are only two things to know about this. First, the Jaguars paid a sizable amount of money for a sixteen game body of work (five years, $32.5 million with $13.8 million guaranteed). The Cowboys were never going to match that price point, and that’s good. Jerry Jones has a penchant for dealing out huge contracts just to avoid knowing what the team would be like without that player. You should be glad that he stayed fiscally conservative. Second thing to remember: I told you this would happen, that can’t be understated.
Brandon Carr gets signed to his favorite team. There were two starting cornerbacks available in this class, and the Cowboys signed one. Dallas desperately needed a cornerback to shore up the pass defense, and they quickly identified the best available player to accomplish that. Brandon Carr was cut by the Chiefs, which isn’t something that you normally want to hear. Instead of his talent being the reason, Carr was cut because the Chiefs couldn’t afford his contract–they signed Stanford Routt instead; enjoy that, Kansas City. Brandon Carr has admitted that he likes to make the four quarters a long war, specifically mentioning that he wants the receiver to take his verbal and physical barbs personally. Cowboys fans will need to get used to a corner who seeks contact instead of helping running backs audition for the US Olympic hurdling team. From a scouting perspective, he is kind of limited. He is really only good in man coverage, specifically press-man schemes. (Not so) Coincidentally, the Ryan defense is predicated on cornerbacks playing a high percentage of man coverage schemes, with the vast majority being press-man derivatives. Not only did they address a positional need, but they signed a player that is ideal for the defensive system.
Kyle Orton is waiting in the wings. The Cowboys wasted no time in addressing a problem that wasn’t given a lot of attention going into free agency, even though it has burned the club in the past. In four years of being a full time starter, Tony Romo has started the whole season only two years. First Brad Johnson screwed us over, then Jon Kitna had to go and get old. At first glance it seems odd to sign a backup to a multi-year deal, but because the likelihood is high that he will play, the best possible replacement was needed. Orton had to be signed quickly because another team would have offered him a starting position if negotiations took too long. Orton isn’t a pro bowler by any means, but the Clevelands, Jacksonvilles, and Miamis of the world might have come calling if the Cowboys didn’t lock him down. David Gerrard has been given the opportunity to battle for a starting spot, Kyle Orton would have gotten more than one call. His contract looks scary ($5 million guaranteed), but the team did what it had to do. If a good quarterback isn’t ready to take the wheel when Romo goes down, it doesn’t matter how well the other parts of the team are playing, the season is over.
Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings add depth at Guard. The Cowboys had a lot of holes, but on Offense the most glaring was the interior Offensive Line. The stronger the line, the better the running attack will be–which obviously translates to success through the air. Both of these players have been quality performers with other franchises, and having experienced tackles at their shoulders will only help them, but that shouldn’t preclude Dallas from looking hard at David DeCastro from Stanford with the number 14 pick.
Dan Connor is underrated. The Inside Linebacker previously with the Carolina Panthers is going to be the most impressive but least talked about signing from this class in a few seasons–not unlike starting linebacker Sean Lee. Lee and Connor are similar players, and have a lot of experience playing together from their time at Penn State. Sean Lee’s impact on the defense was almost immediate, and there’s a possibility that we just added someone like him. Take some time to dream about those possibilities. Connor was brought in to compete with Bruce Carter at the position, but if he is anything like his fellow Nittany Lion he will find himself involved in a lot of plays no matter what his position on the depth chart.
Now free agency is pretty much over, and everyone’s focus goes to the draft. Only time will tell if these signings turn out to be a new Sega Genesis or lumps of coal.