By Matthew Postins
Free agency begins on Tuesday and while the Dallas Cowboys hope to keep some of their players, they will be shopping the market looking for potential starters and backups for 2013.
Of key interest will be defensive players that fit new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s Cover 2 system, new offensive linemen that could push the current linemen on the roster and backups at positions like running back and cornerback.
Don’t expect the Cowboys to spend too much money in free agent. It’s taken quite a bit to get them under the salary cap as it is. In fact, they may have as little as $175,000 to spend, if some reports are accurate.
So whom will Dallas target? Here are potential targets on defense, by position. Offense ran the other day.
Defensive line: As far as interior linemen go, would anyone at Valley Ranch be opposed to having Chris Canty back? He was a solid run defender when he was with the Cowboys and he now has the advantage of having played in a 4-3 with the New York Giants. The Giants cut him for cap reasons. He’s already getting looks from at least two other teams, so if the Cowboys want him they better jump on him fast. One potentially cheap option is Sammie Lee Hill of Detroit, who is stuck behind a rotation that includes Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Corey Williams. He could be starter material in the right system and he is considered a good, versatile defender. As far as edge pass rushers, one player that makes sense is Chicago’s Israel Idonije. Why? When new coaches come to new teams, they fall back on players they’re familiar with, especially if they play their system. Idonije played under new Cowboys defensive line coach Rod Marinelli in Chicago. He knows the Cover 2 system and knows what Marinelli expects. Idonije has 21 sacks the last three years, so he’s capable of making an impact. William Hayes is way below most radars, but he has tools the Cowboys might want in a backup 4-3 end. He’s considered an above-average run stopper, and that might allow him to spell players like DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer on obvious rushing downs.
Linebacker: The big need here is for a strong-side linebacker who can start in the wake of Dan Conner’s release. I’m not totally convinced you won’t see current Cowboys free agent Ernie Sims back in Dallas in 2013. He’s cheap and he knows the Cover 2. If that’s the case he could be that strong-side starter until the Cowboys can groom one. Another option could be Nick Barnett. He’s considered an above-average defender against the pass and an efficient tackler. Thomas Howard is a player the Cowboys could take a flier on, as Howard is coming off missing most of 2012 with a knee injury. But he was an every-down backer in 2011.
Defensive backs: With Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick in the fold, it’s hard to see the Cowboys go after another cornerback – unless he just has obvious Cover 2 skills. Kelvin Hayden and Zachary Bowden are two players to watch, if for no other reason because they were in Chicago with Marinelli last year. The Cowboys are more likely to spend money at safety, where they cut Gerald Sensabaugh. But don’t get visions of Ed Reed coming to town. The Cowboys are much more likely to pursue a player like New England’s Patrick Chung or Miami’s Chris Clemons. Both come with debits, but Chung is considered a solid run defender and is coming off an injury. Clemons is better in coverage and is coming off a nice year in Miami.
Special teams: The Cowboys won’t pursue a deep snapper after locking up L.P. Ladouceur. Same goes for placekicker, where Dan Bailey is firmly entrenched. The Cowboys may seek competition for returner Dwayne Harris, but that will likely come internally or through the draft. The one spot the Cowboys might look at is punter, where Chris Jones is coming off an injury. But don’t expect the Cowboys to spend money right away on that position. They’ll likely let Jones kick this offseason and sign a vet to push him at training camp, if that becomes necessary.