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 who fit new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s Cover 2 system, new offensive linemen who 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 agency. It’s taken quite a bit to get them under the salary cap as it is.
So whom will Dallas target? Here are potential targets on offense, by position. We’ll take a look at defense later.
Quarterback: Do not expect the Cowboys to go after a free-agent quarterback, given that both Tony Romo and Kyle Orton are under contract.
Running back: This assumes the Cowboys don’t want Felix Jones back and aren’t sold that either Phillip Tanner or Lance Dunbar can be DeMarco Murray’s primary backup. Should Danny Woodhead hit the open market he would make a great value pickup. Last year more than a quarter of his carries and more than 40 percent of his receptions went for first downs or touchdowns. That’s productivity the Cowboys could use right now. He might cost the Cowboys upward of $2 million per year. New Orleans backup Chris Ivory is a restricted free agent and he’s only an option if the Saints don’t tender him a contract offer. He’s durable, quick and doesn’t have a lot of tread on his tires. He’s used to being in a time share and he can do a lot with 10-12 carries per game. Thirty-one year old back Ronnie Brown has a lot of tread on his tires, but he’s carved a niche as a nice third-down back with great receiving skills. He caught 44 passes a year ago in San Diego. He could probably be had for less than $2 million. Peyton Hillis might be an option, even though his production has fallen greatly since his 1,000-yard season in Cleveland. New Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown coached Hillis and might recommend him. Hillis is a big back who can move the chains and could be had for less than $1 million.
Fullback: If the Cowboys don’t release Lawrence Vickers for cap reasons they won’t address this position. If they do release Vickers for cap reasons, it’s still not a given they’ll address the position in free agency. If they do, Corey McIntyre and Jerome Felton are options. Felton just got done opening holes for Adrian Peterson and McIntyre probably has no place in Buffalo anymore.
Wide Receiver: With all but Kevin Ogletree under contract for 2013, it seems unlikely the Cowboys would address this position.
Tight end: The Cowboys could use a blocking tight end if they decide not to pursue their own free agent, John Phillips. Delanie Walker hits the market and he’s considered one of the better blocking tight ends in the game. In times like these, when teams don’t want to spend too much money, referrals on lower-tier players come in handy. Will Heller played in Tampa Bay when Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli were there and might get a look, if they recommend him.
Offensive line: The Cowboys clearly need help at the position, but you can eliminate the big-time names. If the Cowboys don’t release OT Doug Free for cap reasons they probably won’t address tackle. If they do, Jermon Bushrod might thrive in a situation in which he doesn’t have to protect the quaterback’s blind side and has a more mobile quarterback to protect in Tony Romo. Detroit right tackle Gosder Cherlius is believed to be an inconsistent tackle, but his play appears to be improving and the Lions are taking a risk letting him hit the open market. Chad Rinehart is an underappreciated guard in Buffalo who is considered an above-average pass protector. He’s been a part-time starter up north and might relish the chance to compete for a starting position.
Don’t expect the Cowboys to address center now that both Phil Costa and Ryan Cook are under contract.
It’s no given that Mackenzy Bernadeau or Nate Livings will be the starters at guard next year. Louis Vazquez has been a starter in San Diego for the past few years and has committed just one penalty in four NFL seasons. That’s a percentage the Cowboys might be willing to live with after last year. Kevin Boothe is another guard who is rarely penalized, but he is considered more of a liability in pass protection than Vasquez.