By Matthew Postins
Now that the Dallas Cowboys have decided to use the franchise tag on linebacker – and soon-to-be-defensive end – Anthony Spencer, the Cowboys face more decisions as free agency approaches next week.
Sure, the Cowboys still have some work to do in order to massage the salary cap. For example, Spencer’s $10 million-plus contract puts the Cowboys right back over the salary cap. But theoretically they’ll want to try and keep some of their own free agents while courting new players.
So who stays and who goes? We tackle that below. But first, a quick review of what has already happened as of March 5:
Along with placing the franchise tag on Spencer, the Cowboys have already re-signed long snapper L.P. Ladouceur and center Phil Costa.
As for the rest …
RB Felix Jones: The fifth-year pro rushed for 2,728 yards and 11 touchdowns as a Cowboy. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
Stay or Go?: Go. Jones did yeoman’s work last year, playing all 16 games despite myriad injuries. But it’s clear he’s not the explosive player he was early in his career. Plus, his value-add to the Cowboys – his kickoff return duties – were taken away from him last year. The Cowboys may address DeMarco Murray’s backup via free agency or with current third-stringers Philip Tanner or Lance Dunbar.
WR Kevin Ogletree: In four NFL seasons Ogletree caught 57 passes for 730 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Stay or Go: Go. Ogletree had a semi-breakthrough season, catching 32 passes for 436 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also had a big season opener against the New York Giants. But the Cowboys have the rest of their receivers under contract. Plus, Dwayne Harris seems to be a more viable option at the No. 3 receiver spot and can return kicks, something Ogletree cannot do.
TE John Phillips: In three NFL seasons Phillips has caught 30 passes for 218 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Stay or Go?: Lean toward stay. Phillips won’t cost more than the league minimum, he’s a valuable blocker on running downs and the Cowboys like to carry three tight ends. There is likely little market for Phillips outside of Dallas.
P Brian Moorman: The 12-year vet came to Dallas during the season to replace the injured Chris Jones. He averaged 44.6 yards per punt.
Stay or Go?: Go. Moorman will cost the Cowboys nearly twice as much as Jones, who should be ready for training camp.
OL Derrick Dockery: The 11-year vet started two games last year.
Stay or Go?: Go. The Cowboys have to get younger at the position and Dockery showed his age in limited duty.
DT Kenyon Coleman: He played in seven games, starting five, before an injury ended his season.
Stay or Go: Lean toward go. Coleman would be valuable depth, but entering his 12th NFL year, he’ll cost the Cowboys nearly $1 million on a one-year deal. Dallas will look to go younger at that position group with the starting lineup seemingly set.
DT Brian Schaefering: The fourth-year vet played three games late in the season after injuries sapped depth at the position.
Stay or Go?: Go. Schaefering had one tackle in three games and was a non-factor.
LB Victor Butler: After four seasons Butler had 50 total tackles and made three career starts.
Stay or Go?: Stay. Stay? Well, Butler certainly hasn’t panned out the way the Cowboys have hoped. But at 6-foot-2, 231 pounds, Butler has the size and speed for the Cover 2. He’ll have to fight for a spot in training camp, but at a one-year salary of $715,000 he’s a reasonable investment to see if he can serve as a backup to Bruce Carter.
LB Brady Poppinga: The nine-year vet played four games, with one start, for Dallas last season.
Stay or Go?: Go. At 259 pounds, Poppinga isn’t a fit for the Cover 2 at linebacker.
LB Ernie Sims: Signed at midseason, the seven-year veteran played in 10 games and started six games after injuries ended the seasons of Sean Lee and Bruce Carter.
Stay or Go?: Stay. Don’t be surprised if Sims gets a two- or three-year deal. Sims, at 225 pounds, is a good fit for the Cover 2. In fact, Sims was the first-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2006 when current Cowboys defensive line coach Rod Marinelli was Lions head coach. Sims’ knowledge of the scheme makes him a valuable re-signing.
CB Mike Jenkins: The former first-round pick had eight interceptions in five NFL seasons.
Stay or Go?: Go. The Cowboys reportedly tried to trade Jenkins to Indianapolis last spring. Jenkins appeared to be the odd man out early last season, and when injuries forced him into the starting lineup he played average. The big issue is that Jenkins has not made the game-changing plays the Cowboys are looking for in the new Cover 2.
SS Charlie Peprah: He played in five games, made one start, and had one interception.
Stay or Go?: Lean toward stay. Peprah would only cost $840,000 on a one-year deal and that’s less than half of what the recently released Gerald Sensabaugh would have made. The Cowboys now have to address the position.
FS Eric Frampton: Played 13 games, started two, but had no interceptions. He was one of Dallas’ best special teams players.
Stay or Go?: Stay. Frampton can play either safety position and his special teams value is worth bringing him back.
SS Danny McCray (Restricted Free Agent): McCray made 10 starts and finished with 43 tackles. He is considered one of the Cowboys’ best special teams players.
Stay or Go?: Likely stay. The Cowboys have to tender McCray a one-year contract worth approximately $1.3 million in order to have the right to match any other offer that might come McCray’s way. He’s not a likely starter at safety – he looked overmatched at times last year – but he’s too valuable on special teams to give up.
CB Sterling Moore (RFA): Moore played in five games last year and defended one pass.
Stay or Go?: Moore was a Super Bowl starter his rookie season, but fell out of favor in New England. Like McCray, he’ll cost $1.3 million to keep. From here, it seems like Moore is a Go.
LB Orie Lemon (Exclusive Rights Free Agent): Lemon played in four games before an injury ended his season.
Stay or Go?: Stay. As an ERFA, Lemon must accept a Cowboys contract if he’s offered one. Chances are the Cowboys aren’t quite ready to give up on Lemon.