Most of you have read about the Dallas Cowboys’ only major move this offseason: Anthony Spencer was franchised again. While he is probably pissed about it (if he gets injured, there goes a multi-year, lucrative contract), in terms of on-field performance, we should be thrilled. And when I say on-field performance, I mean on defense. Truthfully, I have no idea how the Cowboys will maneuver around their cap situation. Even though they were 20 million above the cap, they just doled out a 10.6 million dollar contract, so obviously they figured out a creative way around it. It probably requires restructuring the contract of virtually anyone who makes money while fasting during free agency.
Dec 16, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is sacked in the fourth quarter by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer (93) at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Steelers 27-24 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
From the perspective of a team like the Dallas Cowboys who are transitioning to a new defensive scheme and could use a talented player reprising his former role in a newly created position, keeping Anthony Spencer was a great signing. There is no one who could provide his impact on a one year deal. What that also means is that money that
could be used on one or more offensive linemen was instead used on one player, a player who could have been replaced by two or three internal options, or, if the Cowboys disliked said options, a second round draft pick. Basically, the Dallas Cowboys traded a free-agent lineman for what looks like a very good defensive lineman. I could legitimately support either side. Based on my previous articles, you could (correctly) assume I’d prefer the former, but maintaining what looked (before injuries) like a top 10 defense with a one year signing is fine with me. The only reason I think of the move as a trade-off is because of the Cowboys’ cap situation. The 10.6 million dollars they spent on him could have been spent on someone else, and I doubt they have much room left.
Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles (43) runs the ball against the Dallas Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh (43) and linebacker Anthony Spencer (93) at Cowboys Stadium. The Saints beat the Cowboys 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Since the Cowboys made their call, how does that effect their other plans?
1.) My last mock draft is completely shot now. In other words, the Dallas Cowboys probably don’t touch a Defensive End until next year’s draft.
My most recent mock draft placed a Defensive End, Sheldon Richardson, as their first round pick. Obviously that is now out of the question. In one piece of good news, that does mean that they can focus more on offensive line first in the draft. As of now, it looks like Jonathan Cooper/Chance Warmack (Cooper being more likely) will be the first round pick, and Larry Warford the second. (Note: in my mock draft, I had them flipped around. My most recent scouting report showed that I previously viewed Dallas Thomas with rose-colored glasses and also illuminated me to a Senior Bowl injury that could set him back a few rounds. Since I made my mock draft three weeks afterwards, missing that is a grave error.)
As I have written time and time again, offensive line is a grave need for the Dallas Cowboys. For too long, the position has been neglected early in the draft, and the effect is obvious. While franchising Spencer almost certainly kills any chance of an impact free agent offensive lineman, it does solidify the chance of an early offensive line draft pick. This has to be considered a positive development. They could feasibly draft OL-S-OL or OL-OL-S.With Gerald Sensabaugh gone, safety is also a need that needs to be urgently filled. I consider it enough of a need to warrant a second or third round pick. With my trust in Dallas Cowboys Owner and GM Jerry Jones at an all time low, I could also see them go WR-RB-QB-RB. That would be completely idiotic, and I would be devastated, but it would show “flash.” (Note: Previous two sentences attempt to make light of the Cowboys’ “unconventional” method of drafting wants early and desperate needs late or not at all. I do not think said “glamour position” scenario will actually happen.) In all seriousness, despite the Cowboys drafting players that don’t seem like, or just are not, needs, two said picks (Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray from the 2011 draft) have been excellent picks. That means that they can’t entirely fault them for “unconventional” drafts, but not picking an offensive lineman in a draft this deep is inexcusable.
Oct 13, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Jonathan Cooper (64) during a game against the Miami Hurricanes at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
2.) It takes some of the fun out of the first round of the draft.
It is entirely possible that the Cowboys could have Jonathan Cooper and Bjoren Warner at 18. What if the had let Anthony Spencer go? Wouldn’t that be fun! Two completely legitimate players at two needs and the Cowboys could only pick one. Well, that isn’t a possibility any more, since drafting a DE with the first round pick after franchising a player would be completely useless unless Jason Hatcher throws his entire career away. That isn’t happening, so the question now becomes: If neither Jonathan Cooper nor Chance Warmack is available at 18 (another completely legitimate scenario), what happens then? If I was GM, I would try to trade down and pick up a third round pick, but if they had to pick 18, I would prefer they just draft a safety instead of reaching. I just stated the obvious, but I also meant for that to highlight the hole after Jonathan Cooper; after him there isn’t another lineman worth drafting until D.J. Fluker, who struggles with pass protection.
3.) The two picks after the first round become way more fun. (All analysis assumes no trade-downs from the first round.)
The Dallas Cowboys have four pressing needs: Two Guards, a Right Tackle and a Safety. The fourth round and later isn’t a breeding ground for any non-special teams starters, so the Cowboys need three picks to draft four players. (I’m operating under the assumption, as mentioned earlier, that the Cowboys can’t find a starter in free agency. If they somehow can, they are miracle workers. They also destroy this
Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys guard Nate Livings (71) in action against the New Orleans Saints at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
entire paragraph. Getting rid of a 20 million dollar cap deficit is very difficult, and getting rid of one while maintaining a veteran-heavy, long-term signed roster is near impossible. I doubt this will need any revisions.) How they choose to prioritize this draft will reveal how they feel about last year’s moves. If they go offensive line three straight times, it shows they have confidence in Matt Johnson, or that they intend to try Brandon Carr in Safety. The latter is unlikely, but so is trusting a fourth round pick who missed all last year. For these reasons, I can’t imagine they don’t draft a safety in the first three rounds, so I am plugging one into this hypothetical scenario.
What will be more telling is how they decide which offensive line spots to fill. This leaves two draft picks for three positions. If they go with two guards, Doug Free is somehow safe, even though it currently looks like he could be cut. If the Cowboys go with a right tackle instead of a guard spot, they leave Nate Livings be. I think this is the most likely scenario, since the Cowboys have reportedly designated his contract (along with Mackenzy Bernadeau and others) for restructuring. The Cowboys wouldn’t restructure a contract if they expected to release him; restructuring contracts, as shown by Demarcus Ware’s, usually increase dead money. Still, Bernadeau does not play well enough to be a day one starter, so I’m assuming he is an overpaid backup. That leaves two guards for one spot (the top three picks will leave one spot open.)
It appears to me, as I write this paper in mid-March, that Nate Livings is very likely to be a 2013 Dallas Cowboys starting lineman. Next year, I hope we can finally say his run as a Dallas Cowboys is over.