Each Sunday I take 10 quick hits on the Dallas Cowboys. The news of the week, analysis of key events and a little humor as I wrap up the week before free agency begins with First and 10.
1. Three questions I suspect we'll see answers about in the coming days, as it relates to the current roster. First, how much will the Dallas Cowboys restructure Tony Romo's deal? The Cowboys have restructured his deal each of the past two offseasons, to the tune of $10 million in salary cap savings in 2014 and $13 in salary cap savings in 2015. Entering this season Romo counts $20.835 million against the salary cap and he is set to make $8.5 million in base salary. Based on what the Cowboys have done the past two years, they could convert $7.5 million of Romo's base salary to bonus money. Of course, that just defers the pain down the line, but since Jerry Jones said he expects Romo to play "four or five more years" it's all good, right? Right?
We believe Dallas won't use this tool this year -- which speaks to the health of the Cowboys' cap.
By the way, our Mike Fisher explored other ways to create cap space, his so-called "Tyron-Tyrone Triggers," last month.
Second, Brandon Carr. Our Mark Lane explored the situation on Friday, with an assist from Mike Fisher's interview with Stephen Jones at 105.3 The Fan. Short story is, the Cowboys are exploring their options. We've been down this road before. Carr makes a heap of money, with a cap hit of $13.80 million in 2016 as it stands now. If Carr had produced more than the six interceptions he's produced in four years in Dallas, the money might be less of an issue. But Carr has leverage in that the Cowboys really aren't flush with quality corners at the moment, Orlando Scandrick is coming off injury and Morris Claiborne has the chance to walk. Still, there is rampant speculation the Cowboys will cut Carr.
The Cowboys' preference, I think, would be for Carr to agree to a restructure of some of that $9.1 million in base salary for 2016. If the Cowboys cut Carr next week it would save them $6.4 million in cap space. But it would also sap their depth at the position. This will probably be the Cowboys' toughest call of the offseason.
Third, can the Cowboys keep Rolando McClain? The keys here are money — McClain probably won't settle for a one-year deal this time — and his off-the-field issues that led to his four-game suspension. Remember — as good as McClain has been at times, the Cowboys have never gotten a full season (and offseason, for that matter) out of him. Do you pay for that potential or let the market dictate? I tend to think the Cowboys will be a little quicker on the trigger than they were a year ago, but don't expect a deal right away. And that opens the door for McClain to shop. Our KD Drummond presented an "advised offer" for McClain, along with the rest of the Cowboys' defensive free agents, last month.
2. On a completely related note, why on earth would you release Brandon Carr and replace him with Pac-Man Jones? It boggles my mind what people will speculate about. (Fish and Bryan Broaddus have both reported that Pac-Man is not high on Dallas' radar.)
3. Should the Cowboys go after Arian Foster? That's a interesting question, now that the leading rusher in Texans history is on the market. On the upside, highly productive when healthy. On the downside, he has dealt with two major injuries in his NFL career. With more than 1,700 touches rushing and receiving, his production and his age (29) is at a point where you begin to seriously worry about productivity, even in a part-time role. And that's what it would be with another aging back, Darren McFadden. I know it boggles the mind a bit — a tandem between Foster and McFadden. On paper it sounds wonderful. But I don't think Foster wants a timeshare and I don't think the Cowboys want to devote the financial resources it would take to get Foster to Dallas. But admit it — it took you about five minutes to connect the dots, didn't it?
4. The Dallas Cowboys met with several top defensive players at the NFL Scouting Combine. You'll find my breakdowns on those six players in our premium section, plus some extra nuggets of information from our Mike Fisher. The offensive players are coming in the next day or two. They're the type of premium analysis you get with a subscription to CowboysHQ.com, and it costs you one latte at Starbuck's a month. Seriously — you can't do without one latte a month? Check out how to be a premium member today.
5. The top end of this free-agent class doesn't exactly make me weak in the knees. Many of the top free agents at key positions are at a certain age where you start to have concerns — DE Mario Williams (31), DE Chris Long (30), FS Eric Weddle (31), CB Leon Hall (31), RB Matt Forte (30), DT Haloti Ngata (32) and TE Antonio Gates (35). Set aside production for a moment, and all of these guys have been productive in the NFL, some at an elite level. They're looking for four- or five-year deals, as they know this might be their last contract. Do you want to give premium money to a player that, odds are, won't make it the life of the contract? It's getting harder and harder to catch ascending players. The age factor is why I'm gravitating toward these three players:
DE Jason Pierre-Paul (27): He's been a Cowboys killer, he still has prime years left and, a year removed from his fireworks show, he should be better. Yes, he doesn't have all of his digits and his judgment is a question. But you don't sack the quarterback with fingers. Is he more explosive than somebody like, say, Atlanta's Adrian Clayborn?
CB Sean Smith (28): He's tall (6-foot-3), can create turnovers (13 created turnovers and three safeties in his career) and he defends about a dozen passes a season, on average. Not a world-beater, but consistent, tackles well and stays healthy. The height is important as he can fight for those 50-50 balls in the end zone.
LB Donald Butler (27): A productive starter in San Diego who had a career-high 96 tackles in 2015. Would bolster depth and be a starter for those inevitable games that Sean Lee misses due to injury.
6. I took Carson Wentz for the Cowboys at No. 4 in my full first-round mock draft at CowboysHQ.com this Friday. I'll be alternating between seven-round Cowboys mocks and full first-round scenarios every Friday up until the draft. Yes, I read Gil Brandt's comments earlier this week about Jerry Jones telling him there was no way the Cowboys would take a quarterback in the first round. Well, in the NFL, this time of year, there is no "truth" and mock drafts are an exercise in guesstimation. But teams love the speculation. It creates fan interest and it creates smokescreens that all 32 NFL teams surely use. That's why any mock draft I do should be taken with the exact grain of salt you would take any other mock draft. But it's fun, especially if two months later you're right.
7. The Dallas Cowboys have $902,744 in dead money for 2016. Remember when it felt like they had $90 million in dead money? Those were the days when free agency meant nothing.
8. Great Moments in Headline Porn for this week? From Inquisitr.com — "NFL Rumors: Dallas Cowboys acquiring Nick Foles from Los Angeles Rams" Really? REALLY? That's happening? And we're not on top of it?
No, it's not. As the story goes on to say (by way of quoting Sports Illustrated Fansided, which wrote an appropriate headline), "Dallas Cowboys would be interested in trading for Los Angeles Rams quarterback Nick Foles."
I think the instructor in my headline writing class in journalism school just had a seizure.
9. Tony Romo will have surgery on his collarbone — finally. Last week it was reportedly going to be a plate, according to Fish's sources. Now, after another MRI, reports are that it will be a Mumford procedure (the shaving of the clavicle). I'm all about Romo getting this right, but the longer you wait the longer it takes to get back for the offseason. Clock's a-tickin'. ... though as Fish notes, the "wait'' is needed for the bone to be healed enough to make all surgical options available.
10. Pro Days are upon us, now that the Combine is complete. From time to time I'll provide updates. I've been to a couple of pro days before. I remember the one I covered at the University of Florida in 2007. It's just a smaller combine. But if you're interested, these look like the key dates for this week, along with key players at those pro days that could be worth a look (player availability is subject to change):
March 7: Auburn (RB Peyton Barber, LB Kris Frost)
March 8: Oklahoma State (DE Emmanuel Ogbah); Illinois State (RB Marshaun Coprich); Jacksonville State (DT Devaunte Sigler)
March 9: Alabama (RB Derrick Henry, DT A'Shawn Robinson, LB Reggie Ragland, oh heck, everybody — it's Alabama); Colorado State (WR Rashard Higgins); Louisville (DT Sheldon Rankins), Oklahoma (WR Sterling Shepard, LB Eric Striker).
March 10: Clemson (DE Shaq Lawson, CB Mackensie Alexander); Mississippi State (QB Dak Prescott); Oregon (DE DeForest Buckner), Tulsa (WR Keyarris Garrett).
March 11: Ohio State (WR Braxton Miller, QB Cardale Jones, LB Joshua Perry, DE Joey Bosa); Texas Tech (RB DeAndre Washington). (The Braxton Miller to Dallas idea is fun, especially when you see his thoughts on teaming with Dez Bryant, here.)