FREE AGENCY: Spears Trade Rumors?

The Cowboys were solid if not spectacular up front in 2007. What does it mean in free agency in 2008 and how do the recent trade rumors involving Marcus Spears fit into the Cowboys' plan at defensive end?

PERSONNEL AT DEFENSIVE END
Starter -- LE Marcus Spears (24) [5 years/$9.35 million through 2010]
Starter -- RE Chris Canty (25) [RFA]
Backup --DE Jason Hatcher (25) [4 years/$2.2 million through 2010]
Backup --DE Stephen Bowen (23) [1 year/$445,000 through 2009]

Wade Phillips came to the Cowboys a year ago hoping to make the Dallas defense more aggressive and more productive when it came to sacks and tackles for loss.

For the most part, he accomplished those goals. The Cowboys finished the 2007 regular season ninth in the league in total defense, giving up just 307.7 yards per game and third in sacks with 46.

There is still work to be done, however.

In fact, looking at the defensive line for the Cowboys just one month after the playoff loss to New York, it would be safe to say Dallas needs to improve its front three before the 2008 season begins if it plans to advancing past the Divisional round of the playoffs.

It starts at the defensive end spots- especially with Marcus Spears. Spears, a first round pick out of LSU in the 2005 draft, has been largely disappointing in his first three years in the league.

Marcus Spears, a former first-round pick out of LSU, has been mentioned in numerous trade rumors this offseason.


2008 Free Agent DEs
Unrestricted Free Agents
Kolodziej, Ross (ARZ)
Schobel, Bo (ARZ)
Tafoya, Joe (ARZ)
Hargrove, Tony (BUF)
Wallace, Al (BUF)
Rucker, Mike (CAR)
Robinson, Bryan (CIN)
Smith, Justin (CIN)
Ekuban, Ebenezer (DEN)
Smith, Corey (DET)
Kalu, Ndukwe (HST)
Thomas, Josh (IND)
McCray, Bobby (JAX)
Orr, Shantee (JAX)
Allen, Jared (KC)
Wilkerson, Jimmy (KC)
Scott, Darrion (MIN)
Wynn, Renaldo (NO)
Clemons, Chris (OAK)
Kelly, Tommy (OAK)
Eason, Nick (PIT)
Kirschke, Travis (PIT)
Douglas, Marques (SF)
Young, Bryant (SF)
LaBoy, Travis (TEN)
Odom, Antwan (TEN)

Restricted Free Agents
Smith, Antonio (ARZ)
Davis, Chauncey (ATL)
Fanene, Jonathan (CIN)
Fraser, Simon (CLV)
Canty, Chris (DAL)
Wright, Mike (NE)
Savage, Josh (NO)
Awasom, Adrian (NYG)
Bingham, Ryon (SD)
Johnson, Trevor (SL)

Despite the fact he was solid against the run, the third-year pro did not have the kind of breakout year he hoped for. For the season he recorded just 30 tackles, including two sacks and two forced fumbles.

His backup, Jason Hatcher, was almost just as productive, with 27 total tackles and two sacks himself. TheRanchReport.com is hearing Hatcher is in store for even more playing time next season.

In an offseason interview with The Ranch Report, Hatcher said Phillips' aggressive scheme is a great fit for his strengths.

"I think I've changed a lot with the scheme changing," he said. "This is my type of scheme that we're playing now because I can make plays in it. Hopefully, as time goes on, I will continue to get better."

Hatcher's improvement is just one of many reasons Spears has been mentioned in multiple trade rumors this year.

The question is, what would the Cowboys get in return? If the first indications mean anything, not a whole lot. Rumors first circulated in an article in the Dallas Morning News three weeks and TheRanchReport.com is hearing no team has even come close to giving the Cowboys what they would want in return.

The Cowboys are believed to want a first-day pick in the 2008 draft, while the best offer rumored to be out there is a sixth-round choice.

Don't look for anything to happen there just yet.

If Spears was moved out, Hatcher would obviously get more time at his position, and DT Jay Ratliff could also see time there as well.

The other side of the line is a different story as Chris Canty now appears to be living up to expectations as one of the steals of the 2005 draft.

Canty finished the 2007 season with 43 total tackles and four sacks and appeared to improve with nearly every snap.

At his size, 6-7, 300 pounds, he's becoming the playmaking force the Cowboys need in their 3-4 scheme- both in rushing the passer and in stopping the run.

As a restricted free agent, the Cowboys would like to keep Canty around to see what he can do next season. Contract discussions are not yet underway.

Canty's backup, Stephen Bowen, was recently signed to a one-year deal worth $445,000. The Cowboys like his size (6-5, 300) and his improvement last season.

For the year, he made 14 tackles and accounted for nine quarterback pressures off the bench. Bowen will continue to see more snaps in 2008 as the Cowboys would like to see if he has long-term potential in the league.

In terms of free agency, the Cowboys likely won't get too aggressive at defensive end even though a number of quality players should be available. Leading the way is Kansas City's Jared Allen, one of the best speed rushers in the game and Baltimore's Terrell Suggs, who is coming off a down year.

Carolina's Julius Peppers is also available as is Cincinnati's Justin Smith.

At this point, it does not appear any of these players is a legitimate target for the Cowboys this offseason.

Other players available include: Jacksonville's Bobby McCray, Carolina's Mike Rucker, Tennessee's Antwan Odom, former Cowboy and current Denver Bronco Ebenezer Ekuban and New Orleans' Renaldo Wynn.

Also don't forget about these defensive ends, currently without a team:

Simeon Rice - Was waived by the Indianapolis Colts recently and also played for the Denver Broncos last season.

Lance Johnstone - He was released by the Oakland Raiders earlier this year but could fill a situational pass rushing role.

Kenard Lang - Could be a fourth end for a team and plays the run well.

Michael Haynes (DT) - The former first-round pick of the Chicago Bears had a tryout with the Houston Texans last season.

Tyoka Jackson (DT) - Can play inside or outside as a fourth end or tackle.

Dave Ball (DT) - Versatile defensive lineman who has drawn a lot interest around the league last season. Had tryouts for the Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, and Tennessee Titans.

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