Please read part I of our two-part series by clicking here.
One name to consider: Chicago's Mike Brown. The Bears would like to keep him, but committing big money to the oft-injured Brown is dicey. When healthy, he is a playmaker against the run and in pass coverage. He played in 15 games this season, collecting more than 70 tackles and a pair of interceptions. But the risk is obvious, as he played in just 21 games between 2004 and 2007. If he could agree to a contract that includes considerable bonuses for games played, number of plays, etc., he would be a terrific addition to the Dallas defense. Chances are many teams will shy away because of his medical history, so he likely will remain with the Bears, but Dallas would be smart to at least explore the option of adding him. If he stays in Chicago, chances are the Cowboys will draft a safety, as the free-agent options are limited.
At linebacker, not only is Thomas aging, but former first-round draft pick Bobby Carpenter appears more and more to be a decent player without a position, a capable backup at inside or outside linebacker, and a valuable contributor on special teams, but hardly a player who merits consideration if Thomas moves on.
One popular rumor that circulated in January had Dallas ready to offer a three-year contract worth $27-30 million to Baltimore's Ray Lewis if the Ravens let him hit free agency, but that move makes little sense. First of all, it's highly unlikely Baltimore lets him even get on the open market, but even if he did and the contract numbers Dallas reportedly is willing to offer are accurate, that deal would effectively end the team's offseason spending. Plus, Lewis is another aging star, and while still relatively healthy, he has made his Hall of Fame by collecting tackles that are numerous and violent, so even he will break down at some point, and his contract could become an instant financial albatross. If the Cowboys decide to add a linebacker through free agency, he has to be cheap – and more importantly – young.
Keep in mind also Baltimore has three linebackers who might get to the open market: Lewis and Terrell Suggs will cost far more than the Cowboys should spend. One interesting candidate is Bart Scott, but he is considered an emerging star and if he leaves Baltimore, it likely will be for an enormous contract.
There are also several other linebackers worth considering. If Buffalo's Angelo Crowell would listen after financial parameters are discussed, he would be a sensational addition. He's big, strong and an exceptional athlete who can play inside or outside. But like Scott, chances are he'll get huge dollars to stay in Buffalo or on the free agent market. Dallas could pay him, of course, but the Cowboys are somewhat hamstrung financially in this year's free agent market, and if they are going to shell out huge money for a free agent, it will be someone they think can help them win immediately, not down the road (translation: Lewis, not Scott).
One player who likely will not command big bucks on the open market but could be a valuable addition is Arizona's Monty Beisel – yes, he of the game-ending touchdown in the Cowboys' loss to the Cardinals. He's not a marquee name and won't sit atop many teams' wish lists, but he is versatile and tough, and could fill a number of roles on defense and on special teams … and likely will be cheap enough to fit into the team's offseason budget.
Finding a backup quarterback as a free agent will be the hardest part of the team's offseason shopping spree. Quarterbacks always cost more than players of comparable talent at other positions, so teams must be smart with their free agent dollars, as well as aggressive.
To choose a free agent quarterback, start by scratching names off the list of potential candidates. If Kurt Warner plays again, it will be as Arizona's starter, not Tony Romo's caddy. Kerry Collins might actually be ideal, but reportedly already has been told that he will remain the starter in Tennessee … if he and the Titans can reach an agreement on a contract. Even if the team low-balls him, he has been adamant about the fact that he won't sign a contract to be someone's backup, and obviously Dallas isn't trying to sign a starter, so Collins is out.
Others who can be eliminated right away include New England's Matt Cassel (too expensive, in dollars and compensatory draft picks). Jeff Garcia (too old), Charlie Batch (too brittle) and J.P. Losman (too expensive). Three names who might emerge as legitimate candidates: Chicago's Rex Grossman, Baltimore's Kyle Boller and Denver's Patrick Ramsey.
Yes, Grossman has been something of a national punchline at times because he's short and sometimes can't exactly find the plate with his fastball, but he moderately athletic and has a very strong arm. He does turn the ball over too much – sometimes way too much – but he also did lead a Chicago team with an otherwise-vanilla offense to a Super Bowl, which is no small accomplishment.
Baltimore's Boller was a star at Cal who's pro highlight might still be from the day he was drafted, when ESPN showed him kneeling on the 50-yard line and firing a ball through the uprights from 60 yards away – pretty impressive, to be sure, but since NFL rules don't allow quarterbacks to take a knee and then heave the ball downfield (despite Randall Cunningham's best efforts to have the rule changed), that particular skill is of little value. But Boller remains a smart player with a strong arm, which means he'll find employment for years. Consider him a (much) younger version of Brad Johnson with a still-strong arm: you probably don't want him as your starter for 16 games, but he could be the proverbial "bus driver" fill-in that many coaches openly covet.
Ramsey is the wildcard at the position. Many raised an eyebrow when mad scientist Steve Spurrier drafted him out of Tulane, which isn't exactly USC or Miami when it comes to breeding NFL passers. There are some who think he actually took a step backward after working with Spurrier. Ramsey is extremely smart and has a bazooka of an arm, but appears likely to remain a career backup – sort of a shorter Josh McCown.
The pool of wide receivers who are appealing free agents is actually rather shallow. The clear headliner of the group is Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but he will get a monster contract, whether he stays with the Bengals or bolts town just to get away from the Bengals. There are some other names on the free agent list that are a little more famous, but Dallas should avoid (hear that, Jerry?): Amani Toomer, Ashley Lelie and Koren Robinson all have been productive at times, but whether because of age, inconsistency, injury or legal issues, have not proven reliable and are not worth the investment.
Assuming Houshmandzadeh is not a viable candidate, Dallas might want to look at Devery Henderson of New Orleans. His career high for receptions is just 32, but he's a deep threat with decent size and blazing speed. Whether Owens stays in Dallas or gets sent packing, Henderson is the type of speed receiver who can open up the field with the mere threat of his speed. Hank Baskett of Philadelphia is another wideout with attractive size and speed, but to this point, that's all his career has been – an attractive possibility, more than actual production. Nevertheless, he has improved a great deal in the last two years, and might be worth a look if the finances work out.
The $27 million man?
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