Needing to cut at least $20 million off the team salary, the Dallas Cowboys parted ways with four veteran players Tuesday afternoon. Marion Barber, Roy Williams, Leonard Davis, and Kris Brown are all reported to be let go when the time comes on Thursday afternoon in which teams can start to release players.
By ridding themselves of these expensive contracts for underachieving players, the Cowboys freed up around $15 million, which is approximately three-fourths of the amount they need to get rid of in order to meet the new salary cap standards. The rest of the $5 million should come in the form of restructuring of contracts for Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, and Miles Austin. The Cowboys will be able to turn the money due in the form of salary to these players into bonus money. As a result, each player would still make the same amount of money over the next year, but the Cowboys will not take as big of a hit against the salary cap. The restructuring of these deals could amount in around $17.5 million if all three deals were changed to the minimum putting the Cowboys $12.5 million under the salary cap. It would not totally free Dallas of paying these players their designated salary at all; however, it would push the issues further down the road to where the Cowboys would have to deal with it in upcoming offseasons. This money has already been used on re-signing Doug Free, and would be put to use acquiring other free agents to replace the recently cut Cowboys. More money, around $2 million, could also come in the way of the release of Marc Colombo, but it is still uncertain whether or not he will remain with the team.
Yet, after releasing the four veteran players, the Cowboys are left with a few holes. Three starting players are gone as well as an insurance policy for the erratic kicker leaving quite a few holes to go with the ones already existing on the defensive side of the ball. Dallas could look within at recent draft picks to fill some or all of the holes, but one or two free agents may need to be signed to replace the likes of Barber and Williams. The options will have to remain cheap because most of the money this offseason needs to be spent on the defensive line and safety positions, but the Cowboys may find themselves spending a little money to replace Davis with a young offensive lineman. Here is a look at a few of the options available to the Cowboys to take over for the departed veterans.
Finding Barber’s replacement will not be very difficult for the Cowboys because they have already done it. DeMarco Murray will take over as the third running back on the team, and Felix Jones will move into the starting role to replace the Barbarian. Barber slowed down in recent years moving away from his bruising style of running and attempting to be more of a finesse runner. He failed miserably, and was a big reason the Cowboys could not convert short yardage plays or punch the ball in around the goal line. Tashard Choice will most likely take over the short yardage plays seeing that both the other backs are more speed guys. Murray should find some carries in each game, but the real replacement to Barber is Jones. Felix will be asked to shoulder much more of the load, and with his injury history it could present a problem to the team. Felix must be a more physical runner this season if the Cowboys want to get back their rushing attack. He cannot shy away from contact, nor can he be taken down every time by the first guy to meet him. All fans know he has big play potential, but he must be able to pick up the intermediate yardage pick-ups as well in order to be a true starting running back in this league.
Brown was brought in near the end of the season to challenge David Buehler, who had been struggling making field goals the whole season. He was slated to be in training camp and push Buehler to be more consistent, and to possibly take over for the starter if he was not producing the needed results. Yet, the former Texans kicker was due over a million dollars this upcoming season, and a much cheaper option was found in undrafted free agent kicker Dan Bailey out of Oklahoma State. Bailey won the Lou Groza award last year, which is awarded to the nation’s top kicker. He missed only one of his 66 extra points last season, and he made 24 of his 28 field goal attempts. The major question with all college kickers is whether or not they have the power to make the 40+ yard field goals. Bailey missed one of his 40-49 yard attempts last season, and he made 3 of his 4 attempts of 50 yards or more. Bailey will most likely be responsible for field goal duties, and with a new rule in place Buehler can stay on the team as the kickoff man and return to his role as a coverage man on the punt team. The new rule allows for a 46 man roster rather than the former 45 man game day roster plus a third quarterback. The Cowboys will most likely use this extra spot for a second kicker allowing them to use a more accurate kicker for field goals for a much cheaper price than Kris Brown.
Big Leonard Davis was an impact offensive guard for the Cowboys the last four seasons, excluding last year. Davis was a mauler. He would run over the opposing defensive lineman and create huge holes for his running backs to move through. Yet, last season, Davis experienced a huge fall off. He could no longer create the big holes or move to the next level to block the linebackers and safeties. He seemed slow and sluggish. Some people contributed it to his age while others said it was a lack of effort. It was most likely a combination of both, but whatever it was it led to the fifth most flagged player over the last five seasons to be released. Unlike Barber and Brown, finding an internal replacement or rookie to step in for Davis might be a tall order. David Arkin and Bill Nagy are too inexperienced and not yet ready to take over the starting left guard position. Phil Costa is intriguing, and he will get a good look in training camp and will most likely challenge for the starting role. Yet, the next Cowboys left guard is most likely a free agent. Davin Joseph is one of the best young guards in the NFL. Playing for the Buccaneers the past few seasons has helped him stay under the radar, but he has already been to one Pro Bowl. Joseph has been bothered by foot injuries over his career which may be a red flag, but he has the ability to be one of the best guards in the game if he can stay on the field. He turns 28 later this year, and would be a nice young option for the Cowboys to put alongside Free. Avoiding offensive linemen over the age of 30 should be the Cowboys plan. Joseph could come at a cheaper price than most players with his talent level due to his recent injuries allowing for the Cowboys to sign a new starter while leaving enough money to sign players on the defensive line and two starting safeties.
Since being traded from the Detroit Lions, Roy Williams has been a big disappointment to the Cowboys. He was supposed to be the perfect complement to T.O., but things never really worked out that way. Miles Austin took off in 2009, and Dez Bryant was added in 2010. Williams never got on the same page as Romo, and even with his former quarterback Jon Kitna running the show he still had issues. Roy will most likely be remembered for his untimely fumble against the Saints last season in the Thanksgiving Day game. While he may not have made a big impact on the field, someone will still need to step in and fill his shoes. Dez Bryant will now move into the starting role, but much like Felix Jones he will need to avoid persistent injuries. Two young Cowboys seem to benefit the most from this move: Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris. Both guys project to be slot receivers which is perfect for them because that is the position that opened up. Harris comes into the league known for his amazing hands. This ability will serve him very well going over the middle as the slot receiver. Ogletree has great run after the catch ability evidenced by the constant bubble screens called for him last season. Sam Hurd is another option to finally crack the top three rotation, but he is a free agent and may demand too much of an increase in salary to merit being kept around Valley Ranch. If the Cowboys do not feel their young receivers can get the job done, a couple options remain in free agency. Veterans Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton can provide the necessary leadership to a young group of receivers. Both still showed they have the ability to be big playmakers last season. Clayton is coming off an injury and would come for a nice price on a one year deal. Mason could come on a similar deal seeing that retirement is right around the corner for him. A couple young options are available too in Steve Breaston and Mike Sims-Walker. Yet, both may be a little out of the Cowboys price range and may demand a little too much playing time that is not available with Austin and Bryant on the field.