Dallas Cowboys team officials have preached the importance of making transactions to help America’s Team win “now” since the Cowboys’ disappointing 2011 season ended. The Cowboys lost several key players in free agency and one to retirement, but replaced them in less than 24 hours. It’s hard to believe, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones did a great job of allowing his coaching staff to fill his team’s immediate needs in the first two days of free agency.
The Cowboys first needed to replace backup quarterback Jon Kitna, who retired at the end of the season. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett brought in one of the most coveted free agent passers in Kyle Orton to back up Tony Romo. Orton’s three-year, $10.5 million deal all but ensures Stephen McGee will never be anything more than a third-string quarterback in Dallas. The Orton signing was a fantastic move by Garrett and co., who wanted Orton last year when he was waived by the Denver Broncos.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before the Cowboys cut Terence Newman and Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan wasted no time in bringing in his top target to replace Newman, former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr. After an overnight stay in Dallas, the Cowboys signed Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million deal to shore up the secondary.
Sticking with the secondary, Dallas added former New York Jets safety Brodney Pool, signing him to a one-year, $1.2 million contract. Pool played under Rob Ryan in Cleveland and then under his twin brother, Jets head coach Rex Ryan, so Pool knows the Ryans’ 3-4 Cover 2 scheme well. Pool also had his best year as a pro under Rob Ryan, intercepting four passes and knocking down 10 more in 2009 with the Browns. He has yet to reach his prime and the Cowboys offer him a chance to get there while helping his new team become a contender.
After the Cowboys failed to tender restricted free agent fullback Tony Fiammetta, he became an unrestricted free agent and left Dallas to test the free agent waters. This was a horrific move on the Cowboys’ part, but Garrett and co. quickly rebounded by signing a very suitable replacement in former Houston Texans fullback Lawrence Vickers. In the past two seasons, Vickers led block for Arian Foster and the Cleveland Browns’ Peyton Hillis and they each posted their best career NFL rushing campaigns. The Cowboys’ new fullback received a two-year, $2.4 million deal.
The Cowboys needed to add veteran depth on the offensive line and did just that with the signing of former Carolina Panthers guard Mackenzy Bernadeau. He’s not the big name the Cowboys originally hoped for like Carl Nicks, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Ben Grubbs, who signed with the New Orleans Saints. However, the Cowboys will gladly pay Bernadeau $11 million over the next four years to provide competition, depth and veteran leadership to Dallas’ young offensive line.
Finally, Jerry Jones signed a player who will not only help the Cowboys win now, but for years to come as well. Dallas replaced departed veteran linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking with former Panther Dan Connor. Both Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan are excited about bringing in the fifth-year veteran, who played with Cowboys star linebacker Sean Lee at Penn State. Connor provides incredible depth at inside linebacker and he’s expected to compete with Bruce Carter for the starting spot opposite Lee.
These free agent signings filled immediate holes in the Cowboys’ roster, so Jerry Jones and co. are to be commended for working through the $10 million salary cap penalty Dallas received on Monday. Now the Cowboys’ approach to the 2012 NFL Draft is much simpler – Dallas can comfortably take the best player available at any given time.
The Cowboys will obviously still be looking to fill some more needs as Rob Ryan expressed last month when he said the only thing he was concerned about at the NFL Combine was “DBs”. Dallas may have a new big name in Carr, but he’s one of only three cornerbacks on the Cowboys’ active roster. Projected first-round cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama) and Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama) have rubbed NFL teams wrong with their legal instances and poor Combine interviews, so Dallas likely will look to add exactly what Stephen Jones said in the first round – the “best player available.”
The Cowboys still have one immediate need at wide receiver after Laurent Robinson signed a five-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the top receivers in the draft will be long gone by the time Dallas is on the clock at No. 14. Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon and Baylor’s Kendall Wright will be the top receivers on their new teams, so the Cowboys will have to wait for a receiver or sign one in free agency.
Dallas bid Martellus Bennett good riddance on Tuesday and he signed with the New York Giants, allowing John Phillips to become Jason Witten’s primary backup at tight end. The need to add depth at the position isn’t glaring, but the Cowboys can’t enter the season with only two tight ends on the active roster.
Following the crazy first week of free agency, the Cowboys are in fantastic shape with over a month to go before the draft. Cowboys fans are actually happy with Jerry Jones for the first time in a long time and he’s in prime position to make them even happier in April.