As the dollars begin to fly with the beginning of the free-agent signing period on Tuesday, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves scrambling to get under the league's mandated salary cap of $123 million. With other contracts restructured today, there's no reason to believe that the Cowboys will not make that goal very soon.
It's safe to say that Dallas will not have the kind of money available with which to spend as they did last year, acquiring players such as offensive guards Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, safety Brodney Poole, linebacker Dan Connor, just released, and others still.
No, the Cowboys will not be setting any franchise records with new players signed this offseason.
But if there is money to do anything, the right kind of players have to be considered. Last year this simply did not happen.
Numerous mock drafts have Dallas going the direction of offensive line in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft this April. Names such as Alabama's Chance Warmack and North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper are easily the most mentioned prospects possibly heading to Dallas should the Cowboys go after this position in the first round.
But there's another way to go.
Despite what some women might say, size definitely matters, especially in the NFL—and so does power.
Offensive guard is not a position of high value at the top of any draft. While Cooper or Warmack would certainly not be poor choices in the first round, adding an experienced player on the interior of an offensive line with several question marks heading into next season would be a great call.
I recall Louis Vasquez coming out of Texas Tech in 2009 and was really hoping that he'd be chosen by the Cowboys as an immediate replacement for the perpetually lame Kyle Kosier. Chosen in the third round with the 78th overall selection by San Diego, realize that the Cowboys had the 75th overall pick.
In another tremendous scouting blunder on the part of the Cowboys, a little-known offensive tackle out of Ball State named Robert Brewster was chosen instead.
Well, Brewster never saw the field and was released by 2010.
Vasquez, meanwhile, is about to hit the free-agent market as a four-year veteran who just might fit Dallas' wallet.
In addition to having more power, Vasquez is a proven commodity and a vast upgrade over Livings or Bernadeau, neither of which made a big difference on the Dallas offensive line in their first year with the Cowboys.
Vasquez stands 6'5'' and weighs 325 pounds. This means that he doesn't require double-team assistance from his center or anybody else in matching up against the league's better interior defensive linemen. Vasquez earns respect from defensive tackles in the same way that Hall of Fame offensive lineman Larry Allen once did, even if he isn't quite as powerful overall.
The Dallas running game stinks and the reason is because Dallas has had a decade of less-than-decadance in drafting offensive linemen.
Do names like Al Johnson, Jacob Rogers, Stephen Peterman and James Marten ring a bell?
If not, it's because these were all second or third-round selections between 2003 and 2007 that never locked down starting jobs. I already mentioned Brewster as another early selection that wasn't really an NFL football player.
Dallas hasn't fared much better in free agency in trying to fill the glaring holes left by the washouts listed above. Names like Kosier, who San Francisco and Detroit saw no value in, Marco Rivera and Marc Colombo served as both short-term and average stop-gaps—and that's why the Cowboys are in the shape they are in now as they still try to find effective blocking for the franchise's best statistical passer in Tony Romo.
And some still wonder why Romo throws interceptions!
I do not include Leonard Davis on this list because he was an awesome signing who helped the Cowboys advance to the top seed of the NFC Playoffs in his first year with the team in 2007. Since his departure—for cap reasons of course—following the 2010 regular season, he's helped Detroit reach the playoffs in 2011 and San Francisco to the Super Bowl last season.
Davis worked well in Dallas because he was so big and powerful—and he was playing offensive guard as opposed to offensive tackle.
Vasquez would bring a similar dynamic despite not being quite as massive as Davis.
A player like this is as close to a sure thing as you can get on the free-agent market. Vasquez is young, relatively damage-free and brings a physical dimension that's been lacking on the offensive line for several years now.
Today's release of Connor will help bring the Cowboys in compliance with the salary cap and combined with other moves made with other contracts, perhaps a high-quality player like Vasquez can return home to Texas for 2013.
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