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FA update: Chase Blackburn or Kevin Burnett?

3/13/2013

The first day of free agency is over and things will probably slow down a little on Day 2. With that, we review what we heard, saw and talked about Tuesday night and preview what could happen down the line.

The loss of John Phillips: The Cowboys lost their backup tight end to the San Diego Chargers on Tuesday. Phillips was part of that dreadful 2009 class that produced very little for the Cowboys. Only free agent linebacker Victor Butler remains, and he's drawn interest from the New York Jets. Losing Phillips isn't a big deal because James Hanna has more upside as a solid pass-catching tight end. The Cowboys are in need of a blocking tight end, and this is where drafting someone in the late rounds could be important.

Chase Blackburn vs. Kevin Burnett: The Cowboys released backup inside linebacker Dan Connor because he refused to take a pay cut. The Cowboys are in the market for another one and like middle linebacker Blackburn, who started 15 games last season for the New York Giants at middle linebacker. He finished second on the Giants with 97 tackles and had eight tackles for loss and seven quarterback hits. He also had three sacks and six pass breakups. If signed, Blackburn, an eight-year pro, would be a nice backup for Sean Lee at the inside linebacker spot. But what about Burnett? The former Cowboys linebacker was released by the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday and might be a nice pickup to start at that vacant outside linebacker position. Burnett, who started 16 games for the Dolphins last season at one of the outside linebacker positions in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme, would like a return to Dallas. He was credited with 109 total tackles (second on the team), picked up 2 1/2 sacks, five tackles for loss and five quarterback hits. Who would you rather have, Blackburn or Burnett?

Martellus Bennett goes to Chicago: The tight end signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Chicago Bears. He's come a long way since his days in Dallas, when he fumed at times for not getting enough passes thrown his way. Bennett had an excellent season for the Giants and, while they wanted him to return, the Bears had a need at the position. One of the biggest problems with Bennett in Dallas was his lack of maturity and the Cowboys' inability to know how to use him. Bennett's career is summed up this way in Dallas: He caught four touchdown passes his rookie season (2008) and none the next three seasons. He caught five TD passes during his one year with the Giants. He's a good blocking tight end, something the Cowboys need, and he's athletic enough to make plays on the field. We'll see how Bennett does with Jay Cutler.

Jenkins and Jones drawing interest: Free agent cornerback Mike Jenkins and running back Felix Jones didn't have any visits the first day of free agency. But with the biggest day of this period over with, both are starting to draw interest. The former first-round picks, especially Jones, need to prove to NFL teams that they can stay healthy for an entire season and are willing to accept backup roles. It will be interesting to see if Jenkins, a former Pro Bowler, gets a two- or three-year contract to become a starter or maybe gets his role changed to possibly get snaps at safety, where he played some in 2012.

The good news: The Cowboys couldn't participate Tuesday because they have just $175,000 in cap space. Anthony Spencer signed his franchise tender, and the team can continue having talks with their defensive end about a long-term deal. Also, if the team can finalize a new long-term deal with Tony Romo, it'll lower his salary cap number from $16.8 million and open the door for the Cowboys to sign some second-tier free agents.