A Cowboys free-agency primer

March, 12, 2012
3/12/12
10:33
AM ET

IRVING, Texas – At 3:01 p.m. Tuesday, free agency begins.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has promised to be aggressive in pursuit of upgrading a roster that has missed the playoffs the last two seasons and three of the last four.

In order to do so, the Cowboys will have to re-work some contracts to create enough room under the $120.6 million salary cap, but it is feasible the team can add two starters and a veteran backup quarterback and re-sign wide receiver Laurent Robinson.

As the shopping hour approaches, here are some quick questions and answers:

** What are the Cowboys biggest needs?

We’ve talked about this all offseason, but they need help in the secondary (cornerback and safety) and on the interior of the offensive line. They also need a backup quarterback with Jon Kitna’s retirement, and those don’t come too cheaply. They could use a difference maker at defensive end, but those players aren’t flying around free agency. While the Cowboys like Bruce Carter, there is no way to be sold he is their starting inside linebacker next to Sean Lee in 2012. Add inside linebacker to the list. Also add a backup tight end. The goal of free agency should be to fill enough holes to help make the draft process better so you don’t overvalue certain positions in April.

** What to make of the Mario Williams talk?

I just don’t see that happening. In order to sign Williams, the Cowboys would likely have to fork over in the neighborhood of $40 million guaranteed. In other words: DeMarcus Ware money. If they do that, then that would take them out of upgrades elsewhere. Plus, the team placed the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer. This isn’t to debate who is better, Spencer or Williams, but to say who’s the better fit at the price and the chance to fill needs elsewhere. Williams is more dynamic but is just too costly.

** What to do with Laurent Robinson?

The Cowboys have said Robinson is a priority. Robinson, who had 11 touchdowns last year, has said he would love to stay. Both sides want it to happen but if another team wants to blow away Robinson with an offer the Cowboys will not get into a bidding war. It would, however, create the need for a No. 3 receiver. Despite Jones’ talk about Andre Holmes, the Cowboys cannot bank on untested receivers like Holmes, Raymond Radway and Dwayne Harris to pick up the slack.

** Will Jerry Jones make a splash?

In his tenure as owner and general manager, he has made three splashes in free agency in Deion Sanders, Terrell Owens and Leonard Davis. You can put La’Roi Glover in that mix to a degree if you want. That’s it. He had a big one-day signing spree in 2005 on Jason Ferguson, Anthony Henry and Marco Rivera but they weren’t stop-the-presses signings across the league. Jones’ most productive free-agent shopping might have come in 2003 when they added Richie Anderson, Dan Campbell, Toby Gowin and Al Singleton to the roster. Don’t hold your breath on a guy like Williams or New Orleans guard Carl Nicks.

** Will the Cowboys re-sign any of their free agents before the market opens?

Doubtful. League rules prevent them from re-signing Robinson before Tuesday. Mat McBriar’s recent surgery means the two-time Pro Bowl punter will hit the market. They have had some talks with the agent for Keith Brooking but nothing substantial. Abram Elam will be allowed to test the market too. Same with Montrae Holland, who did a nice job at left guard for 10 games.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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