The Dallas Cowboys are only $175,000 under the salary cap, meaning they didn’t have enough to do much at the start of free agency Tuesday. They can create room by working out a long-term deal with Tony Romo, whose cap number is $16.8 million, and possibly with Anthony Spencer, who signed his franchise tag of $10.6 million.
Good players can be had later in free agency after the initial spending spree. The Cowboys also have six picks in the 2013 draft in which to add players.
Dallas, without an above-.500 record since 2009 when it last won the NFC East, has several areas of need. Here are the biggest:
The Cowboys have spent a lot on their offensive line the past two off-seasons. They signed Doug Free to a four-year, $32 million deal with $17 million guaranteed before the start of the 2011 season to be their left tackle. He now plays right tackle and didn’t play it very well last season with 13 penalties, including five holds, and seven sacks allowed, according to STATS, Inc. They drafted Tyron Smith with a first-round pick in 2011 and gave him a guaranteed four-year, $12.5 million deal. He has become the team’s best lineman and a solid left tackle. The Cowboys tried to shore up the guard positions last off-season with the signings of Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings. They signed Bernadeau to a four-year, $11.5 million deal with $3.25 million in the form of a signing bonus. Livings signed a five-year, $18.75 million deal that included $3.5 million to sign. The total guaranteed money was $6.2 million. Yet, the Cowboys are back looking to shore up the middle of their offensive line. Bernadeau could be tried at center. He started two games there in 2012. But it is a good bet the Cowboys use an early pick on an offensive lineman.
Free agents of interest: New York Jets guard Brandon Moore, 32, has not missed a start since 2004 and has played for Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan. Jets guard Matt Slauson, 27, is younger and also has a history with Callahan.
Possible draft picks: This is the Cowboys’ best option to better protect Tony Romo, who was sacked 36 times last season. Alabama guard Chance Warmack, the top player at his position, could fall to No. 18. If not, North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper might be available. The top three tackles are expected to be gone by the time the Cowboys draft, but Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker should be there.
The need was created when the Cowboys released Gerald Sensabaugh, who started 60 games in his four seasons with the Cowboys. They do have faith that Barry Church can return from a torn Achilles’ tendon he suffered in Week 3 and that Matt Johnson can develop into the player they drafted with a fourth-rounder last year. Johnson missed his entire rookie season with hamstring and back injuries. But the Cowboys need insurance.
Free agents of interest: Houston Texans safety Glover Quin, Denver Broncos safety Jim Leonhard and San Diego Chargers safety Corey Lynch likely won’t cost a ton. Quin has a visit to Detroit scheduled.
Possible draft picks: Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro likely will go in the first round, but the position is deep. Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien, Florida’s Matt Elam and LSU’s Eric Reid could be second-round targets.
The Cowboys franchised Spencer, and they have DeMarcus Ware at the other end. Jay Ratliff, who played only six games last season, and Jason Hatcher are slated to be the defensive tackles. But the Cowboys could use some depth.
Free agents of interest: Cowboys defensive line coach Rod Marinelli likely would love to reunite with Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije, who has palyed every game the past three years while making 20.5 sacks. Idonije can play inside or out. But the more likely option could be Bears defensive end Amobi Okoye, who will be cheaper after playing in only nine games last year.
Possible draft picks: Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson could be possible first-round picks. North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams could be a second-round option.