March 16, 2013

No cap room, no spending spree for Jerry Jones

Cowboys sit out free agency with an eye to the draft.

As Valley Ranch sat dark all last week — not a creature stirring, not even Jerry — you have to wonder if the local joke going around just might have a touch of reality attached.

Cowboys’ salary cap guru Stephen Jones is cooking the books, and actually has plenty of cap dollars buried under a blocking sled on the practice field.

Stephen, however, is hiding it all from Dad.

Say what? You’re waiting on the punch line? Well, that’s it. Stephen-is-hiding-it-all-from-Dad.

Moving on rapidly, let it be said it’s not necessarily a bad thing there’s been a financially-forced shutdown of Mr. Jones in what has been an otherwise explosive NFL free agency spending spree over the past week.

History kinda tells us that March’s free agency spending sprees in the NFL don’t lead to success on the field in the fall.

See Mr. Jones one March ago, when for the first time in a while he went bonkers in free agency, yet the Cowboys of 2012 still went bust with the same kind of mediocre product on the field.

Actually, last March was an exception of late for Jerry, who had not been a free agency plunger in three of the four previous years. So if he does, or if he doesn’t, the on-the-field results for the Cowboys have been about the same for nearly two decades. Blah.

But the fans do get antsy when there’s no activity, and the media becomes bored when there’s no activity. Meanwhile, we all know it’s killing Jerry, who craves to be right in the middle of the action.

The positive theory is with the Cowboys being cap-strapped, and sitting out this free agency market thus far, it gives all involved at Valley Ranch the opportunity to concentrate heavily on the April draft.

Winning in the NFL comes down to two basic things: Quarterback, and how you draft help for the quarterback on both sides of the ball.

Much has been made, and rightfully so, of the 2008 and 2009 drafts, where the Cowboys have exactly one player (Orlando Scandrick) remaining on the roster at the moment from 18 players chosen in those years.

Those drafts should right now be the heart of your team. One player is here, and he’s a backup.

Let it also be noted the Cowboys have drafted much better the past three years, and that the 2009 class was hampered greatly by the disastrous trade for Roy (Uno Uno) Williams, when the first-, third- and seventh-round picks were given up by Jerry.

But with Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Sean Lissemore, Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter, DeMarco Murray, Dwayne Harris, Mo Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford and James Hanna (all added through the draft in the past three years), there is at least a foundation of young talent in place.

When it comes to free agency, however, there are lessons to be learned from the spree of the past week.

To me, the two big winners so far have been San Francisco and Denver.

Both invested little in the way of money, and both came away with super-talented additions, albeit talent with age attached.

The Broncos benefited from whatever that spit-fight was between receiver Wes Welker and Pope Billy I of Foxboro.

Bill Belichick low-balled Welker on a contract offer, and Tom’s Favorite ended up in Denver, falling right into Peyton Manning’s hands, on a reasonable two-year, $12 million deal.

Outside of Mr. Brady, all players are simply cattle to Belichick. And Pope Billy even defied Brady in dumping Welker. Billy is a Bad, Bad Man. But his results come in loud and clear.

Meanwhile, the best GM in the league, Ozzie Newsome of Baltimore, calmly sits there as his new world champs are being cherry-picked to pieces this week in free agency.

Has Ozzie been tutored by Mark Cuban on “financial flexibility?” No, actually, Ozzie is a drafter, and a good one, and if you want to steal some of his best players, he’s confident he can find more in the draft.

But Ozzie’s strangest decision of all was to deal receiver Anquan Boldin, a postseason hero for the Ravens, to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick. Sixth round.

Did John ask Ozzie to help Jim here, because John got Jim good in the Super Bowl upset?

Whatever, Jim now has a very good receiver for his very good team and his only investment is the $6 million in salary for next season.

If Boldin flops, so what? Same thing with Denver. If Welker flops, all it cost was minimal dollars by NFL standards.

In both these cases, that’s the way to make free agency work for you, not by gambling $30 million guaranteed on receiver Mike Wallace. Hello, Miami.

Of course, both the 49ers and Broncos could get involved in these kind of transactions because, even with excellent products on the field, they had salary cap room.

Then there’s the Cowboys.

There’s no excellent product on the field, and there’s no cap space.

But again, Jerry being placed in a financial chokehold in this free agency could actually be a good thing.

And excuse me, if that’s being a little too optimistic for your taste.

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