March 27, 2013

UT exes Vaccaro, Huff on Cowboys radar, but money a problem

Kenny Vaccaro is highly regarded and might be off the draft board when the Cowboys pick 18th.

Irving native and former Texas Longhorns safety Michael Huff said it would be a dream come true to sign a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys.

Brownwood native and current Longhorns star Kenny Vaccaro, ranked as the top safety in the 2013 NFL Draft, said he would love for the Cowboys to select him with the 18th pick in the first round.

Safety definitely is a need for the Cowboys, so much so that they will be signing a veteran in free agency and drafting one in April. Both Huff and Vaccaro are on their radar.

Vaccaro talked to the Cowboys at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, did a private workout with the Cowboys last week and will take a pre-draft visit to the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters in April.

Vaccaro said he suffered a hip flexor injury during the workout with the Cowboys last week that limited his work in the Texas Pro Day to only positional drills. But he was impressive and did nothing to hurt his ranking as the top safety in the NFL Draft. Or his confidence.

“It would be nice,” Vaccaro said of being drafted by the Cowboys. “I am from Texas and I played for the best university. America’s Team would be great, but I just want an opportunity to play for any organization. Playing in the NFL has been a dream my whole life. And wherever I go, I’ll excel for that team.”

Vaccaro said Cowboys defensive coach Jerome Henderson liked his workout last week and indicated he would like to draft him. But Henderson allowed that the final decision was out of his hands and that Cowboys were also looking at offensive and defensive linemen for the 18th pick.

But Vaccaro might not even be on the board when the Cowboys pick. A number of teams picking before them have expressed interest, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, who pick 17th. Coach Mike Tomlin was in Austin on Tuesday for an up-close look and had a few positive words for Vaccaro afterward.

“He just said he liked the way I pushed through everything,” Vaccaro said. “He said I carried my weight well. He didn’t know I was 217 [pounds]. He said, “You have a lot of things you can bring.’ ”

Huff remembered being in Vaccaro’s position in 2006 when he was the top safety in the draft, picked seventh overall by the Oakland Raiders. He went from being considered an initial bust to becoming a Pro Bowl player and signing a lucrative $32 million contract extension in 2011 before being cut last week. He got $12 million in guaranteed money on his last deal, which followed a six-year, $43 million rookie deal.

Huff said his focus now is just playing with a good team and competing for a Super Bowl.

“I just want to want to win at this point,” Huff said. “ want to win the Super Bowl. I want to play for a successful team.”

And while Huff has visits set up with the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and the Green Bay Packers, perennial playoff contenders, he views the Cowboys as a promising team.

“I think the Cowboys have the pieces to win,” Huff said. “I know a lot of the guys — Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten. I know them. I know the guys. I know their talent. Every year they are right there, one step away, one piece away.”

Huff also knows that landing with Dallas would mean going home, and that means a lot. But he also knows this is a business, as the Raiders taught him last week.

“I love Dallas,” Huff said. “I grew up down the street from [Texas Stadium]. It would definitely be a dream to play back home. But in this business you never know what is going to happen. The last time I really didn’t get to hit the market so I wasn’t a part of all this. I am sitting back and taking it all in and letting free agency take care of itself. Hopefully things will happen this week.”

If it happens this week, it won’t be in Dallas. Huff said had a good visit with the Cowboys’ coaches on Monday but they didn’t talk contract because of their tight cap situation. The Cowboys have just $102,000 in salary cap room and can’t sign free agents until their clear some room.

Huff indicated he would sign a one-year deal if that was it took to get to the right place. But he made no promises to wait for the Cowboys to get their finances in order.

“This is not college and there are no verbal [commitments],” Huff said. “I don’t think that is possible. If somebody offered a deal, I would take it.”

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