IRVING, Texas – In about a month, the Cowboys will be gearing up for the start of the free-agent signing period.
>>Photo Gallery: Top 10 Free Agent Priorities
While they were big players last year, signing seven new guys, including three in the first two days, don’t expect that kind of furious action this time around by the Cowboys, who are currently over the salary cap and will have to do some tweaking to contracts and possibly release a few players just to get under the cap.
Whether or not the Cowboys will be aggressive in signing new players, they will have some decisions to make regarding their own free agents, both unrestricted and restricted.
While it’s still rather early in the process and anything can transpire, this week’s Top 10 list focuses on the Cowboys’ free agents in 2013 and ranking them in terms of priority to re-sign. That being said, some players such as Kevin Ogletree and Felix Jones aren’t even on this list. They might have played more prominent roles than the following players, but it appears their time and stay with the Cowboys is up.
So here’s a look at the Top 10 Cowboys’ free agents, based on priority to keep in 2013.
UFA: Unrestricted Free Agent (free to sign with any team at the start of the free-agent period.)
RFA: Restricted Free Agent (Cowboys have the ability to match any contract if the player signs with another team and could receive compensation, depending on their qualifying tender.)
10. Ernie Sims (UFA) – One of the many signed off the street to simply fill in at inside linebacker, he caught on quick and showed some glimpses of why he was once a Top-10 pick. In this 4-3 scheme, he has the versatility to play either position, but could probably be a good fit in the nickel.
9. Kenyon Coleman (UFA) – Signed mainly to play in the 3-4, coaches would say how underrated and underappreciated Coleman was. After his triceps injury, the Cowboys missed his production as a run stopper. In this scheme, he probably won’t be a great fit. Plus, he turns 34 in April.
8. Victor Butler (UFA) – He could be much higher on this list depending on Anthony Spencer’s status. If Spencer doesn’t return, it’s possible Butler could get re-signed, unless he gets starter-money with another team. The scheme shouldn’t matter much for Butler, who plays mostly in the nickel, which is a four-man front regardless.
7. Eric Frampton (UFA) – Like Sims, he was signed in midseason to add depth and special teams ability. He led the Cowboys in special teams tackles and was a solid player on defense. He might get re-signed at the right price.
6. John Phillips (UFA) – While he didn’t have the breakout season the Cowboys were hoping, he still could be serviceable, depending what happens in the draft. It might be worth re-signing him, considering his versatility as a blocker, H-back type player and on special teams. But it appears James Hanna will get the chance to unseat him as the No. 2 behind Jason Witten.
5. Mike Jenkins (UFA) – You could make the case to leave Jenkins off this list completely. His chances of returning to the Cowboys this year are unlikely. But in terms of priority, if the Cowboys re-signed him and had a defined role for him, he could be valuable. He’s a good player who will get paid decently this year. Still, he probably needs a fresh start somewhere else.
4. L.P. Ladouceur (UFA) – The last few years, the Cowboys have brought in a few snappers in camp but none has really competed with Ladouceur, who turns 32 in March. He hasn’t shown signs of wearing down and his snaps have been near perfect. A moderate, but fair contract seems likely for one of the most consistent players on the team.
3. Danny McCray (RFA) – The Cowboys found out later in the season that McCray isn’t a good fit as a starting safety. What he has been the last three years, though, is one of the better special teams players in the league. That’s the player the Cowboys will look to keep. As a restricted free agent who wasn’t drafted, the club might be better off signing him to a long-term deal, something like they did with Barry Church and Sean Lissemore for relatively low money that keeps him around for a while.
2. Phil Costa (RFA) – Another restricted free agent who wasn’t drafted, so the Cowboys would get nothing for Costa if he signs with another team, unless they issued him a second-round tender which would pay him more than $2 million annually. But with his injuries this year and limited experience before that, Costa wouldn’t warrant a long-term deal right now. Still, he played well enough in the one game against Baltimore to justify keeping him around to compete for the job again.
1. Anthony Spencer (UFA) – The true definition of a player excelling in a “contract year,” Spencer had a career season that ended with his first Pro Bowl selection. We thought the $8.8 million franchise tag was high last year, but he’ll probably test the open market and seek something in the $11-12 million per season range. If he gets close to that, the Cowboys probably won’t be players in the Spencer Sweepstakes. Moving to a 4-3 scheme should be a good fit for Spencer, who does have two former defensive coordinators who likely will be interested in his services in both Houston and New Orleans.
>>Photo Gallery: Top 10 Free Agent Priorities