IRVING, Texas – The hunt for available players is set to begin in less than 24 hours.
Negotiations between clubs and the agents of unrestricted free agents have already begun and will continue to persist until the start of free agency at 3 p.m. Tuesday, when those players can join new teams.
The cap-strapped Cowboys aren’t likely to spend much money enticing free agents from other teams, but it’s possible they bring in a couple players to help bolster the roster, particularly if they’re unable to sign some of their own prospective free agents.
Here’s a look at 10 players who are set to enter free agency and could be possible fits for the Cowboys. This list is compiled solely of players who weren’t in Dallas last season, and all 10 of them had not yet re-signed with their team at the time of this post.
10) Robert Ayers, DE – Ayers has spent the first five years of his career in Denver and had a career-high 5.5 sacks last season. He hasn’t been a full-time starter and probably would make for a rotational player on the outside, but the former first-round pick can be a solid addition to any mix as he enters free agency for the first time.
9) Linval Joseph, DT – He’s around 6-4, 323, yet he still pressures the quarterback, totaling seven sacks the last two seasons with the Giants. Joseph’s been a starter the last three years in New York and is still young enough to command good money. He’d be placed closer to No. 1 on this list if he was more affordable, but he’s sure to make more than the $630,000 base salary he had last year.
8) Vance Walker, DT – The interior defensive lineman switched over from Atlanta, where he had three sacks in 2012, to Oakland, where he’d have three sacks in 2013. He’s got the ability to rush from the inside and could be a solid rotational piece in Rod Marinelli’s system if the Cowboys are willing to fork over somewhere in the $1-2 million range.
7) Chris Clemons, S – The 28-year-old veteran was on a one-year, $2.75 million contract last year and may be out of the range of what the Cowboys are willing to pay for a safety, but Clemons’ coverage ability could make him a nice candidate to combine with
6) Zane Beadles, G – Beadles has been a starter his entire four-year career since going to Denver as a second-round pick in 2010 and has demonstrated both versatility, with the ability to play multiple spots, and durability, starting all 16 games each of the last three years. Coming off his rookie deal, it’ll be interesting to see what the guard commands in free agency with few elite guards available.
5) Alex Carrington, DL – The Cowboys had a penchant for taking top and mid-round draft picks and getting the most out of them on the line last season. Carrington’s a former 2010 third-round pick coming off a torn left quad, but can be a solid contributor when healthy. He’ll be coming off his rookie deal, could play multiple spots in the scheme and could be an affordable pickup.
4) Clinton McDonald, DT– He’s got quickness on the interior of the line, which is primarily what Rod Marinelli needs and asks for from his defensive tackles. He only made $630,000 last year, playing way beyond what he had in previous seasons and finishing with 5.5 sacks and an interception for a stud Seattle defense.
3) Mike Mitchell, S – I’d have put T.J. Ward on this list had I thought he’d be somewhat affordable in free agency coming off his rookie contract. But Ward coming off a Pro Bowl 2013 season in Cleveland probably isn’t attainable. That could be the case for Mitchell as well, but he’ll be the less pricey of the two because of the possible risk. Mitchell didn’t do much in four years in Oakland as the 2009 second-round pick there, but a change in scenery to Carolina last year resulted in four sacks and four picks.
2) Wesley Woodyard, LB – He’s speedy and versatile and has the ability to play on the outside and shift inside to account for injuries when necessary. Woodyard suffered a stinger injury the Cowboys know all too well about with their defensive linemen, but the fit makes some sense, given that the outside linebacker spots aren’t completely locked up. Woodyard’s versatility is obvious with his seven sacks, four forced fumbles and four interceptions the last two seasons. He had a $3 million base salary and counted $3.25 million against the cap in Denver last year.
1) Henry Melton, DT – The Bears re-signed defensive tackles Nate Collins and, the one tied much closer to the Cowboys, Jeremiah “Jay” Ratliff. But no deal’s been signed by Melton, who’s sure to demand a great deal of attention despite coming off ACL surgery. He’s got ties to Rod Marinelli and was coming off a seven-sack season in 2011 and a six-sack season in 2012 before getting hurt. Melton made $8.45 million in 2013, but he could be more affordable after the injury, particularly if the Cowboys can’t re-sign Hatcher.