IRVING, Texas - When the free-agent signing period rolls around in mid-March, tight end John Phillips will likely get the chance to test the open market, although a return to the Cowboys is not out of the question.
It's likely his recent shoulder surgery won't affect his status either way. Phillips had the cleanup procedure done but would be ready for the offseason OTAs and minicamps, with the Cowboys or his next team.
Phillips started eight games when the Cowboys opened with a two-tight end set. He had just eight catches for 55 yards and one touchdown.
Obviously, the Cowboys are set for a starting tight end and have been for years with Jason Witten, who had a career-high 110 catches, the most by any tight end in NFL history and one short of Michael Irvin's single-season Cowboys record of 111 (set in 1995). And third tight end James Hanna showed some promise later in the season. He tied Phillips with eight catches but had 86 yards.
Last year was a big opportunity for Phillips with Martellus Bennett moving on to the Giants. But he wasn't a big factor in the passing game and really was a notch below Bennett in terms of blocking.
Again, his performance last year and/or the recent surgery doesn't mean Phillips won't be back in 2013, but it's likely he will get to test the market first. A possible destination could be Tampa Bay, where former Cowboys tight ends coach John Garrett was recently named receivers coach.