Curb Your Enthusiam: Cowboys Free Agent Pool About to Shrink


We’ve discussed the Cowboys best free agent pass rushing options.  Now, let’s consider the odds that the big names — Mario Williams, Cliff Avril, and Calais Campbell — hit the market.  Be prepared to curb your enthusiasm.

1.  Calais Campbell.  Odds of become an unrestricted free agent — .0001%
He’s the best 3-4 defensive line option.  He’s a young 5-technique who has averaged eight sacks per season in recent campaigns.  He’s also a kick-blocking talent.  There’s plenty to like here.  A system fit who could provide a plus pass rush between DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff.

There’s almost no chance he sees the market.  He’s been in negotiations with the team for weeks.  The Cardinals have made it clear they’ll franchise him if a long-term contract is not hammered out before the new NFL year begins.  Last week, Campbell said he would be open to the franchise tag.  That’s a very different sentiment from most UFAs to be.

I’m giving Campbell a Jim Carrey, Dumb-and-Dumber one-in-a-million shot, but all news points to Campbell
remaining a Cardinal.

2.  Cliff Avril.  Odds of becoming an unresticted free agent — 5%
The odds are not as long for the Lions Avril, but they’re still long.  Lions GM Martin Mayhew said he did not want to franchise Avril, but said he might if necessary.  Avril told the press last week he would be willing to play outside linebacker if it helped the Lions.  Avril left his locker intact, so he expects to stay in Honolulu blue next year and beyond.  5% may be generous odds.

3.  Mario Williams.  Odds of becoming an unrestricted free agent — 75%
The Texans cap situation is unclear, but the National Football Post’s Andrew Brandt, a former Packers front office man, estimated that Houston starts with about $5 million in cap space.   The Texans have hard free agent decisions to make.  Williams, center Chris Myers, and running back Arian Foster are all headed for free agency this year.  Next year, starters Matt Schaub, Duane Brown, Connor Barwin and Glover Quin become UFAs.

Houston may tag one of the Foster/Myers/Williams trio, but it won’t be Williams.  His big ’11 cap number means that tagging him would count close to $17 million against Houston’s 2012 cap.  Unless the Texans bean counters get really creative in the next few weeks and sign Williams to a fat, back-loaded deal with lots of guaranteed money up front, Williams will hit the market.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that with the other big rushers getting tagged, Williams becomes the pass rushing free agent target.  Every team with cap space and a need will likely kick his tires.

We know the Jones can be creative with contracts.  How willing are they to write one for Mario Williams?

Callahan Kept His Guys Productive

I asked K.C. Joyner to break down the 2011 Jets offense.  They had the top rushing offense by yardage in 2009 and the 4th rated unit in 2010.  New York ranked first in Joyner’s run win percentage metric that year.  Last year, the Jets dropped to 22nd in rushing yards.  Why?

CN:  You compile run metrics and we talked about the Jets rushing success in the past.  Dallas just hired Bill Callahan, who coached the Jets offensive line.  What happened to them last year?

K.C. Joyner:  The big problem was that they didn’t have a vertical passing game any more and teams could concentrate on stopping their run.  That’s the biggest issue.  Braylon Edwards was a top-10 vertical wide receiver in 2010.  They let him go, and brought in Plaxico Burress.  Burress is nowhere near a top-10 vertical receiver.  His numbers were terrible this year.

If you looked at the number of 20 and 40 yard plays the Jets receivers had in 2010 and 2011, it just plummeted in 2011.  They had fewer 40 yard pass plays this year than any other team in the league.  They were close to the top ten the year before.  If you can’t threaten a team over the top their safeties will sit in the box all game long.  Even if you try and spread them out they’ll keep cheating up to the line just before the snap to snuff out the running game.

Actually, the Jets blocked fairly well, forgetting the bad numbers everybody had at the beginning of the season because of the lockout. Almost every team was struggling then.  And Shonn Greene had a decent GBYPA.  He’s never been big in that number, but he was in the mid-to-upper 6′s in 2011.   That’s good, but not great, but good enough to where he can be your guy if the rest of the offense is working.

If you’ve got no vertical game, everything else falters.  It’s hard to have vertical success through play calling.  You need to have talent.  You can play call it some but you have to have talent.  Santonio Holmes is a good receiver but he’s not a great vertical threat, and if he can’t do it, they didn’t have anybody else to get it done.

They need some speed in a big way there.  [Brian] Schottenheimer and [Mark] Sanchez took a lot of grief for what happened up there, but if you don’t have any vertical threats at wide receiver …  let’s put it this way.  If you put Jason Garrett up there and gave him the Jets talent he would be hard pressed to move them and he’s one of the better play callers in the league.


Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for