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

Senior Analyst Cowboys at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

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  • joey2zs

    So you’re saying there’s a chance?

  • Montecito Tex

    Tex was looking at the free agent list in between high-end tequillas at the County Club last night and if Jerra’ dreams of a LB combo like Frisco… what about a veteran beast like D’Qwell Jackson who has Cleveland ties? The free agent corner back pool looks like the deepest position along with guard.

  • Forget Mario, focus on Chris Myers.  He’s not going to get franchised and with only 1 contract left in him he must want to at least hear some offers.

    Only $5 million in cap space means they’d be over if they franchised any of these guys, much less the rookie signings.

    The focus on keeping Arian Foster in the fold will allow Meyers to shake loose.  Ignore the shiny Mario Williams, get the solid Chris Meyers to anchor our sketchy O-line.

  • hardwater

    Mario Williams would certainly improve the Cowboys pass rush but at what price? He has finished the last 2 years on injured reserve and a mega contract eliminates how many other needs in free agency? Would still rather land a Pro Bowl FA center and draft DeCastro (still praying for #14) to fix O-Line. Then find a mid-level FA CB and sign Laurent Robinson. Can address defense in rounds 2-7 and again in 2013 while letting the now elite offense carry the day.

  • daboyz

    The 28 million in dead money we have this year should be avaliable to us next year for salary.  So I assume we will be sitting pretty good in our cap next year.  Next year is when the cap is suppose to increase alot or more than this year % increase. The last big contract we have to eat this year is Newman.

  • daboyz

    Raf, What do you think of Amobi Okoye(24) or Jason Jones(25) for D-line.
    If the price is right. Amobi has played in the 3-4 in houston and Jason has a motor(from what I recall).  I think Mario Williams will cost to much and I think we really need to sign a top notch center this year. Coleman has to go as well as Kosier(always getting hurt feet).  I think Adam Carriker is a free agent also, maybe we still thiers since they stole one of ours last year.

  • Bluefin

    Julius Peppers signed a 6 year, $84 million dollar contract with $42 million guaranteed in 2010.

    That’s the bar.

    Mario Williams and his agent will likely be looking for 6 years, $100 million and $50 million guaranteed ($21 million signing bonus and guaranteed base salaries the first three seasons).

    2012: $8M base salary (cap #: $11.5M)
    2013: $9M base salary (cap #: $12.5M)
    2014: $12M base salary (cap #: $15.5M)
    2015: $14M base salary (cap#: $17.5M)
    2016: $16M base salary (cap#: $19.5M)
    2017: $20M base salary (cap#: $23.5M)

    This is just a basic idea of what the deal would look like.

    Williams might also have various incentive clauses and/or workout bonuses in the contract.

    The team has the cap room to make a deal like this.

    Add an impact defender like Mario and adjust the scheme to highlight his strengths.

    • cowboyny

      There is no doubt the team can fit in a huge FA signing. I for one would endorse such a move, even if they aren’t able to fill other needs through FA. He is a special player that doesn’t come along too often, where every NFL Team should go all in to sign him away from Houston. When these type of players hit the open market, Jerry has been very aggressive to sign them. From Deion to TO, Asomugha, etc. Mario Williams is 27, which makes him even more attractive. If in FA, I fully expect Jerry and the Cowboys to put together a huge offer to acquire him. That doesn’t mean he would become a Cowboy, but not many teams will want to get into a bidding war with Jerry Jones!

  • cowboyny

    If Mario Williams hits the FA market, every team will jump at the chance to sign him away from Houston. In very rare situations does a player like Mario Williams hit the open market. It would be like Ware testing FA. Huge bidding war will certanly occur. Never,  I mean never count out Jerry Jones for signing such a player. When he is told he cannot have somebody, it wants him even more. If the team handed out a Ware type contract, you will not hear me complaining. An elite pass rusher in his prime, to form possibly the best duo in league hisory at the position.

    All this being said, team isn’t just one player away and has many needs to address, thus need all the cap room to improve the entire team, not just one area. As each day passes, I am starting to believe Spencer will receive the transition tag from the team. Under 8 million, right to match an offer sheet. This will allow an additional year to find/develop his replacement. Most importantly, the team dosn’t have to reach to fill the need at pick 14, with Spencer still on the roster. If a player is there, they can select him in any of the top 4 rds. Serve as siutational player as a rookie, before becoming a starter the following season. Maybe a Curry or an Irvin tye pick in that 2nd to 3rd range.

  • dacolan

    It’ll be interesting to see how much $ Detroit is willing to commit to keep Avril. Between him Suh, Fairley and Vanden Bosch they’ll have a ton of cap space tied up in their DL alone if he stays.

  • truecowboyfan

    I don’t think the Cowboys need a pass rushing OLB. They already have the best pass rushing linebacker in the game and decent OLB opposite him. What they really need is to generate more inside pressure from the DL. If QBs can’t consistently step up in the pocket, then the media will have to get a new nickname for “Almost” Anthony Spencer. That being said, the Cowboys could better utilize their money by spending it on Carl Nicks (who will be cheaper than Mario) and drafting a Michael Brockers (I assume a trade up will be necessary).

    • Phillip

      Inside pressure has nothing to do with Spencer’s inability to beat his man in one-on-one battles.  He’s not a dynamic passrusher.  Better inside pressure players will be a good thing for us, but it won’t make Spencer any better as a pass rusher.

  • desus32

    While it’s riskier becuase they’re more unproven, I’d much rather grab a pass rusher in the draft over paying for one in free agency. Pass rushers, CB’s, and OT’s (along with OG’s now, seemingly) are big $ players in free agency and simply require too large a financial commitment to acquire. Especially when trying to get one of the better players at any of those positions position.

    It’s why I’d rather look at Center, a cheap-ish CB (that can challenge Scandrick for #2 or play Nickel), and maybe even the 2nd TE in free agency while going after the pass-rusher, more CB help, and the OG in the draft. From a financial standpoint, I think this is how you get the most bang for your buck and maximize value.

    • Travlr

      Good football and fiscal sense!


      I live in Houston and watched Mario play a fair amount, he spent all of his
      career, except the first quarter of this year with his hand on the ground in a


      If he plays a full year as an OLB teams will see he is too big and too slow
      to cover TEs and start to attack him there, he is not an all around stud like


      Sacks and a good (in between the tackles) run stopping ability are his limits
      of good play. Please do NOT spend all our money on someone like this.


      Fill our many holes with servicable players and build a arock solid team, not
      another Jerry fantasy squad with a few stars and many duds.  

  • om

    i would like to ask if there will be any info about how williams performed at OLB , the few weeks he stayed healthy, have you asked that to k.c. joyner raf?

  • Chia

    no way we land Mario Williams, but boy I would kill to get him on the Cowboys

    I am really tired of the last couple of years in free agency, I really hope we sign players worth it this March

    I am tired of the Olshansky’s, Brooking’s, Sensabaugh’s, Coleman’s, Spears’s like signings 

    I miss Chris Canty, he got 42 million but we miss that DE rusher we are still, to this day looking for

    Then there is letting Bowen walk, Hatcher was a good signing, but for the price of Coleman and Spears, I much rather would have devoted that money to Bowen

    Make something happen Stephen Jones, because I am really losing my faith with Jerry Jones, tell your daddy to step it up son

    • greatwhitenorth

      Did Bowen really do anything in Washington to justify his contract?  He was a nice role player with the Cowboys, but I barely noticed that he was gone.  Canty, too–sure it would have been nice to keep him, but he’s hardly a dominant player and most of us would hate him by now if he had signed that contract to stay in Dallas.

      • AustonianAggie

        He’s getting paid 5 million a year; and he got 6 sacks as an End in a 3-4. He’s totally work 5 mill a year, thats about what Dallas paid Sensabaugh. Dallas under valued Bowen very badly.

        • Jarhead

          he had orakpo and kerrigan on the field with him when he got those sacks…..not sure he would have gotten them in dallas. and sacks alone are not enough to justify fat contracts.

      • Chia

        all I know is that our defense was better with Canty and Bowen then without them

        • Jarhead

          bowen started 9 games in 2010 when the defense absolutely sucked.

          canty was gone the year dallas went 11-5 and played very good defense late in the season.

          those guys are good players, but they’re not worth the kind of money they got.

  • Raja

    I know we are looking at Mario has a 34 OLB or a 43 DE.  Given his size can he play a 34 DE?  If he can our line can be Ware, Mario, Brent/Rat, Lissemore/Ratliff and Almost Anthony or his clone.  With this line, one would think one of the 3 ‘plus’ rushers should get home regularly.

    If we are to stay in a 34, by playing Mario in a 34 OLB, like Raf said before, we are committing to getting 5 rushers on almost every play.  If we don’t do that and expect Mario to play in coverage some time, we are overpaying him.

    By going to a 43, we would still need a LB.

    DL – Ware, Brent, Rat, Mario
    LB – ???, Lee, Carter

    • greatwhitenorth

      I agree with everything you said, but I don’t see a 3-4 DE warranting the kind of huge contract that Mario is going to get.  5-techs are important, but it requires too much gruntwork to be a superstar position.  If Mario comes to Dallas, we’ll see a 4-3 as the base D, with lots of creativity from Rob.

      We would still need a 4-3 OLB, but throw any street FA into that slot and it would still be better than the Giants Super Bowl LBs.

  • ware94

    I’m not even sure I would sign Mario Williams. Not convinced he can be an effective player in a 3-4 plus I feel that he’s not a hard worker. I have a friend who is building him a new house in Houston & was told last week that he is burning through his money like crazy. Can he actually be a good OLB in a 3-4? I would target Myers from the Texans before Mario Williams.

    My 2012 Mock Draft: 1.       Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina2.       Kelechi Osemele, G, Iowa State3.       Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina4.       Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri Free Agency: 1.       Hopefully Dallas can sign OC Chris Myers2.       I would also target a veteran CB

    •  I feel that he’s not a hard worker.”

      Guy has a 14 sack season.  He has an 12 sack season.

      He was moved to OLB in the 3-4 last year.  He had 5 sacks in 5 games.  The guy matched Anthony Spencer’s season output in 5 games.  

      What do his spending habits have to do with his work ethic?

      • Jeremiah Thompson

        Agree that analogy makes no sense.

        He would be a huge plus if he can stay healthy.  Only scare I have is how much $$$ and if he can finish the year on the active roster.  Two years in a row on IR 🙁

      • ware94

        I guess I could have stated that better. I have a friend who is in the process of building Mario a home and two other guys I know (one pretty well) who hang out with him. I have even met him twice. What I have been told is that he doesn’t work hard, never talks football, totally involved in buying toys and spending money. Yes, he has talent (no doubt) but I just wouldn’t pay through the nose if the guy doesn’t work hard. Even people in the Houston media has brought up his work ethic. I don’t think he’s a fit (long term) in a 3-4. If Dallas does try to sign him then that will indicate to me that they are moving back to the 4-3.

    • Lee1936

      I admire your draft and FA thinking. Very thoughtful.

  • AustonianAggie

    *Note that Wes likes Jason Garrett’s play calling.

    I’m guessing Mario lands a fat contract some where else, and both those other guys never hit the market. Thankfully some good oline prospects are still available in FA; and I’d start looking at mid level CBs and LBs

  • Jarhead

    i think dallas will make a run at williams, but the top two pass rushers on the team will be on the wrong end of 25 if they land him. he’ll likely go where the most money is, if he signs with dallas, a five year deal puts him at 31 in his last year. he should be able to play at a high level throughout the life of the contract.

    i’d rather see him get big money than a FA CB, but i’d love to see dallas pull down one of these 25-26 year old centers for a 6 year deal.

    • Audiris

      I don’t think a 5 year deal is not going to get it done. More like 7 year/100M

      • Jarhead

        up to JJ to decide the threshhold. if the asking price is too high and he wont come down….i let him walk out the door.

        i think the “real” life of any contract signed would be 5 years.

    • SportsDrunk

      Unfortunately there are no 25-26 year old centers hitting FA. Chris Myers is the cream of the crop and he’s like 31.