Terence Newman – For my money, Newman is the most underappreciated player on the team. You can knock him for his lack of interceptions but he usually handles his business and has proven he can take a star receiver out of a game. Last year he posted his career-best numbers in both tackles and interceptions. Maybe this will be his last year in Dallas as the financial benefit of releasing dramatically increases next offseason, but to cut him now is just too soon.
Mike Jenkins – Much like the Cowboys as a whole, Jenkins looked like a rising star in 2009 only to fall apart last season. He appeared lost on many occasions, with the opening series against the Titans standing out as just an abysmal display. The difference from Season 2 to Season 3 was so dramating that it’s hard to explain what happened. Did the kid get full of himself after an unexpected Pro Bowl invitation? Who knows, but let’s hope last year humbled and refocused him.
Orlando Scandrick – Making less than $1 million per season, Scandrick has been a great value as a solid third corner. There’s a good chance this will be his final year in Dallas and he’ll be looking to entice some team to give him a chance as a starter when he hits free agency next summer. That team still could end up being the Cowboys though, especially if we have to parts ways with Newman due to his salary or if Jenkins continues to regress as a player. However, in the event of either scenario we could easily see Dallas making a play for next year’s top cornerback free agent as opposed to promoting Scandrick.
Gerald Sensabaugh – Just recently, Sensabaugh made comments that he will test the market and believes he is worth more than the $1-$1.5 million salary he’s had the last two years in Dallas. He’s right, but how much more he thinks he’s worth could be interesting. I’ve never been that impressed with Sensabaugh and I think most of his interceptions last year were “right place, right time.” He’s never shown the coverage ability or dynamic playmaking that would earn big money in free agency. My guess is that he’s going to be disappointed by what the market offers, and if he’s not careful someone could have taken his job here once he realizes the mistake.
Alan Ball – We’ve seen worse starters at safety, but the timing of Ball’s tenure was very difficult. With the team coming off a playoff season, Ball replaced a decent but overpaid starter in Ken Hamlin. When our defense fell apart in 2010, the easiest person to point a finger at was Ball as the unproven newcomer. How much of last year’s problems were due to the Hamlin-to-Ball downgrade is hard to say, but Ball never made a play and seemed to be in the picture frame on many of our opponents’ highlights. He’s a free agent now and will only return to be a backup, perhaps having value a swing player between safety and corner. He will probably be competing with Akwasi Owusu-Ansah for that role, hoping the young prospect doesn’t show enough in camp to force the veteran Ball out of town.
DRAFT CLASS IMPACT
Fifth-round pick Josh Thomas sounds like a clone of Orlando Scandrick, right down to his height and weight. If he can have the immediate impact that Scandrick did as a reserve, then it could be bad news for Alan Ball if he hopes to stick around on the depth chart.
FREE AGENCY POTENTIAL
Nnamdi Asomugha… we know! And yes, the Cowboys have been mentioned as a team that’s interested in his services. But guess what? We’re ALWAYS mentioned as a team with interest in a big name player. That’s because it’s sexy to throw our team into a conversation and it’s easy because Jerry Jones’ reputation makes it hard to refute that he’s be tempted by a guy with Asomugha’s status. But if you really know this team. and have been paying attention to the last several years of roster moves, you won’t be another sucker who thinks we’ll be going after this guy.
Dallas is going to have to shed salary just to get under the new salary cap. They also have the immediate needs of re-signing Doug Free, Kyle Kosier, and Gerald Sensabaugh or replacing them with new free agents. There’s also this thing called the free safety position that has to be addressed. How does finding the money to sign the biggest free agent in the land, who will command a record-breaking salary, fit into this equation? Simply put; it doesn’t!
Now forgetting about Asomugha doesn’t mean we won’t be making some free agency noise in the secondary. Names like Michael Huff, Eric Weddle, and Abram Elam are getting bounced around to replace Ball and perhaps even Sensabaugh as well. We’ll certainly need at least one of these players if the talent level at safety is to increase for next season.
I’m a firm believer that improvement in the front seven will do wonders for the secondary, particularly Newman and Jenkins. That’s not to say you can just roll out the same four players, though, and hope for the best. We have to make an aggressive signing at safety. I really don’t care if they bring back Sensabaugh or not. I have a feeling that we could sign Abram Elam for less money and get the same level of play, not to mention a guy who knows Ryan’s defense and could help his teammates. A combination of Huff/Elam or Weddle/Elam would be my ideal scenarios for next year.
The passing games of the Eagles and Giants, as well as other top NFC teams like the Falcons, Saints, and Packers, mean we can’t mess around with our defensive backs. We took a gamble on Alan Ball last year and paid for it. It’s not all on the secondary but there were some clear fundamental problems with the safety-corner communication and the corners, particularly Jenkins and Scandrick, playing too loose and taking too many chances. They have to find a balance.