Thursday, January 30, 2014

Weighing in on the 2014 Dallas Cowboys' staff changes

Last pre-season, I said that Jerry Jones made the right decisions as far as implementing coaching staff changes, but made them in the worst possible fashion.

Jason Garrett clearly was a better head coach for not having play calling duties and for the first 5-6 games of the season Dallas's defense was vastly improved in the 4-3.  Then injuries happened for the second straight year and the defense fell apart.

Dallas's defense ended up being the worst Cowboys' defense in team history.  Injuries played a huge role, but weren't the only factor.

Both Monte Kiffin and the man he replaced, Rob Ryan, are great defensive coordinators, but like all coaches they excel in some areas and fail in others.  Ryan lost his job in Dallas because Jerry Jones and Larry Lacewell thought Ryan was unnecessarily complex in his play calling and that it was stunting the development of the players selected by the scouting department (headed by Jerry Jones).

There is something to the argument. In New Orleans, Ryan has some limitations put on how complex he can be and he again looks like one of the best defensive coordinators in the league.  It is frustrating that Jones did not simply put those shackles on Ryan, rather than scapegoating the guy for coaching a roster filled with aging guys and guys who were drafted despite major injury concerns --- but it is what it is.

Ryan is a great motivator of defensive players and may be the absolute best in the NFL at getting solid play from over matched personnel.  Unfortunately his base scheme was a 3-4 in a year where Larry Lacewell was strongly advocating the switch to a 4-3.  Jones would scapegoat Ryan for the failings of the team in 2012.

Monte Kiffin coaches a very player friendly 4-3 scheme.  It is easy for every position but CB.  Because it is well designed, players do not have to think much in Kiffin's scheme.  They can just react.

Kiffin's scheme requires physical CBs who are willing and reliable tacklers.  Dallas had invested heavily in a pair of young CBs who excell in man coverage and are not willing tacklers.  Both struggled in zone coverage.

The difference between the 4-3 and 3-4 from a cap perspective is where you sink your money.  In the 3-4, it is all about the outside linebackers.  In the 4-3 it is all about the defensive line.  If you lose high dollar players in the area that dominates your defensive spending, you will struggle to replace them.

Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer were 4-3 DEs in college.  The thought was that, although they would be undersized 4-3 DEs, the move back to that scheme would be manageable.   Spencer went down with a knee injury in week 1 and was lost for the season.  For the second year in a row, Ware took on a host of injuries.  This time he significantly slowed down due to the injuries, dropping from 11 sacks to 6 sacks.   Ware was easily blocked by single coverage in the season's second half.

Both DE's appear to be too old to play as undersized, full-time DEs.  Both appear to be passing down specialists at this point in their careers.  The move to the 4-3 appears to still be viable, but appears about 3 years too late for Ware and Spencer to be dominant every down players.

As I predicted last pre-season, Jason Hatcher prospered at the 3 technique DT and had a career year.  The scheme change was great for him. Likewise Dallas had the best safety play they have had in several years.  The 4-3 cover 2 has been great for Dallas' young safeties. But it hasn't been great for everyone.

Jones has a lot invested in his starting CBs.  Both struggled mightily in cover 2 once the team's pass rush dried up.

Given the team's investment at CB it makes a lot of sense to move Kiffin into a "helper/gamplanner/ assistant" role with former DL coach Rob Marinelli taking over at DC.

There is an argument that Kiffin was too dogged about staying in the cover 2 last year and that he struggled to adjust to offensive play calling on the fly.  The nut of it was that he was too dead set in his ways --- too committed to the defense he developed --- and too slow to process needed changes within the flow of the game.  Said another way, he was too old to be in that position.  The evidence does support that conclusion.

There is also an argument that, like Ryan, Kiffin is merely the latest fall guy for the failings of the scouting department and the guys signing old players to overly large deals --- both headed by Jerry Jones.  The evidence also supports that conclusion.

Jones and Garrett set out to promote Rod Marinelli into Kiffin's job.  The thought was that Dallas would not be able to convince Marinelli to take it, if it forced out Kiffin.  The fact that Dallas was able to get both parties to come to terms is a little surprising and reflects well on Jones and Garrett, but especially on Kiffin.  It appears that Kiffin was not only able to put aside his ego for the betterment of the team, but also to essentially be the fall guy.  You really cannot ask for more.

Kiffin is likely to be a positive assistance to his good friend Marinelli, while Marinelli is one of the top defensive coordinators in the league.  It would not be at all surprising to see Kiffin improve a defensive game plan or focus on developing key players like under performing LB Bruce Carter.  This looks very workable.


On offense, things are also looking up, although there is likely some major dysfunction and "sore ass" on that side of the coaching staff.

Last year, Jones rammed Bill Callahan down Jason Garrett's throat.  The results were predictably poor.

While Garrett likely loves Callahan's work as an Oline coach, there is likely no way Garrett would have chosen Callahan to be his offensive coordinator.

Callahan was pretty bad last year.   The offense disappeared for games on end, despite above-average blocking and all of the key stars being healthy.  For that to occur, the play calling really has to struggle.

The trouble was Callahan is a guy from the Bill Walsh camp and Garrett is a guy heavily influenced by the Don Coryell camp.  Over the years both schools of offensive thought have been labeled "the West Coast Offense", but they have entirely different core philosophies.  The Walsh camp focuses on quick passes, often stretching the defense wide and uses the run as a garnish.  It is hoping for receivers to run up yards after catch.  Walsh guys consider short passes to be equivalents to runs.

The Coryell camp favors a more physical running game and in general throws the ball a little deeper,  trying to stretch the defense deeper to open up running lanes.  They would rather run the ball to pull the defense in and open up a big pass gain than throw 3-4 yard dinks to WRs.

Garrett played for years in the Norv Turner simplified variant of the Coryell Offense.  His first NFL coaching job was in Miami under Nick Saban and his OC Scott Linehan.

Linehan played QB in college under Dennis Erickson and Keith Gilbertson. He was an offensive coordinator in college under John L. Smith. These are all guys known for aggressive offenses that take some chances. Linehan takes a lot of chances offensively.

Garrett's offense is heavily influenced by both Linehan's and Turner's.

It was a poor idea for Jones to have a career-long Walsh guy --- one who is even less of a run advocate than most Walsh guys --- run the offense of a veteran team used to Coryell concepts.  Dallas last year was a team with little ability in it's WRs to make gains after the catch, which further made Callahan an ill-advised fit.  (One thinks back to the days when Tom Landry brought in a Walsh advocate Paul Hackett and attempted to transition to a west coast offense with a veteran team.  It was equally unsuccessful.)

Callahan frequently forgot about the run in the second half when team usually salt way a large lead.  Several games were lost due to that. (In defense of Callahan, there is again a compelling argument that he may have been trying to keep the egg shells that comprise Demarco Murray unbroken by limiting Murray's carries.  Murray was the only Dallas RB capable of consistently completing pass blocking assignments.  The offense collapse when Murray was out. There is, again, a personnel problem that underlies this.)

Linehan is probably a top 5-10 or so offensive coordinator in the league --- essentially a peer of Garrett.  Linehan is also notable in that he is probably the OC most secure in having his QB force the ball to a star WR and is quite willing to move a star WR around to generate better matchups.

This bodes very well for Dez Bryant.

Additionally Linemen doesn't put a heavy load on his backs as runners, but works them into the passing game pretty heavily.  That is good news for a back like Demarco Murray, who clearly needs his carriers limited and for underutilized Lance Dunbar.  Dunbar is undersized as a runner, but anyone who saw him at UNT recognizes what an uncanny big play threat he is in the open field, despite average speed. For every 10 catches Dunbar makes, he might take one to the house. If he stays healthy, he could really blossom under Linehan as a receiver.

As Garrett's former boss, Linehan will probably have a much easier transition to running Garrett's offense than Callahan did.

On the negative side, Linehan, like Garrett and Callahan, is overly reliant on the pass.  He will lose games due to an unwillingness to run out the clock with the ground game too.

This sucks for frustrated Dallas fans, but he might be slightly better in that regard than Callahan and Garrett --- their play calling suggest neither subscribe to the philosophy of using the running game to run out the clock.

Linehan is not equally deathly allergic to running the ball in the second half with a lead ...He is merely occasionally pass-happy with a lead.

Much of the media conversation in Dallas has centered around what a bad idea it is to prevent demoted OC Bill Callahan from interviewing for other OC positions.  The Cowboys have denied permission for Cleveland and St. Louis to interview Callahan for their open OC positions.  That is somewhat unusual.  The local media credits this policy to Jerry Jones.

The local media's arguments against it center on it being a bad idea to keep a disgruntled coach and that last year's assistant OL coach Frank Pollard should be allowed to be the full-time OL coach.  I have heard one radio personality argue that Pollard was around the OL providing the hands on coaching 80% of the time.  (Given that the source of that statement asked the question, "What does an OL coach do?" on the air, in attempt to ridicule the importance of OL coaches, I cannot speak to the accuracy of that percentage.  It may simply be made up in an effort to save face from quite an embarrassing statement.)

This situation again hits me as a Jerry Jones created problem.

Callahan is one of the top 3-4 OL coaches in the NFL currently.  Now if Garrett felt that Pollard was the key player in the development of rookie center Travis Frederick and a positive factor in the improvements of Pro bowl OT Tyron Smith and the other members of the OL, one would think Garrett would be receptive to letting Callahan go and Pollard taking over.  If Garrett thought Pollard was ready to be an above average NFL coach, he would probably be willing to make that change.

Per Steven Jones, all of the changes were on Garrett's call.  If that is the case, Garrett likely considered a move from Callahan to Pollard to be a major downgrade.  Going from one of the three best OL coaches to a young guy who potentially might be one of the worst in the NFL is a major downgrade for a coach in a win-or-be-fired year.

Now I happen to think the truth may be that Garrett has total control ...within Jerry's desires.

I think the guy who might have a problem with Pollard as the OL coach might actually be Jerry Jones.  I think Jones may want to hang on to Callahan long-term as the OL coach.  I think if this is the case, it is really bad logic on the part of Jones, as Callahan will almost certainly leave next year because Jones prevented him leaving this year.

I also question whether Jones would allow both Callahan and Pollard to leave (with Jones still potentially paying one or both of them for a year) and then have to pony up big money to land a good OL coach from the pro or college ranks for a win-or-get-fired coach. (Jones really had to hire Linehan because he couldn't face the fans going into next season with the same coordinators on staff.  Jones had already taken a media hit for rejecting Garrett's first choice for OC --- Norv Turner.  Retaining last year's coordinators was an issue that could dramatically impact the Cowboys' financial bottom line next year. Replacing the OL coach, presumably to make Garrett more comfortable, is not something that impacts the sales of tickets.)

Jones has appeared to be a great example of the saying "penny wise and pound foolish" over the last few years.  He pays lavishly for over the hill star players or top coordinators, but affords a small budget for head coaches and for years refused to pay to have both an offensive and a defensive coordinator --- like every other team in the league.  This could easily be more of the same ill-advised penny pinching.

Now I think Garrett has been foolish in not publicly coming out in support of Callahan and doing everything in his power to soothe the tensions between himself and Callahan.  Garrett's success this year appears heavily reliant on Callahan.  Callahan was put in a tough spot last year by Jones, just like Garrett. It is difficult to call plays and build game plans in an offense that does not reflect one's offensive sensibilities.

Leaving Callahan publicly embarrassed and twisting in the wind is just dumb, but so far these staff changes have been far more positive than negative.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dallas Cowboys cap situation 2014 + draft recommendations

A lot of Dallas fans want cap control now --- they want Demarcus Ware cut and do not want Anthony Spencer re-signed.  

Such a move has a very good shot of ending Romo's Super Bowl window.  These fans want the best for Dallas, but I contend they are effectively arguing to throw the baby out with the bath water.
The reality is that you have to mass as much talent as you can to make a true run at the title.  Romo is nice, but you have to be able to win both lines of scrimmage and run the ball when December rolls around.  It has been a long time (much longer than Romo's career as a starter) since Dallas has been able to do that.  That is why Dallas collapses at the end of every year ...It isn't just Romo.
Dallas has a good nucleus, but they have a few pronounced holes.  Cutting ties with Ware and Spencer just creates at least one new hole at DE.  Frankly, after running through the math on, I am convinced such an action isn't required.
Dallas can not only get under the cap, but if they are really aggressive, they can also free up about $14M in cap space to re-sign players and sign their rookie class.   I feel even more confident about my totals after's own specialist reached similar conclusions.
Still, it is daunting to look at Dallas $21.851M over the cap with Spencer, Jason Hatcher, and the rookie class not under contract and gaping holes on the roster.

Last Pre-Season

How did we get to this position?  Well, it started last year when a key player, rather than Dallas, had the leverage in negotiations and in using that leverage in their contract negotiations, destroyed a healthy free agency effort.  Dallas cannot allow the same thing to happen this year.
The thought among fans and the media had been that Dallas would easily extend Tony Romo in the spring, dropping his 2013 cap cost and creating the space to sign a free agent or two.
When the Romo negotiations ran long, the Cowboys had to restructure a number of player contracts just to get under the cap by the league's spring deadline. Last spring Dallas restructured the contracts of Mackenzy Bernadeau, Brandon Carr, Demarcus Ware, Jason Witten, and Miles Austin.
Romo was finally re-signed far after the spring deadline.
The rules on restructuring deals state that a year needs to pass since the last contract restructuring.  That would seem to imply that Romo's deal could not be restructured until after the NFL's spring deadline to be under the cap --- meaning  other payers would need to rework their deals.
In theory, anyone but Romo would be fair game.
Now there may be some loophole, but those are the rules I used in working the cap.  (The overthecap analyst assumed a Romo restructuring in the spring, stating that Romo's deal appears to have been worked with a 2014 restructuring in mind.)
Either way, both of us reached the same conclusion.  It should give the reader confidence that some way or another, this can be done.

My work

The rules I found on how often extensions can be done are a bit vague, but they are probably fairly similar to renegotiations.  I have chosen to use extensions rather than renegotiations to try to build logical arguements in for a player to accept what is basically a renegotiation.  My goal was to retain as much needed talent as possible for the last few years of the Romo window.
I think there are a few people it makes sense to cut and four players who it makes sense to extend (and really restructure) prior to the spring deadline: DE Demarcus Ware, CB Brandon Carr, TE Jason Witten, and OG Mackenzie Burnadeau.
Ware is the wildcard in this, so I would advocate running through the other "spring moves" first to create better leverage on Ware.


I would cut Phil Costa.  I do not think Costa is a survivable backup. He is a substandard blocker and cannot reliably get off a snap.  If Ryan Cook is healthy, he is better.  If he isn't, spend a late draft pick on a backup center or sign someone in free agency.  Costa is currently a 1.725M cap cost. Cutting him would reduce that to 225K.
I would also cut Jeremy Parnell.  I like Parnell, but the reality is he may not have a starter's durability and may not ever start in Dallas.  If he isn't going to start, he is very much overpaid. His cap cost is $1.833M, but cutting him would reduce that to 333K.
Total Savings: $3M (This is "theoretical", the cap assigns minimum values for open player slots up to the minimum number of roster players.  It totals a team's players from highest salary downward until it reaches the maximum number of roster players.)
Cap Position: +$19,841,591 over the cap.



Carr had solid games and awful games this year.  He didn't earn his money.  He certainly didn't play like a #1 CB.  He has $34.5M left on his deal over the next 4 years and there is a serious question as to whether he is even an above average CB in this defense.
He is a $12.2M cap hit. Given his skill set, it will be a long and tough transition for him to this ill-advised switch to cover 2. Still, starting caliber CBs, even average ones, are hard to come by.  And Dallas probably shouldn't cut him.  Carr still has a chance to be solid even in this defense if the pass rush is significantly improved.
And frankly, it is entirely likely the cover 2 aspect of this defense will be dropped after 2014 after Kiffin has developed the DL, LBs, and Safties.  (I am naming Seattle's defensive coordinator as the dark horse candidate to be the Cowboy's head coach in 2015.  They run the old Jimmy Johnson defense in Seattle --- optimal for Dallas's personnel.)
It would cost an additional $4.6M on this year's cap to cut Carr this spring, so that is out, but the very reasonable idea of cutting him on June 1st gives Dallas the leverage to force Carr to accept Dallas's demands. (On June 1st, Dallas could cut Carr and only have a $4.7M cap hit --- a $7.5M cap savings!).
There is an argument for Dallas to cut ties with Ware and Carr and in one year they will have restored cap sanity.  I would argue that doing that would eliminate Dallas as a potential playoff team for 1-2 years --- at this point in Tony Romo's career, I think that would be a poor decision.
I think Dallas could negotiate Carr down a little, but my approach would be get him to admit that he fell short last year given his pay and understand that the options are giving in to restructuring or being cut in the summer ...when free agency money dries up ...after a miserable year.  He has to see the writing on the wall. 
I would want him to take $1M base salary next season as a payback for an awful year last season. Frankly, he played like a million dollar CB last season. 

That would basically be giving the team a year, with his current contract just pushed one year down the road.  That drops his cap cost this year to $5.7M.
It would frankly be greatly in his interest to accept.  Dallas knowingly overpaid for Carr due to his age.  Carr is not as young now.  If he has to re-enter the free agent market, he has lost that leverage.
Plus this deal could work out in his favor.  If Dallas guaranteed the $7.5M I advocate pushing to 2015,  that could get Carr to acknowledge a team commitment to seeing him have a real shot to get all of his money.  

This deal gives him 2 years of security to figure out how to be effective in this defense (or conversely to struggle through it and wait out the Kiffin regime).
Base salary: 1M, 7.5M(guaranteed), 8M, 9.1M, 10M
Total Savings: $6.5M (this is "theoretical")
Cap Position: +$13,341,591 over the cap.


Jason Witten has 4 years left with 24M of base salary.  The guy has certainly earned his money.  His cap cost is $8.412M.
If he would take a $1M base salary this year and push his last 4 years a year down the road in exchange for a last year guarantee, it would save Dallas $4M off the cap this year.  Guaranteeing the last year makes it essentially the same deal.
Base salary: 1M, 5M, 5.1M, 6.5M, 7.4M(guaranteed)
Total Savings: $4M(this is "theoretical")
Cap Position: +$9,341,591 over the cap.


Mackenzey Bernadeau is a below average starting guard.  He has been a grossly overpaid player in Dallas. He was a potential homerun, sneaky signing that just hasn't worked out to his level of pay. He played decent football last season, but it isn't like he couldn't easily be competently replaced by an older vet at a $1M a year price tag.
Bernadeau lost his starting job to Brian Waters and would probably do so again next season if Waters is resigned.
He has 2 years on his deal, $2.75M and $3.25M.  If he was cut, no one in the league would pay him more than maybe $1.5M a year based on his play.  He has reasons to go along with a reworked deal.
I would add a year to his deal with a $1M base with the idea in mind that he will not be a full season starter this year, but might work his way back into the starting lineup a year from now.  He carries a $4.07M cap charge this year. This deal would drop that to a $2.324M cap cost.
Base salary: 1M, 2.7M (guaranteed), 3.25M
Total Savings: $4M(this is "theoretical")
Cap Position: +$7,591,591 over the cap.


Ware has said he will restructure his deal, but will not surrender any money.  That won't work. Ware is clearly on the down side of his career.  He is constantly getting injured and the injuries limit his play.  Forget being an elite player, he may only have 2 years left as a 6-10 sack guy who struggles against the run ---basically an average starting DE in the 4-3.
That reality is very problematic for Dallas as Ware is under contract for 4 more years.  I think you could get much, much more production out of Ware by limiting him to 25-30 snaps a game as a situational pass rusher.  You could probably milk 4 effective (say 8-14 sack) years out of him.
I think Ware is reasonable enough to acknowledge that his body is starting to break down due to age and wear and that something needs to be done to manage that situation and extend his career.  He is undersized to play a full time 4-3 DE role.  Ware is scheduled to make $52M over the next four years ---- roughly $13M a year.   He has a $16M cap number this year.  You just can't pay a situational pass rusher that much money a year.
This puts the Cowboys in the difficult spot of having to consider cutting Ware. Dallas will have a hard time getting under the cap by the spring if they are looking at cutting Ware.  Cutting him would save only $7.5M of his $16 Million cap cost this year  (although it is compelling to consider it would eliminate the next 3 years of his salary --- another $39M --- from the books). 
While in a lot of ways such a move looks like sensible cap management in a year with a lot of good DE prospects in the draft, it also suggests rebuilding and a lack of expectations.  I am not sure that is the message you want to send to a veteran team.
Such a move would also have tough cap implications this year.  It could hurt any hopes of adding any significant free agents in the off-season.  In addition, Ware is by far Dallas's best outside pass rusher.
If Dallas were to let him go and maybe resign Spencer instead, Dallas could find that Spencer doesn't hold up as an every down lineman either, creating a gaping hole in their defense. 

Dallas could try to sign another veteran DE who fits the scheme better, but that is just as much of a crapshoot and there are just as many questions about whether the money will be there.

Keeping both Dallas veteran DEs,  if possible, seems an optimal plan as it would allow Dallas the flexibility to spend their early draft picks on other areas of need rather than DEs if need be.  That starts with a Ware pay cut.
With the space already created to potentially manage cutting Ware, Dallas would have the leverage for a "take it or leave it" deal in order to get Ware to look at the situation sensibly --- rather than fixating on the $52M currently promised to him.
If the Cowboys were to cut Ware, no team would be willing to pay him $52M over 4 years.  He is a 32 year old DE who has been beaten to crap the last two seasons and has seen his sack total trend down dramatically.  He'd be lucky to get half of that on a 3 year deal.  That's about $20M ...and then his career would be over after an unceremonious departure from Dallas.
A fair compromise to me, would be for Ware and the Cowboys to split the difference and structure the money in a team friendly way.  Ware surrenders a little over 1 year of salary (say $18 Million) to age, Dallas extends the length of the contract to five years with a guarantee bonus due the last year regardless of whether he plays. Basically it is still a 4 year deal if he chooses not to play the 5th season. 

So instead of $52M over 4 years, $34M over 5 years.

Ware gets the lion's share of his money, gets to retire in Dallas, and Dallas doesn't force him to play on rushing downs.

Dallas gets him at a base salary of $2m for this year.  With $3.25M in bonus money applying, that creates a lot of space for free agency.
(If he declines the deal, I think it makes more sense to cut ties, resign/gamble on the slightly younger Spencer, and draft a pass rush specialist DE in the 3rd round for depth.  Ware might have one top year left in him, but he just isn't all that anymore.)
Base salary: 2M, 8M, 7M,7M, 10M(guaranteed)
Total Savings: $10.75M(this is "theoretical")
Cap Position: $2,658,409 under the cap.
That would get Dallas under the cap by the spring deadline and would give Dallas a tiny bit of cap space in free agency, in addition to allowing Dallas to make some big cuts after June 1st to create the space to resign their key free agents.  (Some players have a lower cap cost when cut after June 1st.)
I think you could get Dallas's own free agents to go along with waiting and maybe 1-2 other free agents.

Other team's free agents

There are a few  positions I would target because they aren't there in the draft or are risky draft picks, or that there are cheap vets who fill the need at a cheaper "cost" than a draft pick: DT, RB, G, and a young QB.
At DT, I initially thought to go after Brodrick Brunkley of the New Orleans Saints.  He is a former #1 draft pick by Philadelphia. He is getting paid 4.4M a year by the Saints and looks like a likely cut.  He is a very good run stuffing DT, but there are some things that will limit the amount offered to him. He is getting up there in years and doesn't have the bulk to play NT long term or the pass rush ability to appeal to many 4-3 teams. 
I think a 3 year 7 M deal might be enough to land him, but as I thought about it, I really don't want to go into next year with 4 starting DLs over 30. Plus, as much as I'd love to have a top notch run stuffer, news reports suggest Monte Kiffen isn't nearly as concerned about having a run stuffing DT and wants a 0 technique who has some pass rush ability.
So I began looking around for a former first round pick in his 20's who is criminally miscast on his current team's defense (as Jason Hatcher was in Dallas's 3-4).  I found a guy. Ziggy Hood of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ziggy Hood

If you look at Hood as a 3-4 DE, he is admittedly an average starter.   The thing about Hood is that he was never supposed to be a 3-4 DE!  Read through almost all of his NFL pre-draft scouting reports and they all say the same thing, "High motor guy who would likely only fit as a 1 gap DT in a 4-3."
Pittsburgh has been trying to hammer that square peg into a round hole for years now.  Hood has DT speed, so he will never be a pass rush threat at DE.  As a DE, he is slow off the snap.  Hood is 6'3" with short arms and that further compromises his ability to escape being locked down by taller tackles and guards with their much longer arms. His great strength is minimized by a lack of leverage. He has bulked up over the years to try to hold his position better vs. high end tackles, but it still isn't a strength.
All of that projects very well for Hood as Dallas's starting 0 technique DT Tackle.  Hood averages about 20 pressures a season at DE.  At DT, starting much closer to the QB, his speed issues are minimized and many of those pressures will be sacks.
As Dallas' 0 Technique, Hood would be lined up heads up on centers ---usually the physically weakest OL on a team --- or shooting the G/C gap --- something that would fit his game.   Hood is not a guy who will eat up double teams, but it doesn't seem like Kiffin is looking for that.   He just has to be strong enough to hold his ground---which he is.   Hood could see a breakout season for such a move, just like Hatcher did. 
Hood was a 2nd round grade prospect who slipped into the first round due to his work ethic and stand up nature.  He has great strength and has upgraded his physical attributes in the NFL.  Signing him would be like recouping a first rounder from the Roy Williams deal. Hood's a 27 year old who doesn't get injured.
I think in Dallas he would be a 6 sack a year , 16 game starter next to Hatcher.  I think he would be average vs. the run.  He would platoon a little with Nick Hayden.  That is a great return for the likely cost to sign him.
Pittsburgh was paying him a little under $2 Million a year.  It is likely they hope to pay him a little less.  I think a 4 year, $9 Million deal would exceed Pittsburgh's interest.
Hood is from Amarillo, TX and playing closer to home and in a better scheme for his talent might be very appealing.
Base salary: 1M, 2M, 3M, 3M
Cap Position: $2,153,409 under the cap.

Toby Gerhart

The former Stanford star RB is not likely to get paid after backing up Adrian Peterson his whole career. Gerhart, a former second rounder, took a lot of hits in college, but next to none in the pros.  Still given the careers of running backs, his next contract is probably his last.  A 4 year deal would likely secure him.  Minnesota paid him about a million last year for spot duty.  It is difficult to imagine them paying him much more ...or for four years.  He is the perfect kind of grinder to replace Phillip Tanner and split time with Demarco Murray/provide running game insurance against a Murray injury. I am not convinced this is a good year to draft that kind of back.
Base Salary: 1M, 2M (with a serious bonus/raise clause if he hits 175 carries), 2M, 2M
Cap Position: $1,648,409 under the cap.

Kevin Boothe

I would also go after Kevin Boothe of the NYG. Boothe is a very good run blocker/average pass blocker who can play guard or center.   He stays healthy and would likely be Dallas's #2 guard behind Brian Waters.  If Travis Frederick gets injured, Boothe would be a very competent replacement --- far better than anyone we have had on the roster. 
Boothe became a starter late in his career, so he has more tread than one might expect from a player his age. Boothe is undervalued in NY and was signed to a one year deal for less than a Million last year.  Showing him some love, say 3 years for a total of $5M, seems like a winning offer to me.  I think if my calculations are off and Dallas is out of late spring cap space, Boothe might be willing to wait until June for that kind of deal.
Base Salary: 1M, 2M, 2M
Cap Position: $1,143,409 under the cap.

Tim Tebow

Before readers freak out about Tebow's mechanics, lets look at the role of a backup QB in Dallas seriously.  

If Dallas loses Romo, does anyone think Kyle Orton will take Dallas on a run through the entire playoffs?  Not going to happen.  Romo hasn't even proved he can do that and as the Philly game proved, Orton running this offense looks much the same as Romo doing it ...Just not quite as good.
The reality is that if Dallas has only 1-2 games to win (ie. Romo drops in the NFC championship game) that is one thing, but any earlier and you can put a fork in Dallas.  It doesn't matter who is taking the snaps.  So why pay a premium for a guy to handle a bunch of games?
Tebow is damned hard to account for even if his mechanics issues may prevent him from ever being an NFL starter. 
If Romo went down, Tebow is the polar opposite for an opponent --- impossible to game plan adequately within the game where Romo was lost and hard to predict and game plan for in the following week.  Tebow controls the clock, doesn't turn the ball over, and wins. Plus he is the right kind of guy to have on the team --- a leader and a very hard worker.  For 1-2 games, he is pretty close to money as a backup.
If you need a QB for several weeks, Dallas probably isn't going to the playoffs anyway, so why bother with Orton? Is there any reason?
Base Salary: 750K
Cap Position: $888,409 under the cap.

Alex Tanney

Finally I would look to re-sign Alex Tanney as a potential QB of the future.  Tanney was picked up by the Browns, but wasn't played.  With a new coach coming in, a high draft pick, and several QBs ahead of him, Tanney may very well become available.  He has uncanny accuracy and a pretty good arm.  He also played a ton of college football. He is worth holding on to for 2-3 years on the regular roster, letting him get used to NFL speed, and seeing if he develops.  Dallas stressed about not keeping him on the roster last year, and I can see why.
Base Salary: 600K
Cap Position: $783,409 under the cap.


That would leave Dallas is very good shape to add to their growing young core in the draft.  I had some ideas early on in terms of what positions to target, but after reviewing the draft's personnel, I would be inclined to spend the picks a little differently.  (Keep in mind it is early in the draft process and some player grades will go up and some will go down.  I am working with the best info I have today.  That shouldn't be a problem for the Cowboys.  Dallas has a solid scouting department to evaluate prospects.  My suggestions are mostly spot based.  They are good players I think would be there based on today's prospect rankings that would also represent good value for Dallas's needs.)

Draft day

1 QB, RT, DE - Lets start with 2 guys who proably won't be there. If QB Johnny Manziel is a scratch on some team's draftboards due to his party lifestyle and slides this far, he is the pick.  QB's with magic are rare.  I heard a scout describe Manziel as Brett Farve on the field, but a guy who if you tell him not to go drinking, will go drinking. I don't think Manziel has Farve's arm to cover his gambles and that will hurt him in the NFL. I think his arm is merely very good, not exceptional.  He will likely be a flop if given an NFL starting job off the bat because he and his game are both immature, but Dallas is well suited to park him on the bench for 2-3 seasons and let him bulk up and mature (ala Aaron Rodgers).  Manziel is young enough and the salary cost for the 18-20th pick is low enough that such a move would make a ton of sense for Dallas.  Picking a QB in the first also gives you another year on the initial contract, which helps given the financial trouble created by the Romo contract situation.  If no Manziel, I'd try to get Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, a chain moving Tackle with a mean streak. OC Bill Callahan appears a short timer in Dallas.  Better get proper use out of Callahan by giving him another first round talent to develop while he is here.  If Both are gone, Tennessee OT Antonio Richardson or Notre Dame DE/DT Stephon Tuitt make sense.  Richardson is a guy WR coach Derek Dooley really likes.  Dooley was the coach at Tennessee and Richardson played for him.  Dooley has Garrett's ear.  Some scouts compare Richardson to Erik Williams.  Williams prior to the car crash was the best OT in football.  He would pound even the great defensive ends into submission. He beat the crap out of Reggie White one game, for example.   I don't see that potential in Richardson's film, but the guy is well built and has the talent to be good.  Richardson and Tuitt both look like early second round players who a team will take in the mid-to-late first based on size and talent. I like Tuitt's size and his consistency working down the line vs. the run.  I think Tuitt can play ET down the road whereas Kony Ealy, a more explosive, but smaller player is just a pro 4-3 DE. Tuitt is better vs. the run and had two good years. Ealy is a one-year wonder and I am hesitant to advocate spending a first on that.
2 DE -  This draft is loaded with good looking DE prospects in the second and third round range.  Louisville DE Marcus Smith would be a nice add.  He was a top notch pass rusher in college. He was well coached and could be a surprisingly productive pass down contributor if injuries hit, even though he is a little undersized.  DC Monte Kiffin and DL coach Rod Marinelli don't seem long for Dallas either.  Bringing in top DL talent --- ASAP --- for them to develop would be a smart use of assets. (If Dallas landed Manziel, I would advocate drafting an offensive tackle in the second, even if it required trading up a bit.)
3 DE -  Texas DE Jackson Jeffcoat is an undersized pass rush specialist.  He was a very accomplished pass rusher in college.  His burst off the line is not what one would expect, but he has very good closing speed.   He can really accellerate to the QB.  For the collegiate level, he is a master at avoiding cut blocks and will run down a running play.  As good as he is there, I think he could get a lot better in that regard with a demanding coach as a lot of times he seems to half quit on a play before remembering he can still track that player down.  He would be a popular pick in Dallas and would likely work his butt off to make it here. He would be a nice add, as a guy who could be a quality pro 4-3 WDE in 2-3 years.  He is considered a very undersized 4-3 DE only today.  He could be very good in a few years or he could be another Shante Carver.  Given his lineage, I think he would put the development time to proper use.  Stanford DE Ben Gardiner looks like another potential future starter that could be available at this spot.  He is a lot bigger, but not the pass rusher.
4 MLB - Get a run stuffing MLB to play first and second down. Sean Lee, the Porcelain Ninja, is going to miss 4-12 games a year playing MLB.   MLBs are vitally important to the stability of the 4-3.  4-3 defenses funnel head on collisions at your MLB.  Lee is an absolute weapon vs. the pass at MLB, but you have to protect Lee vs. the run. You lose your MLB in the 4-3 and your defense falls apart.  Lee doesn't need to be the every down MLB on this team. His skills are just as great on the outside, but much more replaceable if injuries hit and you have a solid MLB next to him.  Play him on the weak side.  There is less contact there. Let him cover backs with Durant on the strong side. You can land a very good and durable MLB in the draft in the forth round most years. Giving Dallas a durable guy in the middle would fix a ton of problems on defense.  Hopefully you can find the firery, call-out-his-teammates leader this team has needed for years.  Carter and Ernie Simms can compete for passing down responsibilities at the WLB. Such a leader/playing-time-threat might do a lot to get the best out of Carter. Wisconsin's Chris Borland might fit the bill.  The more demanding of his teammates this prospect, the better.
5 DT  - Adding a quality 3rd or 4th DT would do a lot to help the defense.  You can usually find a guy of that ilk here.  Just pick one Marinelli likes.
6 S - I like our safeties, but they are not proven.  This is a good spot to gamble on a DII or FCS safety prospect like Eastern Washington's Tevin McDonald.
7 CB - I'd pick a slower, good tackling CB here. The Tampa 2 doesn't require top talents at CB. It requires disciplined guys who can tackle, not elite talents who can cover.  You might find that guy here.  It is time to start looking for potential replacements for Carr and Mo Clairborne if they can't adjust to this scheme and the scheme stays--- Just don't spend a lot, in case the cover 2 goes away and regular man coverage returns.
Finally you will notice that I really didn't say anything about the finances of signing the draft picks.  Keep in mind that the salary cap is based on the number of players a roster holds and most of these guys will make money that puts them on peer with players on the absolute financial bottom of the roster. Adding one of most of these guys and cutting a 40th player on the team will be a wash.  A 5th round pick making the roster may actually save the team cap space.
Anyway you don't have to sign these picks until after June.  On June 1st, there is another opportunity for further cuts and cap savings.
June 1st cuts
Miles Austin is a $8.249M cap cost.  He would only cost $2.749M v.s the cap if cut after June 1st.  Austin has chronic hamstring injuries and is destined to be replaced by Terrance Williams & Dwayne Harris in the near future anyway. 
Kyle Orton was paid to be the guy who could carry Dallas to victory if Romo went down.  Dallas's defense played lights out and Orton couldn't deliver 25 points against an average Philadelphia defense. Orton is good enough to keep it close, but he is no winner --- ie. not worth paying. Let's be honest. Even if he beat Philadelphia, the Saints would have routed Dallas and Orton would not have been able to deliver enough points.  He has a $4.377M cap cost. After June 1, it only costs $1.127M to cut ties.
Doug Free is a $6.25M cap cost.  He would cost $3.02M to cut after June 1st.  It is admittedly risky to cut Free, but he is an average left tackle.   He isn't the run blocker you want on the right side.  I think Dallas would be far, far better suited to upgrade the RT spot in the draft.  If you do that, a $3M base salary is way too much for a backup tackle.
These three moves would create $11.98M in cap space, allowing the resigning of much more important players like Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher as well as the rookie class.
Resign Dallas free agents

Jason Hatcher

Jason Hatcher is an elite interior pass rushing 4-3 DT and has blossomed into a vocal team leader on defense.  If the 4-3 is going to work, he has to be resigned. It is very unlikely anyone will pay him a contract worth more than $22M total at his age.  That is a workable ballpark for Dallas.
Total package: 4 years $22 Million
Signing bonus: 12M equally over 4 years
Base Salary: 1m, 3m (guaranteed), 3m (guaranteed), 3m
Cap cost: 4M

Brian Waters

Most Dallas fans do not want Waters back due to age and injury concerns.  I do.  Brian Waters played at a level slightly below Pro Bowl level for the few games he played, but more importantly, like Erick Williams and Larry Allen years ago, he demanded a higher level of play out of his fellow offensive linemen.  He set the tone on the line and raised the level of expectation.  Forget how much he plays, he needs to be re-signed for the leadership he brings.  Dallas needs Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick (and any rookie tackle they draft) to imprint off him.
Waters held out for 3M last season.  Given the few games he played last year, he might take less this year to be fair --- especially if Jerry Jones lets Waters skip most of camp again.
As Waters likes to skip out on camp, it would be possible to rework Romo's deal to create the space for Waters.  That might allow the retention of Free as a backup for both tackle spots.
Base Salary: 2M

Anthony Spencer

Anthony Spencer missed all season with a knee injury.  He had micro-fracture surgery.  There is no guarantee he will return to form in a year or that he can handle playing as an every down 4-3 DE at his size and age.  Given that, I think his assumed market value is a little overstated.  IMO, there is little chance a team will unload the bank to take a risk on Spencer, who in addition to the injury is over 30.
Total package: 3 years $14 Million
Signing bonus: 6M equally over 3 years
Base salary: 2m, 3m (guaranteed), 3m

Ernie Simms

Ernie Simms is a solid backup LB.
Base Salary: 885k

Dan Bailey

Dan Bailey is a good place kicker.
Base Salary: 885K
Those are my thoughts.  That would give Dallas a rebuilt running game (with redundancy) and the ability to win both lines of scrimmage most weeks.   That will fix December for Tony Romo, and that means the world for Dallas's title hopes.