Priority order: (1) OL (OT, OG, C… you name it), (2) DT, (3) S, (4) DE, (5) RB, (6) TE, (7) WR, (8) LB, (9) CB, (10) QB
QB: Tony Romo signed a 7 year deal worth well over $100 million, and a reported $55 million guaranteed. The more realistic details of the contract are that Romo will be the Cowboys QB through at least 2015, unless they restructure him at some point, pushing more guaranteed money into future years, which could extend his tenure with the team even further:
I talked more about Romo’s worth last season immediately after signing his contract. The short version is that despite his latest “late season Romoment,” he carried the Cowboys last year, and they wouldn’t have anything close to division contenders without him.
Could the Cowboys draft a QB project? Sure, I can see that. I just wouldn’t expect the Cowboys to use a high a pick on a QB this season, unless one that the Cowboys really like falls in their laps, which is unlikely considering QBs are so wildly over-drafted these days.
There is a rub if you do draft a QB though. As noted above, the Cowboys are tied to Romo through at least 2015, and they’d take a huge dead money hit if they cut him in 2016. Four years from now, your rookie QB will be hitting the free agent market. Next year might be the more appropriate time to explore a new QB to groom behind Romo.
RB: Most of my blame for the Cowboys inept run game goes to the OL, who simply didn’t open up enough holes this season, and were generally beaten at the point of attack week in and week out. DeMarco Murray is, in my opinion, a perfectly fine feature back. He has speed, he runs hard, breaks tackles, and is a weapon in the passing game. The Cowboys are fine there. They will, however, need to bring in a competent #2. Lots of depth at RB this year. My personal favorites are Texas A&M’s Christine Michael and Utah State’s Kerwynn Williams.
WR: Dez Bryant has become a fantastic player, and while Miles Austin can be a tease, he is still at the very least a great #2. Meanwhile, Dwayne Harris is emerging as a a really nice #3. It couldn’t hurt to bring in some athletes late in the draft, but I don’t see much of a need here.
TE: Jason Witten led all TEs in catches and yards last season, but I’m not so sure his production translates to quality offense. I talked more about that earlier in the week.
Witten is going to be 31 in May. This class is widely regarded as the deepest TE group in years. Any other year I probably wouldn’t touch a TE if I were the Cowboys, but with such a compelling group of TEs, it might be wise for the Cowboys to search for Witten’s successor sooner than later.
OL: I don’t know if there’s a Cowboys writer on the planet that has written more about the Cowboys’ need to fix their OL over the last 3 years than me. I’m kind of burnt out on the subject, but here we go again. The Cowboys continue to experience the nuclear fallout from ignoring their aging, declining OL dating back to 2008.
Their OL timeline can be found here, if you’re interested.
But as always, OL remains the Cowboys biggest need area.
DE: Obviously, the Cowboys are set at one spot with DeMarcus Ware, although Ware and Spencer form the lightest 4-3 DE combo in the NFL. That could be an issue against run-heavy teams.
Anthony Spencer’s cap number will be $10,627,200 in 2013, or 8.64% of their cap. Spencer had a breakout season of sorts in 2012, although a lot of people thought he had a breakout “2nd half of the season” in 2009, before a couple of lackluster seasons in 2010 and 2011. Add in a positional switch that will make Spencer significantly undersized, and you begin to wonder if he can maintain his level of play from 2012.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that Spencer thrives in the 4-3, here’s the rub… He’ll be a free agent again in 2014. Wanna tag him for a third time? You can, but it’ll cost you the QB tag rate, which in 2013 was just shy of $15 million. That’s not happening. So the Cowboys will want to get a long term deal done with Spencer, presumably.
If I’m Anthony Spencer, I’m looking at the deal Paul Kruger got from Cleveland, which was for 5 years, $40.5 million, and $20 guaranteed. Anything short of that, and I’d just be inclined to take my $10.6 guaranteed this year and test the market in 2014.
Is Anthony Spencer worth 8.64% of the cap? Emphatically, no. Is he worth the 5 year, $40.5 deal Kruger received from the Browns? Emphatically, no. (Kruger isn’t either, for the record). I can understand wanting to keep Spencer aboard, but when your books are as disastrous as the Cowboys’, this is one of those difficult decisions the Cowboys probably should have exercised.
So Spencer remains a Cowboy… for now, but the uneasy “what should we do with him” game continues.
To be determined how good Tyrone Crawford is, but if I were the Cowboys I would be looking to get younger and cheaper at the DE spot opposite Ware.
DT: Jay Ratliff has proven to be a bit of an ass, and he had a number of things working against him, in terms of sticking with the team:
- Pre-restructure, he was scheduled to make $5 million in 2013, $5.5 million in 2014, $7 million in 2015, and $7.5 million in 2016.
- He missed 10 games last season.
- He had a “physical altercation” with Jerry Jones after the Dallas game in Philly this season.
Despite what appear to be unimpressive numbers and a decline in skills, Ratliff can still play. Here’s a film breakdown of Ratliff against Jason Kelce, who Ratliff thoroughly dominated. And here’s another film breakdown from a 2012 preseason game against the Rams.
Not only did the Cowboys keep Ratliff, but they restructured his contract, which will make him extremely difficult to cut in 2014 if his decline accelerates this season. Note the dead money hit if they cut him in 2014:
It is expected that Jason Hatcher (who was a perfect fit as a 3-4 DE) will move inside to DT to 4-3, along with Sean Lissemore. A DT trio of Ratliff-Hatcher-Lissemore doesn’t exactly scream “We’re gonna shut down your run game.” That would be my biggest concern for the current options at DT, especially considering the DEs are so undersized.
Again, it’s difficult to pinpoint what the Cowboys’ needs are here without knowing what the Cowboys’ have in mind as far as body types along the DL. Regardless, it’s pretty clear that whatever the Cowboys have in mind there, they don’t have enough of it at DT.
Since Bill Parcells left after the 2006 season, the Cowboys have drafted 1 defensive lineman (Tyrone Crawford, 3rd round, 2012) in the first 3 rounds, and none in the first two.
LB: 2012 was the 5th straight season in which Sean Lee missed time:
- Torn ACL in 2008. Missed the entire season.
- Sprained knee in 2009. Missed 3 games.
- Strained hamstring in 2010. Missed 2 games.
- Dislocated wrist in 2011. Missed 1 game.
- Toe. IR. Missed 10 games.
Sean Lee is an immensely talented player, but can he stay healthy? The same can be asked of Bruce Carter, who proved he was the real deal last season before being IR’d with a dislocated elbow. The Cowboys signed Justin Durant to play SLB, and have “OK” depth in Ernie Sims and Alex Albright, at least compared to the depth on the rest of the roster.
CB: The Cowboys used major resources in fixing the CB position last offseason by using their top 2 picks to get Morris Claiborne and paying Brandon Carr a buttload of money in free agency. They also have a lot of money wrapped up in slot corner Orlando Scandrick. The Cowboys’ 1-2-3 is good to go, but they could add depth.
S: Like the rest of the NFC East and perhaps the league in general, the Cowboys need help at safety. The team was high on Barry Church last season, but he was lost to a ruptured Achilles after just 3 games in 2012. Meanwhile, here were Gerald Sensabaugh’s “playmaker” numbers last season: 0 INTs, 1 FF, 0 FR, 0 sacks, 3 PBUs, 1 TFL. Still, he was at least a solid enough player that he won’t kill you in coverage on the back end, which is better than you can say for a lot of other safeties around the league. The Cowboys had to cut Sensabaugh to make room for Anthony Spencer’s franchise tag.
The safeties currently on the Cowboys’ roster:
- Barry Church: Limited athletically to begin with, and is now coming off a ruptured Achilles.
- Will Allen: Was the Steelers’ 4th safety by the end of the season last year.
- Matt Johnson: 2012 4th round pick, missed all of last season with injuries, 0 NFL snaps.
- Danny McCray: Ideally suited to play special teams, nice 4th safety.
- Micah Pellerin: Camp body.
- Brandon Underwood: Camp body.
Every single one of those safeties has a glaring concern, and only one (Johnson) has any kind of realistic upside.