Interior OL: In 2009 (the last Cowboys team to make the playoffs), the offensive line consisted of Flozell Adams, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis, and Marc Colombo. All were over 30 years of age and their collective decline was fairly predictable. The Cowboys did little in the way of adequately replacing that group, and in just two years, they went from the oldest OL in the league to one of the youngest. The only remaining starting offensive linemen from that team are Kosier, who is now 33 years old, and Doug Free, who had filled in for an injured Colombo.
Drastic turnover doesn’t have to be a terrible thing, as long as the young guys that are stepping in are ready. Rookie Tyron Smith was ready, and looks like he could be a stud LT for the next decade in Dallas. Doug Free was ready in 2010 at LT, but his play fell off a cliff in 2011, and he’s likely to flip over to RT. Second year undrafted free agent center Phil Costa wasn’t ready, as he was regularly overmatched. Ditto that for rookie 7th round pick LG Bill Nagy, who played poorly before being lost for the season with a broken ankle. Rookie 4th round pick David Arkin never saw the field. Luckily, the Cowboys got surprisingly decent play out of Montrae Holland, but I don’t know if the Cowboys can count on that happening again. He’s turning 32 in May and is a free agent. RG Kyle Kosier’s play continued to decline, and he’s now 33.
The Cowboys need to address all three positions along the interior OL, in a big way. In my opinion, it’s their biggest need, by far, even with their issues in the secondary.
Swing tackle: Doug Free should be better in 2012, especially when he moves over to RT, and even if he doesn’t improve, the Cowboys are kind of stuck with him there, due to his 4 year, $32 million contract. But behind both Free and Tyron Smith at tackle is… um… nobody. Depth is essential here.
Quarterback: Jon Kitna retired. Backup needed. To be determined if that’s a 2 or a 3. Stephen McGee is entering his 4th year in the NFL. The Cowboys should know by now what he is. If the Cowboys bring in a vet to back up Romo, that’s not a strong endorsement for McGee. If they draft a developmental QB, it’ll be a strong indication they think McGee is an adequate backup.
#3 Wide Receiver: The Cowboys have a decision to make on free agent Laurent Robinson, who was excellent for the Cowboys in 2011. It’ll be interesting to see what he’ll cost to keep. If the Cowboys think he’ll cost too much, that opens up a need at the 3rd WR spot, especially with the occasionally banged up Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.
#2 Tight End: I’d be surprised if the Cowboys didn’t pull the plug on the Martellus Bennett experience, but you never know. Marty B reminds me of a stock that rose after you bought it. You thought about selling it, but decided instead to hang on, hoping its value would continue to increase. And then it dropped. And then it dropped some more. And then some more. And now you’re just hanging onto it, because… well, why the hell not? Clean it out of the portfolio, Jerry. It’s time.
Otherwise, John Phillips was looking like a breakout player during the 2010 preseason, when he tore an ACL. He played in 2011, but wasn’t the player he looked like he might become before the injury. He’ll be two years removed from the ACL this year. Can he play or not? That’s the question.
Cornerback: Terence Newman is done. Not much explanation needed here.
Outside Linebacker: The "big decision" that I’m shocked has even become a "big decision" is whether or not to franchise tag Anthony Spencer. I already gave my thorough thoughts on that one, but to sum it up, of the 11 "true 3-4" teams in the NFL, I have Spencer ranked as the 16th best starting OLB... out of 22. And 17th out of 23 if you count the 3 guys on the Texans. It would been insane to pay a below average starter $8.8 million by franchise tagging him.
Defensive End: I like Sean Lissemore and Jason Hatcher, especially since the Cowboys employ both players on the cheap, but they’re role players, in my opinion. Marcus Spears is done, or at least he should be, and Kenyon Coleman is very much "just a guy." On a side note, what in the hell were the Cowboys thinking when they gave Spears a 5 year, $19.2 million contract last offseason? But I digress… The Cowboys haven’t had an impact player at DE in their 3-4 since… wow… I can’t even think of one. Chris Canty? Can we call him an "impact player?" Probably not. The lasting image I have of the Cowboys DL is Jason Peters bullying them up and down the field. Anyway, at some point the Cowboys have to address this spot a little more seriously, right?
Safety: Abram Elam is a free agent and likely isn’t coming back. Obvious hole.
Inside Linebacker: Who is Bruce Carter? That’s the big question here. Bradie James and Keith Brooking were collectively atrocious last season, and yet, Carter couldn’t get onto the field. He was only a year removed from a torn ACL, which certainly contributed to his lack of playing time, but how much worse could he have possibly been than James and Brooking? Is Carter the real deal? If the Cowboys don’t think he is, that’s a major hole to fill. If they think he can start in 2012, they’ll still need to add depth.
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