How Much of the Dallas Cowboys' Defense can Jerry Jones and Rob Ryan Re-Build in One Off-season?

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Here is how I would try to fill all of those needs.

Position Starter Primary Back-up
RE Jay Ratliff Sean Lissemore (late draft pick)
NT 1st or 2nd round pick Josh Brent
LE Jason Hatcher Keep Spears or veteran Free-agent (F.A.)
SLB Victor Butler 3rd or 4th round pick and possibly a F.A.
MILB Bruce Carter Veteran F.A. that can play both inside spots.
MOLB Sean Lee Possible later rounds pick
WLB DeMarcus Ware Alex Albright, Possible later rounds pick
LCB 1st or 2nd round pick Probably more picks and at least 1 F.A.
RCB Mike Jenkins Probably more picks and at least 1 F.A.
FS 3rd or 4th round pick and/or F.A. Danny McCray
SS Gerald Sensabaugh Barry Church
Slot CB Orlando Scandrick

I started by making 2 changes: Ratliff to DE and Scandrick back to slot corner. Those moves meant they would need a starting NT and a starting CB. Hence, I would use the first two picks in the draft to try to get starters at CB and NT. A starting FS is also needed: it is doubtful that you would want to bank on a 3rd or 4th round draftee being your starter in September, so they would need to bring a veteran for at least a season. If Butler and Carter are going to be starters, it would make sense to have veteran back-ups and/or young players to challenge them.

If the Cowboys parted ways with all 8 players mentioned above, then trying to replace them all would require using the first 4 picks in the draft and signing a free-agent to start at FS, and at least 5 other veterans (DE back-up unless they keep Spears, OLB back-up, at least 1 ILB back-up, and probably at least 2 back-up CB’s).

If the Cowboys decide to go this route, or something similar, it will be a much different defense that takes the field in September 2012: only Hatcher, Lee, Ware, Jenkins, and Sensabaugh would be starting at the same position as the year before. That would mean 6 new starters, although Ratliff is just changing positions and Butler and Carter are moving up to first string. It also means that the Cowboys could have 3 or 4 starters in September that are not currently on the roster.

The Cowboys are rumored to have around $20 million available under the salary cap, despite having around 28 million in dead money from releasing Barber, Williams, Columbo, Gurode, et al. Cutting Newman will certainly create more dead money for next year, but it will also free up either 4 or 6 million, depending on when they choose to release T-New.

If they can sign a starting interior lineman in free agency, then the Cowboys could easily afford to spend their first 4 picks on defense as suggested above, but they would also have to sign several free agents.

As we get closer to free agency, we will start to examine which free agents and potential draft choices would best fill in the holes in the depth chart above.

Based on the depth chart going in to the offseason:

Do you agree with moving Ratliff to DE?

Do you want a NT and CB in the first 2 rounds?

Do you think Butler will be better than Spencer?

Do you think that Carter will be an adequate starter?

Which free agents (being realistic about the cap space, their cost, and the other free agent needs) do you think they should go after? 

I look forward to reading your suggestions about players, corrections, and criticisms in the comments section below or by email [email protected]

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