Despite all the angst being expressed over the Cowboys inactivity during free agency, I don’t believe they are all that far from being a team that can make a playoff run. Let’s look at the roster by position.
On offense let’s start with Quarterback. Tony Romo, at almost 33 years of age, still has some good years left in his playing career and, despite what some may think, is better than most quarterbacks in this league. And the interceptions he gets faulted for are often the product of an ineffective offensive line that has him running for his life every time he drops back to pass and receivers that don’t always run the proper route. With Kyle Orton in place as his backup, this position does not need anything from free agency or the draft at this time.
At fullback, there is a definite need for an upgrade. Lawrence Vickers was a disappointment. The Cowboys should have taken another chance on Tony Fiametta last year, rather than let him get away. The Cowboys should be able to upgrade this position with a late draft pick or even with a player still waiting for a team in free agency. Of course they can run out of three receiver sets without a fullback, taking advantage of what looks like a passing play.
At halfback, DeMarco Murray has solidified his position as the starter, but with a history of not being able to play a full season due to injuries, it is important that the Cowboys have a very capable backup at the position. I am not sure of Phillip Tanner’s future on this team, but Lance Dunbar should be able to make the team as a role player. The possibilities for primary backup at this position are re-signing Felix Jones, adding a late round draft pick or signing an undrafted free agent. Jones was a disappointment last year, but was playing hurt. If he can run like he did in the Ravens game after Murray went out, he would be a valuable backup.
At receiver the Cowboys have an abundance of riches. Dez Bryant has become the beast many of us thought he could be and a healthy Miles Austin would put the fear in some defensive backs as well. And with Dwayne Harris coming on strong, Cole Beasley’s ability to get open in the slot and yet untested Danny Coale, there is no need to add players at this position. There is talk about bringing Laurent Robinson back, but I think his ankle injury and four concussions would keep him from being the player he was when he left.
At tight end, Jason Witten shows no sign of slowing down and James Hanna has the speed and size to be a downfield threat, which seems to be where this position is heading. With the loss of John Phillips, who never seemed to be as good after knee surgery, the Cowboys could add a blocking tight end late in the draft or find a bargain in free agency.
On the offensive line there is only one player with a solid hold on his position and that’s Tyron Smith at left tackle. Doug Free at right tackle could be a salary cap casualty and be cut after June 1. If he returns, it must be at a lower price. Likewise at guard, the bargain basement signings of 2012 were a bust. Fortunately, this one of the heaviest (no pun intended) drafts for offensive lineman, perhaps ever. With six picks in the upcoming draft, look for the Cowboys to use at least three of them on offensive lineman, possibly including their first pick at eighteen. Also look for Ron Leary, signed as an undrafted free agent last year, to compete for a guard spot.
On defense, there is much talk about the need to add defensive linemen for the change from 3-4 to 4-3 defense, but with Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware slated to play as defensive ends, there are more than enough good players on this team to solidify a good rotation at defensive tackle. Look for them to add one in the draft if a beast falls into their lap. At linebacker, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are solid and I think Ernie Sims will win and excel at the open outside linebacker position. Sims came into the league as a first round draft pick and might well start playing like one. The rest of the linebackers on the roster should provide capable backups. Not sure what the Giants were thinking by signing Dan Connor, but they are certainly welcome to take him.
At defensive back, cutting Gerald Sensabaugh at safety turns this into a possible need position. Look for them to add a safety in the draft or free agency, but we might very well see Barry Church and Matt Johnson starting once the season gets underway. At corner, the return of Brandon Carr and a more seasoned Morris Claiborne makes a difference, not to mention the return of Orlando Scandrick after injury ended his season last year. Mike Jenkins will be a noticeable loss, but I believe Sterling Moore will be a capable backup.
In addition, don’t underestimate the big dividends that will be paid by the change in defensive philosophy. I believe this change, and coaching changes on the offensive side of the ball, will help to take this team much further than they have been able to go the last few years.