As the organized team activities of June close up shop, Cowboys players and fans alike look forward to the start of training camp in approximately 45 days. Valley Ranch and Oxnard both will have no shortage of questions begging for an answer. How much will the offense change as Bill Callahan and Tony Romo get more perceived input? How does the defense truly adapt to the change in scheme? Can Dallas make it through camp relatively injury-free?
All of these and more questions will define what foot Dallas starts off on entering this season and ultimately, how the entire season will shape up. For myself, I am looking down the road a bit further into next season as I feel this may be the end of the line for a few major names. Here now is a list of six current people involved with this team who may no longer be around once this time next year rolls around.
6. Jay Ratliff – Defensive Tackle
At age 31 and seeing much decline in his overall play, Ratliff is likely playing his last season in Dallas. There is NO way that Ratliff plays out his entire deal which would call for him to make $5.5 million in 2014, $7 million in 2015, $7.5 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2016. Even if the new scheme and coaching helps Ratliff find that fountain of youth, so to speak and return him to Pro-Bowl form, paying that kind of money for a mid-thirties interior defensive lineman who is undersized makes little to no sense, even for Jerry Jones.
5. Mackenzy Bernadeau – Guard
Last March, Bernadeau along with Nate Livings were signed as free agents to help answer the woes that the Cowboys had along their offensive line. Bernadeau was provided a four year deal worth almost $12 million. Unfortunately for all parties involved, he has not lived up to the potential that Jerry Jones saw in him. Most of his tenure in Big D has revolved around injuries and positional shifts in order to find a spot that may be best for him. Now that Dallas used a first round pick on the position he played best in 2012, Bernadeau may be on the outside looking in after this year, if not once training camp commences.
Given that he would only be owed $1.6 million if he was cut after this season, it is likely that Mackenzy Bernadeau makes it through this camp alive, if for nothing else than depth but is replaced next year by either Ronald Leary or another high draft choice. This is especially true if injuries or lackluckster play continue to define his era as a Dallas Cowboy.
4. Anthony Spencer – Defensive End
Spencer is still a Cowboy due to his second straight issue of the team’s franchise tag. He is set to make $10.6 million in 2013. Although he did play remarkably well last year, it can be argued that the type of money that he will be looking for in a long-term deal is not a wise overall investment. With players such as Sean Lee and Dez Bryant coming up on the completion of their rookie deals, the money being tied up by Spencer could be used elsewhere. Dallas has until July 15th to finalize a new contract with Spencer that would likely lessen his 2013 cap number. If this does not happen, it would not be out of the realm of possibility that 2014 sees Dallas go in a different direction and let Spencer seek a big payout elsewhere.
3. Miles Austin – Wide Receiver
This offseason has been like a very nervous round of musical chairs for one Miles Austin. After playing through multiple nagging injuries over the last two seasons that forced him to miss seven games, his production and status on the team have both seen decline. In 2012, Dez Bryant emerged as the team’s new lead dog at the position, relegating Austin to second on the pecking order and more likely third given that Jason Witten is such a utilized weapon at tight end. While Austin did still put up decent numbers last year, posting almost 1,000 yards, over 35% of that production came in three games. Getting injured early in the Thanksgiving day debacle against the Skins and missing the rematch completely did not due Austin any favors when it comes to his image as fragile.
Given that Dallas drafted another pass catching tight end in round two of this year’s draft and an Austin clone in Terrance Williams in round three, the handwriting could be on the wall for Miles. When you factor in the need to use the almost $24 million Dallas could save by cutting him after 2013 to resign other talent, it may be a foregone conclusion that Austin’s days in a Dallas uniform are numbered.
2. Doug Free – Offensive Tackle
We already know that Free was in serious danger of losing a roster spot this year before agreeing to a major salary reduction. Many Cowboys fans were hoping this would be the year that the much-maligned right tackle would be relieved of his duties from the team, however Dallas may have actually made a somewhat intelligent decision with Free. At worst, like Bernadeau, he would provide depth in case of injury this season. At best, Dallas now has a starting offensive lineman only making a pittance of what he was going to be owed.
Since Dallas was able to chop half of what was owed to Free and guarantee him $3.5 million for this season, they were able to provide themselves some workability in 2014. If Free continues to regress, cutting him in 2014 will be an almost certainty.
1. Jason Garrett – Head Coach
As days go by, I am not entirely sure this change may not come from Garrett himself before Jerry has the opportunity to do so. This week’s “revelation” that Garrett may no longer be calling plays did not sit well with Coach. His press conference after the news was dropped by the owner could be best described and seething. Whether Garrett gets over the public perceived neutering of his authority and thrives remains to be seen. I, for one, feel like this may be a positive thing as it provides what I had wanted all along which is for Garrett to focus solely on his responsibilities as the head coach.
All in all, this may be a moot point however as what will most certainly decide his fate will be this team’s performance in 2013. Another perfectly mediocre 8-8 record or worse will spell doom for Garrett. Even a 9-7 record with no post season or an early exit from the playoffs may not be enough to save his job.