Age v. Depth
The Dallas Cowboys are the oldest young team in the NFL. The multitude of stars and offensive linemen on the team seem to have been around forever. That is partly due to the Cowboys receiving an overabundance of publicity. Some stars maturing earlier in their career (e.g., Ware and Witten) also give the appearance of age. There are some older players on the roster, but there appears to be a succession plan in place for many of them. The elder statesmen on the team considering this year as a year of experience are (and their backups):
Jon Kitna – 14 years experience
Keith Brooking – 13 years experience (Sean Lee, rookie, Jason Williams, 2nd year)
Leonard Davis – 10 years experience (Holland, 8th year, Robert Brewster, 2nd year, Phil Costa, rookie, Travis Bright, 2nd year)
Marc Colombo – 9 years experience (Alex Barron, 6th year, Robert Brewster, 2nd year, Pat McQuistan, 5th year, Sam Young, rookie)
Andrew Gurode – 9 years experience (Kyle Kosier, 9th year)
Kyle Kosier – 9 years experience (Holland, 8th year, Robert Brewster, 2nd year, Phil Costa, rookie, Travis Bright, 2nd year)
Montrae Holland – 8 years experience
Bradie James – 8 years experience (Sean Lee, rookie, Jason Williams, 2nd year)
Terrence Newman – 8 years experience (Orlando Scandrick, 3rd year)
Tony Romo – 8 years experience (Jon Kitna, Stephen McGee)
Jason Witten – 8 years experience (Martellus Bennett, 3rd year)
On a roster of nearly 80 players, there are 11 players with 8 years of experience or greater, of which 9 are starters. 11 more players have 6 or 7 years experience. In essence, going into 2010, 20 out of the entire 53 man roster will have more than 5 years experience. This is undeniably a young team.
Injury is a part of the NFL. Weathering injury will often determine success. In 2008, the Cowboys suffered a spate of injuries at key positions. At quarterback, Romo was replaced by an ineffective Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger. Unfortunately the Cowboys had their answer at backup quarterback on their pre-season roster in 2007. Matt Moore was waived in the final cut before the regular season. He was claimed by the Carolina Panthers. Moore is not a dynamic player, but he has proven to be an effective quarterback and is the expected starter for the Panthers for the 2010 season. He has won six of his eight starts, including 4 of 5 in 2009.
Additionally in 2008, the Cowboys suffered injuries at Running Back, Left Guard, Punter, and Safety. The Cowboys answered these problems by giving Marion Barber more carries (not the best decision and it only caused him to later suffer an injury), inserting Pat McQuistan (who simply wasn’t good enough), signing Sam Palescu at punter (and there was a severe drop off between him and McBriar), and playing a variety of young safeties who ironically weren’t that much worse than Roy Williams, but they weren’t better.
In 2009, Marc Colombo suffered a broken leg and was replaced by Doug Free. The was no noticeable drop off in the quality of play at the position. The moral of the two stories is that having aged veterans on your team isn’t automatically a liability if you have talented backups who can play at an acceptable level. If there is a foreseeable problem, it would be at guard or center. The backup offensive linemen presently on the rosters are young, unproven, and have not been overly impressive in practice or pre-season exhibitions.
Injuries can derail a season as it did in 2008. Effectively managing injuries can lead to a Super Bowl. I’d love to see a veteran offensive lineman who can play both guard and center become available. Several teams can claim to be one player away from being a contender. The Cowboys are one backup player away from Super Bowl aspirations.