OT Cory Lekkerkerker, G Montrae Holland, ILB Zach Thomas, CB Pacman Jones.
RB Felix Jones, RB Tashard Choice, TE Martellus Bennett, DE Erik Walden, CB Mike Jenkins, CB Orlando Scandrick.
RB Julius Jones, RB Tyson Thompson, FB Oliver Hoyte, WR Terry Glenn, TE Anthony Fasano, NT Jason Ferguson, ILB Akin Ayodele, CB Jacques Reeves, CB Nathan Jones, S Keith Davis.
2008 Dallas Cowboys Offense:
Tony Romo's career is comprised of just 26 starts, but it's already been defined by sloppy finishes. Both of Romo's seasons are eerily similar. In 2006, Romo began by throwing 13 touchdowns and just five picks. However, once December arrived and rumors of his involvement with Carrie Underwood surfaced, Romo finished seven touchdowns, six interceptions and eight fumbles in his final five starts, culminating in a botched extra-point attempt in a 21-20 playoff loss at Seattle. The following season, Romo dispelled all speculation that he was a one-hit wonder, as he commenced his 2007 campaign with an amazing 33-to-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But once December and another busty blonde (Jessica Simpson) rolled around, Romo's production dropped; he had four scores, six picks and four fumbles in his final five contests, ending in a 21-17 home loss to the Giants.
So, what exactly transforms Romo from the belle of the ball to a pumpkin when the month counter strikes 12 every year? The hot blondes and the media attention that comes with them? The cold weather? The fatigue of a grueling NFL schedule? Whatever it is, Wade Phillips better figure it out, or he'll be out of a job with another one-and-done performance in the postseason.
Romo has no excuses because his supporting cast is phenomenal. Despite his 35th birthday arriving in December, Terrell Owens is still one of the three best receivers in the league. While most players regress at his age, Owens is in shape enough to play very effectively into his late 30s. Owens led the squad with 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns. The team's leader in receptions, meanwhile, was Jason Witten, who for my money is the top tight end in the league. Witten collected 96 catches, 1,145 yards and seven touchdowns, often lining up as the second receiver in offensive sets.
Witten should have similar production in 2008, as Terry Glenn isn't a lock to make the roster. Glenn, who had back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns in 2005 and 2006, is coming off knee surgery and may never be the same receiver ever again. His reluctance to sign a $500,000 injury waiver is a bit concerning. If Glenn is cut or benched, Sam Hurd is the favorite to become Romo's regular No. 3 wide out behind Owens and Patrick Crayton, who dropped a number of big catches down the stretch, including a sure touchdown against the Giants.
Speaking of touchdowns, the Cowboys can count on Marion Barber scoring at least 10 of those for the third consecutive season. In the past two years, Barber has scored 28 times. Unfortunately for his sake, the coaching staff refuses to give him the rock on a full-time basis; his career high in rush attempts is 204. Julius Jones is gone, but rookie Felix Jones will assume his role. Barber should be able to go over the 1,000-yard plateau for the first time as a pro, but he won't reach his statistical potential with Felix Jones taking away some of his carries. Bad for him, great for the Cowboys, who will continue to boast one of the league's strongest rushing attacks.
Barber was able to gain 4.8 yards per rush last season with the help of his massive offensive line. Left tackle Flozell "The Hotel" Adams had an outstanding 2007 campaign and was rewarded with a 6-year, $43.8 million deal. The only concern here is that Adams could become fat and happy with his new contract. His age (33) doesn't do him any favors. If Adams is motivated, however, he has another three solid seasons in the tank.
Leonard Davis, a former tackle, moved to right guard in Dallas' scheme and thrived with a Pro Bowl-caliber year. Center Andre Gurode is also All-Pro material, while left guard Kyle Kosier is an adequate starter. Marc Colombo, starting at right tackle, is the weakest link on a front that surrendered 25 sacks in 2007. Colombo has a vast injury history and could be pushed by second-year James Marten.
The Cowboys maintained the league's No. 2 offense, averaging 28.4 points per game last season. Barring injury, there's no reason they should be ranked any lower than third this year. The only problem, as mentioned earlier, is trying to avoid a perennial December swoon. If Sally Struthers comes along and romances Romo after her Thanksgiving feast, Dallas is in big trouble.
2008 Dallas Cowboys Defense:
Bill Parcells may be gone, but his legacy lives on. Though he whiffed on several first-day draft picks during his tenure in Dallas, Parcells brought in a few dominant defenders, including DeMarcus Ware. Ware, chosen in the opening round of the 2005 NFL Draft, has become one of the league's premier pass rushers. He has 26 sacks the past two seasons, finishing with 14 in 2007, which was good for third in the NFL.
Teams can't really double-team Ware consistently and get away with it because Greg Ellis was almost as devastating last year, recording 12 sacks despite missing the first three games of the season. Ellis is now 33, so look for Wade Phillips to give more playing time to second-year Anthony Spencer. Also a first-round selection, Spencer managed three sacks in limited playing time as a rookie. I expect that total to at least double in 2008.
Staying with Dallas' 2005 draft class, Chris Canty (fourth round) is an absolute beast on the defensive line. He's one of the elite 3-4 ends in the league. Jay Ratliff, chosen in the seventh round that April, will move to left end after spending lots of time at nose tackle in 2007. This bumps one of Parcells' busts, Marcus Spears, out of a starting job. The Cowboys can make this move because Tank Johnson is ready to take over the nose tackle position on a full-time basis. Spears has already volunteered to play some nose if needed, so he could be an effective short-term replacement if the Tank is running low on diesel.
The Cowboys' stout defensive front will attempt to protect one of two problem areas on the stop unit. It's no secret that they're thin at inside linebacker. Bradie James is a solid, every-down athlete, but there's no one else here. Zach Thomas, 35 and coming off a season where he played just five games, will be mediocre on running downs and completely ineffective on passing downs. Bobby Carpenter, another Parcells bust, is a horrendous fit in the 3-4. Kevin Burnett, also deserving of the "Parcells bust" tag, is a serious liability.
And speaking of liabilities, Roy Williams is easily the most overrated player in the NFL. That may come as a surprise to most people because he's voted to the Pro Bowl every year, but I was expecting him to be released this offseason. But hey, if you don't believe me, listen to what teammate Terence Newman had to say to the Dallas Morning News: "[Williams] gets a deer-in-the-headlights type of reaction to some plays. Not everybody's going to have a perfect season. He had a bad season last year, as far as coverage."
Ouch. It's my job to criticize players, coaches, general managers and ESPN personalities who can't speak English correctly. Not Newman's. That should tell you how terrible Williams was last season (and also the past year or two before that). If this continues, converted corner Anthony Henry will see more action at strong safety next to Ken Hamlin. Hamlin, cemented in the free safety role, is a solid athlete who was franchised this offseason.
Luckily, the Cowboys have the corners to cover up for Williams' mess. Newman was (legitimately) voted to his first Pro Bowl in 2007. But the big story is the addition of Pacman Jones, who was on the cusp of emerging as one of the top players at his position before being suspended for inciting riots and repeatedly getting arrested. Pacman hasn't been reinstated into the league just yet, but he figures to be if he stays out of trouble before September. Dallas fans are praying because Pacman has looked incredible at OTAs. Rookie Mike Jenkins, meanwhile, won't be a factor to start in 2008, but will see lots of time as the nickel.
Excluding Akin Ayodele, the Cowboys didn't really lose anyone from their 13th-ranked defense. They'll be much better than they were last year, with Tank Johnson and Pacman Jones in the mix, and more depth available at defensive back.
2008 Dallas Cowboys Schedule and Intangibles:
When Bill Parcells was the head coach, it seemed like he signed and cut kickers every week. I guess it's not a coincidence that Dallas found some stability at the position the year after he left. Nick Folk was brilliant as a rookie, nailing 26-of-31 attempts, including a perfect 7-of-7 from 40-49 and 2-of-5 from 50-plus.
Though Mat McBriar hit just 17-of-63 punts inside the opposing 20, his average was amazing (47.1).
The Cowboys scored no touchdowns on special teams and allowed two themselves. Helping in that department will be Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins and maybe even Pacman Jones. It's safe to say they'll score at least once on a kickoff or punt return.
The early and late parts of Dallas' schedule are very tough. The team starts with Cleveland (road), Philadelphia, Green Bay (road) and Washington, and ends with Seattle, Pittsburgh (road), New York Giants and Philadelphia, with the Ravens sandwiched in between the latter two opponents. Luckily, the Cowboys have a few easy contests in the middle of the slate, including Cincinnati, Arizona, St. Louis and San Francisco.
2008 Dallas Cowboys Analysis: There's no question that the Cowboys have one of the best teams in the league. They have elite talent at almost every position, and they're hungry after consecutive one-and-done performances in the postseason.
However, there are two things that are holding me back from predicting them to win a Super Bowl. I already discussed the first, which is Tony Romo's perennial December swoons. The second is Wade Phillips, who is infamous for his inability to win in the postseason. Phillips has been a head coach for eight NFL seasons. His regular-season record is 103-61. However, he's 0-4 in the playoffs. I know he was on the short end of the Music City Miracle, but what happened the other three times? Why did the Cowboys come up short despite being a huge favorite against a team they beat up on twice?
Projection: 12-4 (TBA in NFC East)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Tony Romo: Tony Romo was one of my sleepers last year. Sounds silly to say that now, but he wasn't drafted until the eighth round in some leagues. I predicted Romo to throw for 4,150 yards and 25 touchdowns. Romo beat my projections, compiling 4,211 yards and 36 scores. He's the No. 3 fantasy quarterback, but watch out for his December struggles. I lost in the semifinals in one of my leagues despite having the best record, only because Romo didn't do anything against the Eagles in Week 15.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 4,150 passing yards. 32 passing TDs. 130 rushing yards. 2 rushing TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 425.
Marion Barber: It seems like Marion Barber is always expected to be featured more in Dallas' offense, and every year he doesn't get enough carries. Barber SHOULD get more of the workload with Julius Jones now in Seattle, but it really boggled my mind as to why that didn't happen in the first place; Jones was way less effective than Barber. Don't be surprised if Felix Jones vultures a decent amount of his carries away. That said, Barber always scores, so he's an excellent fantasy option, especially in touchdown leagues.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,100 rushing yards. 275 receiving yards. 13 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 215.
Felix Jones: I wouldn't count on Felix Jones to put up amazing numbers as a rookie unless Marion Barber gets hurt. Even then, Tashard Choice may just assume Barber's role. I don't see the upside in drafting Felix the Jones.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 450 rushing yards. 225 receiving yards. 3 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 85.
Jason Witten: In Terry Glenn's absence, Jason Witten sometimes lined up at receiver and posted phenomenal numbers (96 catches, 1,145 yards and seven touchdowns). There's no guarantee Glenn will even make the roster. That fact, combined with Antonio Gates' foot surgery, makes Witten the No. 1 tight end in my book.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,050 receiving yards. 7 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 147.
Terrell Owens: Armed with a top-notch quarterback for an entire season for the first time since 2004, Terrell Owens dominated opposing defenses, catching 81 passes for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns. While Owens turns 35 in December, he's in shape enough to have two or three more elite years in the NFL. Barring injury, I don't see a dropoff coming until the next decade.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,225 receiving yards. 13 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 200.
Patrick Crayton: "Nothing to get excited about in terms of fantasy football." That's what I wrote last year for Patrick Crayton. He responded with just 697 yards, though he notched seven scores. He'll likely remain the team's No. 2 regular wide out, but that doesn't mean you should draft him until late in a non-touchdown league.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 725 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 108.
Terry Glenn: Don't draft Terry Glenn. He's old, he's coming off knee surgery and he could be cut. Even if he plays, he may not be the same receiver ever again. If you really want to take a Cowboys receiver, and Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton are gone, go with Sam Hurd.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 350 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 47.
Nick Folk: One of fantasy's top kickers. Nick Folk is extremely accurate from long range, and he gets tons of extra-point attempts.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 28-32 FG (3-5 50+). 53 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 151.
Dallas Defense: The Cowboys have a devastating pass rush and consequently force tons of turnovers. Guess whom they play in Week 16? The RAVENS!
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 10 Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
Even with the acquisition of Pacman Jones, Dallas needed to find some talent at cornerback. They did just that, drafting Mike Jenkins at No. 28. There were mocks out there that had Jenkins as high as 11, so I consider him a steal late in the first round. Orlando Scandrick also figures to be a solid corner ... Martellus Bennett wasn't really a need in the second round, but you could argue that he was the best player available ... Tashard Choice was incredible value in the fourth round.
Jerry Jones wanted a running back from Arkansas and he got one. That said, I don't agree with the pick. Felix Jones was a second-round prospect and there were tons of potential quality complements to Marion Barber available in Rounds 2-4. It's odd but Tashard Choice (taken with the 122nd pick) might be a more talented running back than Jones ... Where was the wide receiver? Unless Jerry Jones is confident Terry Glenn will be 100 percent next year, I don't get why he failed to address the wideout position.
Grade give on 4/28/08: B-
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
22. Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas
I had the Cowboys drafting Felix Jones - with the 61st pick in the draft. I can't say I'm surprised though, seeing as this is Jerry Jones we're talking about. What an obvious reach. (Pick Grade: D)
28. Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida
As bad as Dallas' first selection was, this pick was incredible. Some mocks had Mike Jenkins going 11th, so the Cowboys got a steal at the end of Round 1. (Pick Grade: A)
61. Martellus Bennett, TE, Texas A&M
Not sure if I understand the need for Martellus Bennett, but you could argue that he's one of the best players available. I don't hate this pick, but I don't quite get it either. (Pick Grade: C)
122. Tashard Choice, RB, Georgia Tech
There's absolutely no reason Tashard Choice should have been available at 122. The Cowboys may have landed the fourth-best running back in the draft (McFadden, Mendenhall, Stewart.) Funny that Felix Jones isn't on that list. (Pick Grade: A)
143. Orlando Scandrick, CB, Boise State
Great value in Round 5; Orlando Scandrick was projected to go in the third round by some. This is filling a big need as well. (Pick Grade: A)
167. Erik Walden, DE, Middle Tennessee State
There were better options here, but Erik Walden fills a need, and it's the sixth round. (Pick Grade: C)
Ever have deja vu? If you're a Cowboys fan, you definitely should be nodding your head right now. Dallas' 2007 campaign mirrored its 2006 season. Tony Romo started hot; Dallas looked like the team to beat in the NFC East; Romo began dating a succubus around Thanksgiving; he started tossing picks and committing fumbles at an alarming rate; a divisional foe passed his team by; and the Cowboys lost a heart-breaker in the playoffs. Note to Romo: Date chicks in the offseason and focus on football between September and February.
Cowboys announce retirement of G Larry Allen
Cowboys acquire G Montrae Holland from Broncos for a 2010 fifth-round pick
Cowboys cut WR Terry Glenn
Cowboys re-sign DE Chris Canty
Cowboys re-sign RB Marion Barber
Cowboys trade TE Anthony Fasano and ILB Akin Ayodele to the Dolphins for a fourth-round pick
Cowboys obtain CB Pacman Jones from the Cowboys for a fourth-round pick
Cowboys re-sign G Cory Procter
Cowboys re-sign G/T Joe Berger
Cowboys re-sign TE Tony Curtis
Cowboys re-sign CB Evan Oglesby
Cowboys trade NT Jason Ferguson to the Dolphins for an exchange of sixth-round picks and a sixth-rounder in 2009
Cowboys re-sign OT Flozell Adams
Cowboys tender (first) DE Chris Canty
Cowboys cut FB Oliver Hoyte
Cowboys sign ILB Zach Thomas
Cowboys franchise S Ken Hamlin
Two Cornerbacks: Besides an anti-Jessica Simpson repellent (i.e. an encyclopedia), what the Cowboys need most is a cornerback to play across from Terence Newman. Anthony Henry is old and is now a better fit at free safety. Meanwhile, Jacques Reeves and Nathan Jones, a pair of free agents this offseason, leave much to be desired. How incredible would Dallas' defense look with a stud corner like Nnamdi Asomugha in the starting lineup? If the Cowboys can't get him - he'll cost a lot of money, but he's well worth it - I could see them drafting a corner late in the first or second rounds, and picking up a guy like Randall Gay for depth purposes. Traded for Pacman Jones; drafted Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick
Wide Receiver: Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn will both be 34 years old for the majority of the 2008 campaign. The Cowboys must acquire a young receiver this offseason - perhaps DeSean Jackson at No. 22 overall.
Strong Safety: I find it unbelievable that Roy Williams made the Pro Bowl this year, as there is a good chance Dallas could cut him. Williams is terrible in coverage and happens to be a huge liability in the secondary. Whether Williams is released or not - a move that would stun a lot of casual fans - the Cowboys could be looking for a new strong safety. There aren't many of those in free agency, so Tom Zbikowski, Craig Steltz and a few others could be options in the third round.
Offensive Tackle: Flozell "The Hotel" Adams, another old Cowboy (33), will be hitting free agency if he's not re-signed before the market opens. I'd sign him to a short-term deal and draft his heir apparent in April. Re-signed Flozell Adams
Running Back: Both Marion Barber and Julius Jones will be free agents this offseason. I don't expect the latter to return, but I am concerned with the former's ability to carry the load. If he could, why didn't the Cowboys give Barber the bulk of the carries the past two years when it was obvious that he was far superior to Jones? Look for Dallas to re-sign Barber, and obtain a running back between Rounds 3 and 5, as this draft class is extremely deep at that position. Felix Jones is also an option toward the end of the first round. Drafted Felix Jones and Tashard Choice; re-signed Barber
Inside Linebacker: Bobby Carpenter has been a bust thus far (perhaps just a poor fit in the 3-4), and I'm not really high on Akin Ayodele. There aren't many quality free-agent inside linebackers, so the Cowboys must search for one in the draft. Signed Zach Thomas
Nose Tackle: It wouldn't hurt Dallas if it obtained a massive nose tackle to eventually replace Jason Ferguson. Doing so would allow Jay Ratliff to move to defensive end. This isn't a huge need this offseason, but more of a luxury.
Interior Line Depth: The Cowboys don't really have much behind Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis. A late-round selection could be used to fix this.
Dallas Cowboys Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 11): $20.61 million
Marion Barber (RFA), RB. Age: 25. Re-signed with Cowboys (7 years, $45 million)
I'll never understand why the Cowboys messed around with Julius Jones so much instead of giving Marion Barber 80 percent of the workload. Barber is infinitely better than Jones. But I'm listing him below Ryan Grant because we have no evidence he can carry the load for an entire year.
Ken Hamlin, FS. Age: 27. Re-signed with Cowboys (6 years, $39 million)
Ken Hamlin will be looking for tons of cash this offseason, as he will be the starting free safety for the NFC in the Pro Bowl. Given the problems in their secondary, the Cowboys cannot afford to let him go.
Chris Canty (RFA), DE. Age: 25. Re-signed with Cowboys (1 year, $2.017 million)
The Cowboys are likely to tender Chris Canty, who works really well up front in their 3-4.
Flozell Adams, OT. Age: 33. Re-signed with Cowboys (6 years, $43 million)
Flozell "The Hotel" Adams is one of the better offensive tackles in the NFL. But given that he's reached the age of regression (33), I wouldn't give him a huge deal.
Keith Davis, FS. Age: 29. Signed with Dolphins (2 years, $3.5 million)
Assuming he's not asking for anything crazy, the Cowboys should re-sign Keith Davis, a solid reserve defensive back and a great special teams player.
Julius Jones, RB. Age: 27. Signed with Seahawks
I really have no idea why Wade Phillips kept Julius Jones in the lineup for so long. He's not a starter. He's a solid change-of-pace back, but nothing more.
Terry Glenn, WR. Age: 34.
Jacques Reeves, CB. Age: 25. - Signed with Texans
Tyson Thompson (ERFA), RB. Age: 27.
Stephen Bowen (ERFA), DE. Age: 24. - Re-signed with Cowboys (1 year)
Nathan Jones, CB. Age: 26. - Signed with Dolphins (2 years)
Oliver Hoyte, FB. Age: 23. - Signed with Chiefs
Cory Procter (ERFA), G. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Cowboys (1 year)
Remi Ayodele, NT. Age: 25.
Divisional Rival History: New York Giants: Peyton Manning couldn't get past the New England Patriots for years, and it looked like Eli would have similar problems with the Cowboys. Dallas swept the Giants in the regular season, but the latter claimed revenge in the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl victory. Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles usually dominate their divisional opponents. They've won 12 of the past
16 matchups against the Cowboys, including a sweep in 2006 and a stunning upset late in the 2007 season. Washington Redskins: Remember when the Redskins could never beat the Cowboys? Well, they've somehow won four of the past six battles. Go figure.