QB Jon Kitna, C Duke Preston, DE Igor Olshansky, ILB Keith Brooking, SS Gerald Sensabaugh.
LB Jason Williams, OT Robert Brewster, QB Stephen McGee, DE/OLB Victor Butler, DE/OLB Brandon Williams, CB DeAngelo Smith, S Michael Hamlin, K David Buehler, SS/OLB Stephen Hodge, TE John Phillips, CB Mike Mickens, WR Manuel Johnson.
QB Brooks Bollinger, QB Brad Johnson, WR Terrell Owens, WR Travis Wilson, TE Tony Curtis, G Joe Berger, DE Chris Canty, DT Tank Johnson, DE/OLB Greg Ellis, DE/OLB Carlos Polk, ILB Zach Thomas, ILB Kevin Burnett, CB Pacman Jones, CB/S Anthony Henry, SS Roy Williams, S Keith Davis.
2009 Dallas Cowboys Offense:
Tony Romo's career is comprised of just 39 starts, but he's pretty much already defined what type of player he is. 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 with 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 again; he had four scores, six picks and four fumbles in his final five contests, ending in a 21-17 home loss to the Giants.
Last year wasn't any different. Though he missed three contests with an injury, Romo compiled 21 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in the first three months of the season. Unfortunately, once the calendar flipped to December, Romo repeated his late-season futility, garnering only five touchdowns to six picks and six fumbles. There was no new busty blonde, unless you want to count the time Terrell Owens showed up to Romo's hotel room donning a blond wig. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
For those of you keeping score at home, throughout his career in the month of December, Romo has never thrown three touchdown passes in any contest. If you combine all of Romo's December games, he has 22 interceptions to just 11 touchdowns. And excluding two tilts against the Lions, Romo has never eclipsed the 280-yard passing barrier in the final month of the calendar year. There's a reason I call him Tony Aurora Snowmo when December rolls around.
Owens was released this offseason because he apparently undermined Romo's leadership. So, will Romo finally take a step forward and avoid yet another late-season collapse? I don't think so.
My problem with Romo has never been his talent level; since he started dating Underwood (whom I prefer over Simpson, by the way) it was clear that Romo was all about being a star and didn't put enough work into being an NFL quarterback. I received some criticism from Cowboy fans for citing this, but Romo has now collapsed in each of his three NFL campaigns. As Chris Berman would say, "If one is an accident and two is a trend, three is a bonafide problem."
Even with Owens gone, the Cowboys will have the weapons to maintain one of the league's best offenses from September through November. Owens, playing at 34 last year, lost some of his explosion and dropped a lot of passes. Roy Williams will easily take his place as Dallas' No. 1 wideout. Williams was lost in 2008, coming in late and being unfamiliar with the scheme. Plus, he was also uncomfortable at flanker. With Owens' exodus, Williams, who is now more familiar with Romo and the Cowboys' offense, will take over the split end gig.
The new flanker could be Miles Austin, who has a grand total of 18 receptions. Jerry Jones expressed his love for Austin repeatedly this offseason, so he remains the favorite. But don't count out Patrick Crayton; the 30-year-old has far more experience than Austin, though he has never topped 700 yards in a single campaign. If Crayton loses this battle, he'll be the slot receiver.
While it's unclear who will play across from Williams, Romo's top option is Jason Witten. Maintaining the skills of a receiver, Witten has averaged 89 catches and 1,049 yards the past two seasons. His numbers could improve now that Owens is gone.
Dallas' running game should continue to be effective with the three-headed monster of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Barber, aptly nicknamed the Barbarian, will get the tough yardage and goal-line carries. He also had 52 receptions in 2008. Jones is a lightning quick change-of-pace runner capable of breaking a long run at any moment. Choice, meanwhile, could function as the third-down back; in the final four games of the 2008 campaign, Choice compiled 17 receptions to go along with 62 carries.
The Cowboys' offensive line struggled a bit last year, stemming with left tackle Flozell Adams' major decline in production. Adams, who just turned 34, yielded 7.25 sacks and was called for a humiliating 13 penalties. Right tackle Marc Colombo was almost as bad, giving up 5.5 sacks and getting whistled for eight infractions in 2008. Colombo turns 31 in October.
Dallas' interior is better with center Andre Gurode and Pro Bowl right guard Leonard Davis, but the left guard position is a bit of a concern. Starter Kyle Kosier played only three games last season because of a foot injury, while Cory Procter didn't exactly excel in relief.
2009 Dallas Cowboys Defense:
Glancing at most of the numbers, you might come to the conclusion that Dallas fielded a pretty stout defense in 2008. The team was eighth in yardage allowed and 10th against the pass. The Cowboys also garnered a league-high 59 sacks on the year.
So, with that in mind, how was Dallas 20th in points allowed? More importantly, what happened to the team at the end of the season when it yielded 61 points in the final five quarters of the year to the Ravens and Eagles?
While the Cowboys maintained studs like DeMarcus Ware, Bradie James and Chris Canty on defense, they also had a ton of holes, which would explain their 21st ranking against the rush. One such hole was at inside linebacker, where 35-year-old Zach Thomas struggled immensely. He wasn't brought back, but Dallas neglected to find a legitimate upgrade at his position, opting to bring in another aging vet (Keith Brooking, 34 in October) to play next to James. Brooking was pretty lackluster with the Falcons in 2008, so one has to wonder what Jerry Jones is thinking here.
James and Brooking will receive worse protection this year, as Canty has defected for New York. Replacing is Canty is Igor Olshansky, whose play really fell off with the Chargers last season. The silver lining here is that Olshansky played well under Wade Phillips in San Diego. Olshansky will start next to Marcus Spears and Jay Ratliff; the latter, occupying the nose tackle spot despite being just 6-4, 298, will not be playing his natural position. Unfortunately, the Cowboys don't have a proven nose to slide in and allow Ratliff to move outside.
The Cowboys figure to be much weaker versus the rush this season, but at least they'll be able to get to the quarterback just as well, right? Well, I wouldn't count on that either. Of course Ware (20 sacks) is still around, but Dallas loses a pass-rusher with Ratliff (8 sacks) moving inside. Dallas also lost Greg Ellis (8 sacks) and will ask Anthony Spencer to take Ellis' spot. Spencer has just five sacks in two years, but he'll have tons of one-on-one matchups with Ware on the other side of the field.
With a slightly worse pass rush, Dallas' secondary will need to step up. Terence Newman missed six contests in 2008 with a sports hernia, but should be back to form now that he's healthy. Across from Newman, Mike Jenkins was a bit inconsistent as a rookie and will have to improve now that the team will be counting on him to start all 16 games. Nickel corner Orlando Scandrick played well for a rookie in 2008 and will give Jenkins some competition for the starting gig.
The safety position is much worse off than the cornerbacking corps. Free safety Ken Hamlin is a liability and was terrible last year, especially down the stretch. Meanwhile, Dallas brought in Gerald Sensabaugh from Jacksonville to replace the anemic Roy Williams. An injury-prone and troubled strong safety, Sensabaugh played in just two games in 2007, and has been arrested for an illegal license and gun charges in the past. There's a chance Sensabaugh could be suspended, but even if he's not, history has proven - especially in Dallas - that having scumbags in the locker room can only be detrimental to a football team.
2009 Dallas Cowboys Schedule and Intangibles:
The Cowboys open up a new stadium this season. That may be good news to Jerry Jones, who will be collecting more money than ever from his patrons, but it'll definitely hurt the team. As the Colts saw last year, these new stadiums have basically eliminated any sort of homefield advantage because the ticket prices are too expensive for real fans. Dallas was just 5-3 as a host last year though, so maybe Jones figures he has nothing to lose.
Dallas' record after Nov. 30 is brutal the past three years. They're an abysmal 5-10 in December and January. As a point of reference, they're 26-9 before Dec. 1 in the same span.
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 in 2007, nailing 26-of-31 attempts, including a perfect 7-of-7 from 40-49 and 2-of-5 from 50-plus. Last year, Folk was 20-of-22, including 2-of-2 from 50-plus and 10-of-11 from 40-49.
Though Mat McBriar hit just 5-of-24 punts inside the opposing 20, his average was amazing (49.0).
The Cowboys struggled to return punts, but Felix Jones took a kickoff to the house. The Cowboys surrendered one score on special teams.
Though the six NFC East battles will be tough, Dallas' non-divisional schedule seems like a breeze with contests against the Buccaneers, Broncos, Chiefs, Packers and Raiders. Tough games against the Chargers, Saints, Panthers and Seahawks are also mixed in.
2009 Dallas Cowboys Analysis: The Cowboys seem to start off hot and disappoint every December. Unfortunately, a let-down could come a lot earlier this year; all three teams in the NFC East have improved, while Dallas has lost key players like Chris Canty, Greg Ellis, Anthony Henry and Terrell Owens.
Instead of declaring his love for Miles Austin this entire offseason, perhaps Jerry Jones should have done something to actually improve his team. You know, like firing the horrifically inept Wade Phillips; acquiring front-seven talent to help against the run; and not selecting kickers in the middle rounds of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Meanwhile, we've seen nothing from Tony Romo that tells us that he's decided to become a serious quarterback instead of a star celebrity, aside from his recent breakup with Jessica Simpson. Sure, Owens is gone, but Romo has never established himself as the leader of the team. Playing golf this spring is not going to help matters.
When the Cowboys "passed" on pick No. 51, I should have known that they would have a disappointing and confusing draft. Quite frankly, I don't understand many of Dallas' selections.
How does Jason Williams fit into the 3-4? I could be wrong, but I just don't see how he works in Dallas' scheme.
Taking a developmental quarterback so early with tons of needs was a mistake.
David Buehler? Really? When you have Nick Folk? Was Jerry Jones snorting cocaine before this selection?
The Cowboys made some solid value picks on Day 2, but overall, this draft was a disappointment for the future husband of Miles Austin.
Grade given on 4/27/09: C-
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
69. Jason Williams, LB, Western Illinois
How does Jason Williams fit into the 3-4? I guess Jerry Jones knows something I don't. Williams is a bit of a reach and doesn't really fill an immediate need. (Pick Grade: D)
75. Robert Brewster, OT, Ball State
Robert Brewster had a wide draft range and the Cowboys needed to address the offensive line. Solid pick. (Pick Grade: B)
101. Stephen McGee, QB, Texas A&M
Stephen McGee struggled in Mike Sherman's pro-style offense at Texas A&M. He's also a major reach here. I'm not sure what the Cowboys plan on doing at safety. (Pick Grade: F)
110. Victor Butler, DE/OLB, Oregon State
Victor Butler was a late-round prospect, so once again, this isn't good value. Dallas will need another pass-rusher once Greg Ellis moves on, so maybe Victor Butler can be that guy. (Pick Grade: C)
120. Brandon Williams, DE/OLB, Texas Tech
It's amazing that the Cowboys obtained more value at No. 120 than they did at No. 110 at the same position. (Pick Grade: B)
143. DeAngelo Smith, CB, Cincinnati
Solid pick. DeAngelo is adequate value here and will provide depth at corner. (Pick Grade: B)
166. Michael Hamlin, S, Clemson
The Cowboys promised they'd go secondary late in the draft, and they came through. Michael Hamlin is great value late in Round 5. (Pick Grade: A)
172. David Buehler, K, USC
There's nothing wrong with David Buehler, but I'm confused about the Cowboys taking him. Don't they have Nick Folk? (Pick Grade: F)
197. Stephen Hodge, SS/OLB, TCU
Does Stephen Hodge play strong safety in Dallas' 3-4? He doesn't seem like the ideal feel. (Pick Grade: C)
208. John Phillips, TE, Virginia
The Cowboys, once again, are avoiding need and drafting for value. (Pick Grade: B)
227. Mike Mickens, CB, Cincinnati
Outstanding value in the middle of the seventh round. Mike Mickens was a projected third-round talent, so you have to take him here, even if he doesn't fill a need. (Pick Grade: A)
229. Manuel Johnson, WR, Oklahoma
Jerry Jones must really love Miles Austin because Manuel Johnson is the first receiver they've drafted. (Pick Grade: B)
New year, same story. Every season, the Cowboys start the year hot. Then, something wrong happens around Thanksgiving (Jessica Simpson, Terrell Owens rumors, Wade Phillips uncontrollable weight gain) and Dallas can't stop losing. It was worse in 2008. Owens and Tony Romo aren't even speaking to each other; Jerry Jones is getting debacled by the bad economy; and Phillips is looking as clueless as ever.
Cowboys sign C Duke Preston
Cowboys cut WR Travis Wilson
Raiders sign DE Greg Ellis
Cowboys cut DE/OLB Greg Ellis
Raiders sign S Keith Davis
Bengals sign SS Roy Williams
Chiefs sign TE Tony Curtis
Cowboys re-sign WR Miles Austin
Cowboys re-sign WR Sam Hurd
Chiefs sign ILB Zach Thomas
Bengals sign DT Tank Johnson
Cowboys re-sign DE Stephen Bowen
Cowboys re-sign G Cory Procter
Chargers sign ILB Kevin Burnett
Cowboys sign SS Gerald Sensabaugh
Bills sign WR Terrell Owens
Cowboys sign DE Igor Olshansky
Cowboys cut SS Roy Williams
Cowboys cut WR Terrell Owens
Giants sign DE Chris Canty
Cowboys sign ILB Keith Brooking
Cowboys acquire QB Jon Kitna from Lions for CB/S Anthony Henry
Dolphins sign G Joe Berger
Cowboys cut QB Brad Johnson
Two Safeties: What the Cowboys need most is a head coach who actually knows what he's doing, but because that's not happening, let's move on to the safety position. There's talk of putting Anthony Henry at free safety and Ken Hamlin at strong safety. That will ultimately fail. Henry turns 33 soon and he's in his contract year anyway. Hamlin, meanwhile, is terrible. And don't count on Roy Williams doing anything either. Signed Gerald Sensabaugh; drafted Michael Hamlin and Stephen Hodge
Defensive End: It looks like the Cowboys won't be able to retain free agent Chris Canty. If Canty moves on to another team, Dallas will need a replacement. Signed Igor Olshansky; re-signed Stephen Bowen
Left Tackle: Flozell Adams' play really fell off in 2008. Already a false-start machine, Adams surrendered 7.5 sacks (tied for most in his career) and was whistled for 13 penalties. Adams turns 34 in May. A new left tackle is needed. Drafted Robert Brewster
Left Guard: An upgrade is needed over Kyle Kosier, who couldn't stay healthy last season.
Inside Linebacker: Zach Thomas and Kevin Burnett are free agents, but the Cowboys need someone better next to Bradie James anyway. Ray Lewis is being discussed as a possibility. Signed Keith Brooking
Nose Tackle: The Cowboys should look into finding a solid reserve for Jay Ratliff. It doesn't look like Tank Johnson or his massive collection of guns will be back in Dallas next year. Swap defensive end and nose tackle on this list if the Cowboys decide to move Ratliff over to end.
Wide Receiver: Terrell Owens was cut. The Cowboys will need a wideout across from Roy Williams. Drafted Manuel Johnson
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Igor Olshansky, DE, Chargers. Age: 27. Signed with Cowboys (4 years, $18 million)
Igor Olshansky was an effective end in the 3-4 until this season. He performed poorly in 2008 and will need to reestablish himself next year.
Jon Kitna, QB, Lions. Age: 36. Traded to Cowboys
In 2007, Jon Kitna threw for 4,068 yards, 18 touchdowns and 20 interceptions on a solid 7.1 YPA. He's not going to win Dallas a Super Bowl or anything if Tony Romo goes down, but he's one of the top backup quarterbacks in the NFL.
Gerald Sensabaugh, SS, Jaguars. Age: 26. Signed with Cowboys (1 year)
A young safety who was thrust into the starting lineup once the Jaguars figured out that they wasted tons of money on Drayton Florence.
Keith Brooking, ILB, Falcons. Age: 33. Signed with Cowboys (3 years)
Once a great player, Keith Brooking's skills have diminished; he's nothing more than a veteran leader in the locker room.
Duke Preston, C, Packers. Age: 27. Signed with Cowboys
In addition to sucking royally, Duke Preston ruined Buffalo's chances of kicking a field goal in the last seconds of the first half of the season finale because he started a fight with some of the Patriots defenders.
Dallas Cowboys Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 5): $10 million
Terrell Owens, WR. Age: 35. Signed with Bills (1 year, $6.5 million)
How do you rate Terrell Owens? He's incredibly talented, but a headache in the locker room. Perhaps Owens will behave at his next stop because it'll be his last shot. What he needs most is a strict, authoritative coach like Bill Belichick; and definitely not an inept push-over like Wade Phillips.
Chris Canty, DE. Age: 26. Signed with Giants (6 years, $42 million; $17.25 million guaranteed)
Though he had somewhat of a down year in 2008, Chris Canty is still a decent defensive end in the 3-4.
Greg Ellis, DE/OLB. Age: 34. Signed with Raiders (3 years)
Greg Ellis has recorded 21 sacks in the past two seasons, including eight in 2008. He's 34, but he's fully capable of playing in both the 4-3 and 3-4. The Patriots should be really interested.
Tank Johnson, DT. Age: 27. Signed with Bengals (1 year)
Huge character concerns. Tank Johnson could find a home with a 4-3 defense. If not, some team may hire him to shoot the opposing star receiver in the foot.
Roy Williams, SS. Age: 29. Signed with Bengals
Definitely not an every-down safety anymore and an abomination in coverage, but Roy Williams could find a home on a team that prefers strong safety-linebacker tweeners like the Patriots or Falcons.
Pacman Jones, CB. Age: 25.
Everyone knows the Pacman's story. GMs, be warned. In five years, Pacman will ruin Eric Mangini's birthday party by throwing arcade tokens in the air, causing one to hit Mangini in the eye.
Zach Thomas, ILB. Age: 36. Signed with Chiefs
Pretty much just a veteran leader in the locker room. If anything, his teammates can use his senior citizen discount at the movies.
Keith Davis, S, Cowboys. Age: 31. Signed with Raiders
Keith Davis took over as Dallas' starter once Roy Williams and Pat Watkins went on the IR. He's a reliable backup, but he shouldn't be starting for anyone at this point.
Miles Austin (RFA), WR. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Cowboys (1 year, $1.545 million)
Kevin Burnett, ILB. Age: 26. - Signed with Chargers
Stephen Bowen (RFA), DE. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Cowboys (1 year, $1.545 million)
Sam Hurd (RFA), WR. Age: 24. - Re-signed with Cowboys (1 year, $1.545 million)
Cory Procter, G. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Cowboys (1 year, $1.545 million)
Divisional Rival History: New York Giants: After losing to the Giants two games in a row, the Cowboys were finally able to claim revenge in a December home game. However, that was Dallas' final victory of the season. Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles usually dominate their divisional opponents. They've won 13 of the past
18 matchups against the Cowboys, including a 44-6 debaclation of Dallas in the final game of the season. Washington Redskins: Remember when the Redskins could never beat the Cowboys? Well, they've somehow won five of the past eight battles, including a stunning win in Dallas as double-digit underdogs. Go figure.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)