OLB Justin Durant, S Will Allen.
Early Draft Picks:
C/G Travis Frederick, TE Gavin Escobar, WR Terrance Williams, S J.J. Wilcox, CB B.W. Webb, RB Joseph Randle. Cowboys Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
RB Felix Jones, WR Kevin Ogletree, TE John Phillips, DE/DT Kenyon Coleman, DE/DT Marcus Spears, DE/OLB VIctor Butler, ILB Dan Connor, CB Mike Jenkins, S Gerald Sensabaugh, S Eric Frampton.
2013 Dallas Cowboys Offense:
Tony Romo is the player who takes all the blame for the Cowboys' late-season collapses. Sometimes it's not warranted. For example, Romo had a five-game stretch between Weeks 12 and 16 in which he threw 11 touchdowns to just three interceptions, all while averaging 353.8 yards per contest. Dallas went 3-2 in that span - and one of the losses came to the Saints when Romo had a 26-of-43, 416-yard, four-touchdown, no-pick line.
Then again, Romo does have his fair share of clunkers. All the Cowboys had to do is win their final game against the Redskins, and they would've advanced to the playoffs. Romo gagged, going 20-of-37 for 218 yards, two scores and three interceptions. Romo is very talented - he threw for 4,903 yards in total this season - but he tends to come up small in the biggest moment each year. Dallas will be competitive most weeks when Romo is on the field, but his health status could be in jeopardy. Romo had back surgery this offseason and has been held out of minicamps. This has been done as a precaution, but no back procedure is ever minor. If Romo can't take the field, Dallas won't win many games.
Romo should have another strong campaign as long as he's healthy because he has a great supporting cast to help him. Dez Bryant finally lived up to his billing last year, emerging in the second half of the season as a dominant force. Beginning in Week 10, he caught 50 passes for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final eight games. This translates to 100 receptions for 1,758 yards and 20 scores over a whole season. It finally clicked for him, so he's expected to have a huge year. Things aren't as optimistic for Miles Austin-Jones, who has dealt with leg injuries the past couple of campaigns. He has spent the entire offseason trying to strengthen his leg muscles, so maybe he'll revert back to 2010 form when he caught 69 balls for 1,041 yards and seven touchdowns. If Austin-Jones can't stay healthy, perhaps third-round rookie Terrence Williams will be able to step in.
Romo's favorite target over the years has been Jason Witten, who caught a career-high 110 passes for 1,039 yards in 2012. He just turned 31, so he should have a couple of high-quality seasons left in the tank. Dallas also spent an early-round selection on tight end Gavin Escobar, so the team could run multiple-tight end sets.
The running game is once again a question mark, however. DeMarco Murray is talented, but he's more known for injury-prone. He has missed nine games in his two NFL seasons. He already dealt with a hamstring problem this offseason that sidelined him for a week. Murray will undoubtedly miss a chunk of action this year, so fifth-round rookie Joseph Randle could be called upon to start.
Something that Dallas had to do this offseason was improve the offensive line. Romo took a beating last year, and keeping him healthy is paramount. Perhaps that's why Jerry Jones reached for center Travis Frederick at the end of the first round. Frederick was a third-round prospect - and Jason Garrett admitted as much afterward - but he'll still step in and be somewhat of an upgrade in the middle of the offensive line. If so, he'll be the only quality player in the interior, as guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings combined to allow 13 sacks - a ridiculously high number for two inside linemen.
The Cowboys' worst blocker last year was Doug Free. There was some speculation he would be released, but Jones kept him around after slashing his salary. Free was responsible for six sacks and an obscene 15 penalties in 2012, but he'll once again start across from 2011 first-rounder Tyron Smith, who took a step backward last season after a solid rookie campaign. Smith has the talent to rebound, however.
2013 Dallas Cowboys Defense:
The Cowboys are bidding their 3-4 farewell and moving to a 4-3 scheme, run by legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. They were expected to make wholesale changes after hiring Tampa Bay's former coach, but that never materialized. In fact, the four projected starters on the defensive line were all on the team last year.
Anthony Spencer was projected to leave the team because he didn't fit as a left end in the 4-3, but Jerry Jones decided to franchise him for some strange reason. Now, the Cowboys have Spencer in a position that does not fit his skills for an absurd $10.6 million salary in 2013. Spencer had an awesome year in terms of rushing the passer (11 sacks), but 2012 was the first time in his career that he ever logged more than six sacks in a single campaign. Spencer is unreliable, even though opposing coordinators will still be entirely focused on DeMarcus Ware, one of the top pass-rushers in the NFL. Ware had 11.5 sacks last year despite dealing with an arm injury. He notched 19.5 sacks the season before.
The starters in the interior of the defensive line will be Jason Hatcher and Jay Ratliff. The former had a dynamic 2012 campaign, accumulating four sacks (a solid number for a 3-4 lineman) and stuffing the run effectively. Ratliff, meanwhile, was expected to be released because he's been very lethargic since signing a 7-year, $48.6 million deal in September 2011. Ratliff played in just six contests last season, and was accused of nursing injuries too long in an effort to delay his return to the field as long as possible. He was also arrested for a DWI on Jan. 22, so it really makes zero sense that Jones decided to retain him.
Kiffin's linebacking corps actually features a new player on the team. Justin Durant was signed over from the Lions. He figures to be limited to two downs, but he stops the run very well. The incumbents, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, will definitely be featured more prominently. Lee is an outstanding talent who was missed when he was lost for the final 10 games after tearing a ligament in his toe. Meanwhile, Carter, a 2011 second-rounder, was also knocked out for the season when he dislocated his ankle on Thanksgiving.
The type of defense Kiffin runs doesn't require a team to have very talented cornerbacks, but it's the safety position that happens to be the problem in Dallas' secondary. The two starters in that area are Will Allen and Barry Church. The latter is coming off a torn Achilles. He has been fully cleared, but it's highly unlikely that he'll be 100 percent in his first year back. Allen, meanwhile, was a free-agent signing this offseason. He's not nearly skilled enough to be a starter in this league, but that's what he'll be asked to do this year - unless third-round rookie J.J. Wilcox shines in training camp and the preseason.
Dallas spent another mid-round pick on cornerback B.W. Webb. He was much-needed depth behind two solid starters. Morris Claiborne, chosen as the team's first-rounder in 2012, didn't surrender a touchdown after Week 10 in his rookie campaign, though he was flagged often (8 penalties). The other starter, Brandon Carr, signed a 5-year, $50.1 million contract last March. He didn't live up to his deal by being an exceptional, lock-down corner, but he still proved to be a pretty capable starter.
2013 Dallas Cowboys Schedule and Intangibles:
Jerry Jones opened up his fancy new stadium with its giant video screen in 2009. It all looked great - until the players took the field. In the four years at Cowboys Stadium, the host is just 18-15, compared to 16-17 on the road.
Undrafted rookie Dan Bailey came out of nowhere in 2011 to perform as one of the league's top kickers. He was sharp again last season, hitting 29-of-31 tries, including 3-of-5 from 50-plus.
Punter Mat McBriar was released. His replacement, Chris Jones, finished in the middle of the pack in terms of net average.
Dallas scored once on special teams - a punt return by Dwayne Harris. However, the team gave up two touchdowns to the opposition.
The Cowboys have a balanced schedule. They battle five teams that made the playoffs last year (Redskins twice, Packers, Vikings, Broncos), but they also have much easier contests against the Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs, Lions and Eagles twice.
2013 Dallas Cowboys Rookies:
Go here for the Cowboys Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2013 Dallas Cowboys Analysis: Something always seems to go wrong with the Cowboys. They botch a hold. They ice their own kicker. Their quarterback gets hurt in a must-win game. They whiff on a potential game-winning field goal. It has always been something, and it'll always continue to be something as long as Jason Garrett and Tony Romo are paired together. This Dallas team will likely win anywhere between six and nine games in 2013, all while choking at the end of the year, of course.
Please note that the overall grade is not an average of all the individual grades. Other things are taken into account like team needs and goals.
Goals Entering the 2013 NFL Draft: The Cowboys have decided to stick with Tony Romo for the long term, so they absolutely need to make sure he's protected for a change. They need help at right tackle, guard and center. Some pieces for their new 4-3 also have to be obtained.
2013 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Everyone quickly forgot about the Bills' antics with E.J. Manuel when the Cowboys spent the 31st-overall selection on third-round prospect Travis Frederick. If there are any Dallas homers who still believe that this wasn't a reach, head coach Jason Garrett admitted as much. Garrett said the team panicked when all of the guards were flying off the board. This is exactly why the Cowboys need a real general manager.
Dallas wasted another selection with Gavin Escobar in the second round, but quickly recovered in Round 3. I liked many of the team's later picks, including J.J. Wilcox and B.W. Webb. Both were taken in the right range, and they'll undoubtedly help a mediocre secondary. Terrance Williams and Joseph Randle will be nice weapons for Tony Romo down the road.
Having said that, a "C" grade feels about right. There were more good picks than bad ones, and I liked that the Cowboys at least moved down in the first round. However, taking Frederick was inexcusable, and I don't know why Dallas refrained from adding any new pieces to its new 4-3 until the 185th pick. Why was Sharrif Floyd not an option at No. 18? He would have been a force in between DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, and he was a perfect fit as a three-technique in Monte Kiffin's defense.
2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
31. Travis Frederick, G/C, Wisconsin: MILLEN HIGH-PRICED SCOREBOARD THAT MAKES PEOPLE BLIND KIELBASA Grade
Travis Frederick!?!? The Wisconsin lineman who was considered a third-round prospect? There were other reaches in the first round, but this takes the cake. It seems like the Cowboys panicked with all of the guards flying off the board, which is the worst thing you can ever do in the NFL Draft. It's never been more obvious that Dallas needs a real general manager.
47. Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State: D Grade
Jerruh sure loves his third-round prospects. Gavin Escobar belonged in the third frame. Even worse, he doesn't fill a need. The Cowboys have so many defensive issues, especially considering that they're moving into a new 4-3, that it's a big head-scratcher that they haven't addressed their stop unit yet.
74. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor: B+ Grade
Terrance Williams' stock has fallen over the pre-draft process; he was once considered a first-round possibility. This should probably be the right range for him, so this is a rare quality pick for Dallas, as Miles Austin-Jones won't be around much longer.
80. J.J. Wilcox, S, Georgia Southern: B+ Grade
It's funny that Dallas' third-round picks could be considered better players than the guys they obtained in the first and second rounds. J.J. Wilcox fills a big need at safety and could have easily gone a bit earlier than this.
114. B.W. Webb, CB, William & Mary: B+ Grade
Once again, Dallas' later players are better than their earlier ones. Some viewed B.W. Webb as a late second-round prospect, so this is very good value. The Cowboys had to add a corner, as they had just four of them on the roster.
151. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State: A- Grade
This is a pretty solid pick. I feel like Joseph Randle should have gone earlier than this. The Cowboys were desperate for a second running back with Felix Jones gone, as DeMarco Murray is too injury-prone.
185. DeVonte Holloman, OLB, South Carolina: B+ Grade
Finally, a front-seven piece for Monte Kiffin's defense. It's not the defensive lineman that Dallas sorely has to acquire, but DeVonte Holloman fills the need for depth. I thought he'd go a bit earlier than this.
It's always something with the Cowboys. If they're not missing tackles while the other team is trying to ice the game, they're dropping touchdowns. If they're not dropping touchdowns, the coach is icing his own kicker. If the coach isn't icing his own kicker, he's wasting timeouts. If it's none of that, perhaps it's a DeMarco Murray fumble. Or a Dez Bryant finger out of bounds. Or an infield fly rule interception by Tony Romo. The Cowboys always find a way to lose.
Eagles sign RB Felix Jones
Raiders sign CB Mike Jenkins
Cowboys re-sign WR Anthony Armstrong
Saints sign DE/DT Kenyon Coleman
Saints sign DE/OLB Victor Butler
Cowboys sign S Will Allen
Cowboys cut WR Anthony Armstrong
Cowboys sign OLB Justin Durant
Cowboys re-sign OLB Ernie Sims
Ravens sign DE/DT Marcus Spears
Buccaneers sign WR Kevin Ogletree
Cowboys cut DE/DT Marcus Spears
Chargers sign TE John Phillips
Cowboys cut ILB Dan Connor
Cowboys tender S Danny McCray
Cowboys franchise DE/OLB Anthony Spencer
Cowboys cut S Gerald Sensabaugh
Cowboys re-sign C Phil Costa
Two Interior Linemen: There's some talk about the Cowboys moving Mackenzy Bernadeau from right guard to center. I have my doubts about that helping at all. Regardless, Dallas needs help at both guard and center. Drafted Travis Frederick; re-signed Phil Costa
Two Linebackers: A strongside linebacker is needed in the new 4-3. Depth also has to be acquired. Signed Justin Durant
Two Safeties: Dallas had major issues at strong safety this past season, and it all started when Barry Church went on injured reserve. Church tore his Achilles, so he may not be 100 percent next year. Meanwhile, Gerald Sensabaugh was inexplicably released in early March. Signed Will Allen; drafted J.J. Wilcox
Defensive End: Anthony Spencer is a free agent, as is Victor Butler. If the Cowboys don't re-sign Spencer, they'll have to find a worthy complement for DeMarcus Ware in their new 4-3. They could still use depth regardless though. Franchised Anthony Spencer
Defensive Tackle: Jay Ratliff could back next year, but he hasn't played well since signing a big contract. Help is needed at defensive tackle.
Right Tackle: Doug Free has been terrible ever since signing a $32 million contract nearly two years ago. Jerry Jones needs to find some competition for him (assuming he's even on the roster).
Quarterback: It seems like yesterday when Tony Romo took over as Dallas' starting quarterback, but he'll be 33 in April. Jerry Jones needs to think about finding a potential successor.
Running Back: Felix Jones is a free agent, so the Cowboys may want to add some depth. Drafted Joseph Randle
Cornerback: Another position where depth should be acquired. Drafted B.W. Webb
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Justin Durant, OLB, Lions. Age: 27. Signed with Cowboys
Justin Durant has been very solid in run support for the Lions over the past couple of years. He should be limited to two downs though because he's not that good in coverage.
Will Allen, S, Steelers. Age: 31. -- Signed with Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Anthony Spencer, DE/OLB, Cowboys. Age: 29. Re-signed with Cowboys (1 year, $10.6 million)
Anthony Spencer dealt with consistency issues early in his career, but he was amazing for the Cowboys this past season, both in terms of stopping the run and getting to the quarterback.
Gerald Sensabaugh, S, Cowboys. Age: 30.
Cutting Gerald Sensabugh saved the Cowboys just $1.4 million in cap space, so this was a strange move. Sensabaugh isn't very good in run support, but he's pretty solid in coverage. He can be a good starter for some team, though he'll have to fight through a very competitive free-agent safety class.
Phil Costa (RFA), C, Cowboys. Age: 26. Re-signed with Cowboys (2 years)
Phil Costa is a serviceable starting center, but he's coming off foot surgery and may not be ready for the start of the season.
Victor Butler, DE/OLB, Cowboys. Age: 26. Signed with Saints
Victor Butler has shown some solid pass-rushing ability in his brief action behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
Mike Jenkins, CB, Cowboys. Age: 28. Signed with Raiders (1 year)
Mike Jenkins has talent, but he's a head case who hasn't put it together yet. Maybe some coach can salvage his career.
Dan Connor, ILB, Cowboys. Age: 28. Signed with Giants
Dan Connor has been a disappointment in his pro career thus far, but he's a very good reserve linebacker and an OK spot starter in the middle of a 3-4 defense.
Marcus Spears, DE/DT, Cowboys. Age: 30. -- Signed with Ravens (2 years)
Kenyon Coleman, DE/DT, Cowboys. Age: 34. -- Signed with Saints
Eric Frampton, S, Cowboys. Age: 29.
Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys. Age: 26. -- Signed with Eagles
Kevin Ogletree, WR, Cowboys. Age: 26. -- Signed with Buccaneers
Danny McCray (RFA), S, Cowboys. Age: 25. -- Tendered by Cowboys
John Phillips, TE, Cowboys. Age: 26. -- Signed with Chargers (3 years)
Ernie Sims, OLB, Cowboys. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Cowboys
Derrick Dockery, G, Cowboys. Age: 33.
Charlie Peprah, S, Cowboys. Age: 30.
Brian Schaefering, DE/DT, Cowboys. Age: 30.
Brian Moorman, P, Cowboys. Age: 37.
Anthony Armstrong, WR, Cowboys. Age: 30. -- Re-signed with Cowboys