After an extremely poorly-played loss to the New York Giants knocked the Dallas Cowboys out of postseason contention, the Cowboys enter the offseason with a number of changes to make if they hope to make the postseason next year.
The Cowboys entered Week 12 of the NFL season 7-4 and all signs pointed to playoffs, but Dallas went a measly 1-4 to finish off the season and exposed a bunch of holes in the team in the process.
Here is a list of the five biggest changes the Boys must make.
With a six-year, $50.2 million contract, Newman is the second highest-paid cornerback in the league.
What did the Cowboys get for the $10 million they wasted on him in 2011?
His four interceptions put him tied for 12th in the league, and cost Jerry $2.5 million per pick
His eight passes defended have him tied for 81st; his total is one-fourth that of Seattle's Brandon Browner.
Newman used to be one of the top corners in the league, but after a few years of being banged up off and on, he has lost a step of his formerly blazing speed and is being beaten far too often.
In Lee's second year in the NFL, he led the Cowboys in tackles, recording 105 on the season. To go along with all those tackles, Lee also had four interceptions, the most of any linebacker in the league and tied for the most on the team.
By the way, Lee also did all of this in a season in which he broke his hand, missing one game and playing part of the season with a cast on his hand.
I would not be surprised if we saw Lee in next year's Pro Bowl.
This kid is a fighter—something the Cowboys have very few of—and the Cowboys need to lock him up long-term and make sure they do not lose him.
The biggest weakness for the Cowboys in 2011 was their secondary. The Cowboys ranked 23rd in the league in passing defense, which is unacceptable for a team that wants to make the playoffs.
The Cowboys will have the 19th overall pick in the draft; some names you could hear the Boys calling out in April include:
Dre Kirkpatrick, out of Alabama, is a big, physical cornerback, standing at 6'3". Kirkpatrick is also fast, running a 4.4 forty time. Kirkpatrick is a Top 20 prospect, and if he falls to the Cowboys, you can expect them to take him.
Alfonzo Dennard, out of Nebraska, has all of the tools to be a great cornerback—except one. The only thing that GM's worry about when it comes to Dennard is his size. He is only 5'10", which will make it difficult when it comes to defending the bigger receivers the NFL has to offer.
Mark Barron, out of Alabama, is a hard-hitting safety with great coverage ability. He is likely the least appealing option out of the three, but is still a definite possibility and would be a great addition.
Free is making $8 million a year to consistently under-perform and get flagged almost as much as anyone in the league.
Free committed 10 penalties in 2011—five false starts and five holding calls. It is inexcusable for the starting left tackle to be committing false start penalties in a completely silent home stadium, which is a sign of an undisciplined football player.
If the Cowboys do get rid of Free, they cannot try to replace him by putting someone they already have at left tackle. Their two options are to draft someone or sign a big-money free agent.
If the Cowboys were going to draft an offensive lineman of quality, they would likely have to trade up for someone like Jonathan Martin out of Stanford or Reilly Reiff out of Iowa.
A better idea would be to use the first-round pick on a cornerback or safety, then use a second or third on a lineman you can develop—and go out and get a proven tackle for the now.
The best option the Cowboys will have to look at this offseason is Demetrius Bell out of Buffalo. Bell has been the anchor for the Bills' line. If the Bills cannot sign him to a deal before free agency, the Cowboys should throw big money at him.
The Cowboys' biggest needs to address are the offensive line and the secondary. Those areas will be top priorities for the Cowboys in 2011. Some other changes you can expect the Cowboys to make are:
Sign a backup QB: During the times that Romo has had to leave a game, Stephen McGee has made it very clear that he is not an NFL-caliber quarterback. If Romo were to go down for an extended period of time, McGee would hurt the team tremendously.
Release Martellus Bennett: Bennett has all of the qualities you look for in a tight end, but it has not clicked for him in the NFL. Bennett had only 17 receptions for 144 yards this season and was surpassed by John Phillips on the depth chart.
Hire a real general manager: Just kidding, but a boy can still dream, right?
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