Year in and year out, loyal Dallas Cowboys fans experience a wave of optimism followed by a harsh slap in the face as the team they love fails to live up to the lofty expectations that come with the territory of being "America's Team."
At the beginning of every season, the expectations always seem to trump the almost predictably disappointing result come January. Very rarely do you walk away with the sense that the brain-trust of the Dallas Cowboys made the "right" move.
Jerry Jones and the Cowboys can take another giant step of making some noise in the postseason by following this simple offseason blueprint. Some of the moves might work and some may not, but change has to be made in order to break the vicious cycle of mediocrity that Dallas has found itself in for the past 15 years.
The process of getting the Cowboys back to their glory days of the early 90s started last offseason when Jerry Jones cut bait with Marion Barber, Roy Williams and Leonard Davis. Their contributions were not going to match their salaries, so cutting them was the best move. It allowed the Cowboys to play young guys to find out what they really had in them.
Another round of cuts are necessary again this year. The Cowboys must trim the fat, and here are the top candidates who should be playing for another team in 2012.
Terence Newman (CB)
- Newman started off this year playing some pretty good ball. As the weeks passed, Newman got progressively worse until the culmination of his play resulted in his embarrassing efforts against the New York Giants in Week 17. This should be the easiest roster move that Jerry Jones will have to make.
Martellus Bennett (TE)
- Marty B has to go. His talents have not come close to matching his production. Every year, Bennett is hailed as one of the stars of training camp, but once the regular season comes around, he seems to lay a complete egg. Bennett needs to move on to a new team in order to have a chance to salvage his career.
Abram Elam (S)
- Abe Elam was brought in last year because he was familiar with Rob Ryan's defense. Elam never became the player we expected: He never made any big plays. With one forced fumble and no interceptions, the Cowboys have to find a playmaker to man the safety position.
Bradie James (LB)
- With the emergence of Sean Lee, James became almost irrelevant this year. While he is a leader in the locker room, his production really suffered this year. He went from averaging over 100 tackles during the past couple of seasons to 44 tackles last year. Hopefully Bruce Carter can make the same leap that Sean Lee did which would make letting Bradie James go easier to swallow.
David Buehler (K)
- Buehler, who missed all of last season due to groin injury, should not be back with the Cowboys next year. Dan Bailey came in and solidified the kicker position. Jerry Jones seems to love Buehler, but there should be no reason for him to take up a roster spot come 2012.
- Keith Brooking, Montrae Holland, Jesse Holley and Alan Ball should all be searching for a new home for next season.
The fine art of scouting and drafting players that can contribute in a positive way is something that the Dallas Cowboys have not quite mastered.
Mismanaging a draft can set your franchise back and leave your team without any quality depth. The reason why the Dallas Cowboys have hovered around .500 for the past couple of years can be directly attributed to the 2009 NFL Draft. Their first pick was not until the third round, and only two players from that draft will make next year's team: DE Victor Butler and QB Stephen McGee.
The Cowboys found two impact players last year when they drafted Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray. This year they need to find at least three immediate impact players and two or three that can contribute as reserves.
Here is the perfect scenario for the Cowboys come Draft Day 2012.
1st Round - David DeCastro (OG) - Stanford
- Doug Free and Tyron Smith are two young ends that will get better with time. DeCastro will help sure up a line that is in desperate need for a consistent presence at the guard spot. With DeCastro being the best guard to come out in years, this is a no-brainer.
2nd Round - Stephen Gilmore (CB) - South Carolina
- Drafting Gilmore in the 2nd would be a good decision by the Cowboys if he is available. He is big at 6'1" and can actually make impact plays at the corner position. That was one thing that Dallas lacked in the past couple of years.
3rd Round - Markelle Martin (FS) - Oklahoma State
- The Cowboys' secondary was flat out atrocious last year. By drafting Gilmore and Martin, the Cowboys can quickly upgrade a secondary that needs lots of help. Martin, like Gilmore, is a 6'1" ballhawk that can make plays and force turnovers in the secondary.
4th Round - Michael Brewster (C) - Ohio State
- Brewster is a four-year starter and a First Team Big Ten center. He is the third rated center in the draft. While Phil Costa and Kevin Kowalski did a decent job, Brewster would be an upgrade and a starting center for the next 10 years.
5th Round - Jake Bequette (DE) - Arkansas
- Even with Demarcus Ware, the Cowboys failed to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Bequette is a big end with a very quick first step. He can evolve into a nice pass-rusher that will help apply pressure on the other team's quarterback.
6th Round - Brandon Weeden (QB) - Oklahoma State
- Weeden would be considered a late first or early second-round pick if it was not for his age. At 28 years old, a lot of teams are afraid to use a high pick on him simply because of his age. Weeden would instantly push Stephen McGee for the backup role behind Tony Romo.
7th Round - Terrell Manning (OLB) - North Carolina State
- More than likely, Anthony Spencer will be departing via free agency. Victor Butler can step up in his place and the hope would be that Manning could come in to replace Butler's role. Manning was picked up during his senior season, which may cause Manning to slide to the Cowboys in the 7th.
Last offseason, the Cowboys dumped a lot of their veteran players and their contracts. While they made the right move, it will cost them about $28 million against their cap. By making a couple of additional cuts this year, i.e., Terence Newman, and restructuring the contracts of DeMarcus Ware or Miles Austin, the Cowboys could actually have about $18-$20 million in cap room this year.
Here are a few free agents that the Cowboys should target this offseason.
Carl Nicks (G) - New Orleans Saints
- If Dallas is serious about protecting Tony Romo and giving him more time in the pocket, they should be prepared to offer Nicks a contract in the neighborhood of five years for about seven-to-eight million per year. This move, along with drafting David DeCastro, would solidify the line for years to come.
Laurent Robinson (WR) - Dallas Cowboys
- Resigning Robinson has to be a top priority for the Cowboys. Not only did he become Romo's main red-zone threat, but he also offers insurance in case Miles Austin or Dez Bryant goes down with an injury.
Terrell Thomas (CB) - New York Giants
- Thomas will be coming off an ACL tear and should be able to be picked up at a very reasonable price. Thomas will add some much needed depth to a really shallow secondary. Thomas definitely has a lot of upside should he remain healthy.
Mat McBriar (P) - Dallas Cowboys
- Resigning McBriar is only a good move if he is healthy. If he can come back 100% from his foot injury, he will be one of the best punters in the league. If McBriar isn't healthy, there are a couple of free-agent punters to look at, like Donnie Jones or Dave Zastudil.
In order to get where they need to be, the Cowboys need to do more than just churn the roster. They need to make some tweaks and changes to all three facets of their team.
Hiring an offensive coordinator who actually calls the plays would be the best thing that could happen for both Jason Garrett and the Cowboys as a team. This will leave Garrett time to focus on the game management situations that he struggled with all year.
By improving their offensive line, Tony Romo will have more time in the pocket to get the team into an offensive flow. More time will allow Romo to take more chances down the field. With Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson, there should be no excuse as to why this team isn't a top-five offensive team in the league.
Regardless of what some may think, Rob Ryan and scheme were not the issue for the Dallas defense this year. If the Cowboys are able to inject some play-makers into the defense, they can make a significant jump in the rankings next year.
The biggest problem with the defense last year was the lack of pressure. DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff dealt with nagging injuries all year. Getting them healthy along with finding someone who can be more of a playmaker than Anthony Spencer will be key to solving this problem.
Special Teams Changes:
Plain and simple, the Cowboys need someone who can make a play on special teams. They recorded no touchdowns and ranked in the bottom third of the league in both kick and punt return average. They must find someone that can shorten the field for the offense. Dez Bryant is not the answer, as he needs to solely focus on learning to be an elite receiver.
Dan Bailey was one of the Cowboys' MVPs this year, but as we saw with both Nick Folk and David Buehler, the Cowboys have to bring in kickers that will challenge Bailey for his job. Jerry Jones needs to change his philosophy on allowing his kickers to get comfortable with their jobs.