The Dallas Cowboys will enter the 2012 NFL offseason with a plethora of questions. Hopefully, some of those questions will be answered in free agency. By the time the NFL draft arrives in April, Jason Garrett and the Cowboys should have a defined plan of attack.
Some personnel issues should be solved. For example, the Cowboys should have signed a veteran backup quarterback or handed the reins to Stephen McGee. The Cowboys should have signed most of their free agents, whether they are big names or small additions. Lastly, the Cowboys should have parted ways with some of the slack on their roster.
By the time April comes, Garrett should know exactly where the Cowboys are weak and what players can help improve the team. Garrett will have a lot more say in this draft than many people think. Jerry Jones is no longer dictating over Wade Phillips. Jones has stated many times how intelligent he believes Garrett is.
This draft will most likely tell the story of Garrett’s career as the Cowboys head coach.
Here is a list of the free agents on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster. This list does not include potential offseason cuts.
QB – Jon Kitna (UFA) – Stated he was retiring
Chris Greisen (RFA)
RB – Sammy Morris (UFA)
Chauncey Washington (ERFA)
(FB) Tony Fiammetta (RFA)
WR – Laurent Robinson (UFA)
Jesse Holley (ERFA)
Kevin Ogletree (RFA)
(TE) Martellus Bennett (UFA)
OL – (G) Derrick Dockery (UFA)
(G) Montrae Holland (UFA)
(OT) Jermey Parnell (ERFA)
DL – (DE) Clifton Geathers (ERFA)
LB – (ILB) Bradie James (UFA)
(ILB) Keith Brooking (UFA)
(OLB) Anthony Spencer (UFA)
DB – (CB) Alan Ball (UFA)
(CB) Frank Walker (UFA)
(S) Abram Elam (UFA)
P – Mat McBriar (UFA)
Dre Kirkpatrick CB Alabama
HT – 6'2", WT – 192, 40 Time – 4.49
2011 Personnel – Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick, Alan Ball (UFA), Frank Walker (UFA)
The Cowboys struggled against the pass in 2011. They did not struggle because Newman, Jenkins and Scandrick are terrible players; they struggled because they did not have enough good corners. Newman is a likely offseason cut. Garrett wants to become younger and Newman’s big contract is probably not in the plans.
Kirkpatrick would bring a big physical corner coached by Nick Saban to Dallas. Kirkpatrick is big enough and physical enough to cover Hakeem Nicks. He would also give the Cowboys a corner that does not need to grab Brandon Marshall’s neck to cover him.
Rob Ryan needs as many corners as possible to play his defense. Drafting Kirkpatrick is the first step in creating the secondary Ryan needs to be effective as a defensive coordinator.
2012 Outlook Personnel – Dre Kirkpatrick, Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick, (Free Agent Signing), Justin Taplin-Ross
Ronnell Lewis OLB Oklahoma
HT – 6'2", WT – 244, 40 Time – 4.63
2011 Personnel – DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer (UFA), Victor Butler, Alex Albright
The second step for creating a Rob Ryan friendly defense is finding a consistent pass rush. DeMarcus Ware cannot create this by himself. He needs a pass rusher opposite him to take some of the pressure off of him.
Spencer has proven he is not the playmaker the Cowboys thought he would be when they drafted him in the first round. The Cowboys should not resign him at the contract he will demand.
Lewis is the perfect alternative. He has a high motor, he is aggressive and he has an attitude. The Cowboys have had a reputation of being soft on defense for far too long. The physical play of Kirkpatrick and Lewis can change that reputation. Drafting Lewis could add the pass rush the Cowboys need opposite Ware.
2012 Outlook Personnel – DeMarcus Ware, Ronnell Lewis, Victor Butler, (Free Agent Signing), Alex Albright
Harrison Smith SS Notre Dame
HT – 6'2", WT – 215, 40 Time – 4.55
2011 Personnel – Abram Elam (UFA), Danny McCray
Elam failed to make an impact in 2011 but he is a Rob Ryan guy, so he will most likely return for 2012 on a one year deal. The Cowboys need someone that is reliable in the secondary. Smith is a smart football player. He can make the right plays, be reliable in coverage and help stop the run.
The Cowboys need to become younger in the secondary and Smith will help the youth movement. Elam will most likely be the starter in 2012 but Smith can contribute and hopefully take over as the reliable strong safety the Cowboys need.
2012 Outlook Personnel – Harrison Smith, Abram Elam, Danny McCray
Michael Brewster C Ohio State
HT – 6'4", WT – 305, 40 Time – 5.17
2011 Personnel – Phil Costa, Kevin Kowalski
Phil Costa was terrible in 2011. He should not return to the Cowboys in 2012. Kowalski was an adequate backup but in no means should he be relied upon as the full-time starter.
Brewster was a four-year starter at Ohio State. Ohio State plays a high level of football every Saturday and on national stage. Brewster may not be the most athletic center to come into the league but he can snap the ball to Tony Romo’s hands.
Brewster will help the youth movement on the offensive line. If the Cowboys can sign a guard, (Carl Nicks), to play alongside him, Brewster could become a key member of the Cowboys’ young offensive line.
2012 Outlook Personnel – Michael Brewster, Kevin Kowalski
Jeff Demps RB Florida
HT – 5'8", WT – 191, 40 Time – 4.26
2011 Personnel – DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones, Sammy Morris (UFA), Phillip Tanner, Chauncey Washington (ERFA)
The Cowboys need a game-changer at kick returner/punt returner, or at least a field position-changer. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys have Felix Jones returning kickoffs next season. If they do not, Dwayne Harris is the only player on their roster who can.
As for returning punts, Dez Bryant should be nowhere near them in 2012. The Cowboys can no longer afford to risk his health and split his practice time by having him return punts. Harris is also the only player on the roster who could return punts.
Demps would give the Cowboys an immediate upgrade over Harris in the return game. Also, if he refines his abilities in the passing game he could become a Darren Sproles prototype. In the fifth round the Cowboys could do worse than Demps, who runs a sub-4.30 forty.
2012 Outlook Personnel – DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones, Jeff Demps
Nicolas Jean-Baptiste NT Baylor
HT – 6'2", WT – 335, 40 Time – 5.06
2011 Personnel – Jay Ratliff, Josh Brent
Jay Ratliff is undersized to play nose tackle. He would benefit from a move to the outside and so would the Cowboys. If Ratliff could play inside and outside on the defensive line, the Cowboys can create a pass rush from every angle without giving up huge plays in the run game.
At 335 lbs, Jean-Baptiste can be the prototypical nose tackle who can clog the middle and stop the run. He may not be able to be the full-time nose tackle in 2012, but he can create opportunities where Ratliff can come off the edge and create the pass rush needed for Rob Ryan’s defense to be effective.
2012 Outlook Personnel – Jay Ratliff, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, Josh Brent
Blake Gideon FS Texas
HT – 6'0", WT – 205, 40 Time – 4.64
2011 Personnel – Gerald Sensabaugh, Barry Church, Mana Silva
In the seventh round the Cowboys can do worse than a four-year starter at Texas. The Cowboys just resigned Sensabaugh so they will not be looking for a starter in 2012. Sensabaugh is not the game-changing safety the Cowboys need, but he is an adequate replacement while they upgrade other positions.
Gideon can help in the secondary and could possibly become an above average free safety in the NFL. He has the toughness and the desire to success. He may not be the fastest or the hardest hitting safety to come out of college, but he will work hard to maximize his potential. No team can ever have enough players like that.
2012 Outlook Personnel - Gerald Sensabaugh, Blake Gideon, Barry Church
Paul Harris TE Syracuse
HT – 6'4", WT – 230, 40 Time – TBD
2011 Personnel – Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett (UFA), John Phillips
Paul Harris, the former Syracuse basketball player, has been invited to the NFL combine. There have been a number of former basketball players who have turned into premier tight ends in the NFL, (Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham). Harris could be next in line.
There is a chance that the Cowboys would have to use a draft pick to select Harris if he has a good showing at the combine. If Harris goes undrafted, the Cowboys should quickly sign him and give him a chance to work with the Cowboys coaching staff to become a better football player.
Bennett should not return in 2012. Bennett has never lived up to his potential and Phillips is cheaper and just as good at this point. If the Cowboys can turn Harris into a football player, they might have found the next basketball player, turned football player success story.
2012 Outlook Personnel – Jason Witten, John Phillips, Paul Harris