The Dallas Cowboys currently sit on the proverbial playoff bubble with a 7-6 record. With three games left against the Steelers, Saints and Redskins, the playoffs are within their grasp, but the Cowboys certainly will have to win these battles a little short-handed. On the flip side, with the possibility of not being able to overcome their injury woes and move on to the postseason, the attention will quickly turn to building the 2013 roster.
Jerry Jones decided to open up his wallet this past offseason and spend some of that newly printed money in free agency by signing Brandon Carr. You can't fault him for pursuing the free agent market with aggression, but the Cowboys must learn that the best way to build the roster is with strategic signings and solid drafts. Spending big every year is just not going to be an option nor is it going to make fiscal sense.
The Cowboys did manage to make significant upgrades to the roster in 2012 but they will need to raise the bar significantly higher in order to build a roster sustainable for success. The official process begins after the Super Bowl but unofficially it should already be taking place.
Let's look at the targets that are not only needs but are also must-haves.
Albert, who stands 6'5" and weighs 315 pounds, would be the perfect replacement for Doug Free. In fact, by ridding themselves of Free, it would enable the Cowboys to sign Albert. At only 28 years old and still in the prime years of his career, it would make perfect sense for the Cowboys to spend whatever they were planning on spending for offensive line reinforcements.
If the Cowboys are going to be able to protect Romo, help DeMarco Murray become an elite running back, and win in the trenches, then they need to make this move. Albert has been a rock of consistency for the Chiefs while playing in total obscurity.
Another suitable replacement for Doug Free, Bushrod would be welcome addition as the Cowboys continue their pursuit of improving their offensive line. He made the Pro Bowl in 2011 and has improved every year with the Saints. Again, the Cowboys would have to cut Free in order to make this happen but it's a move that has become necessary based on his erratic play.
As is the case with the offensive line, if the Cowboys intend to spend money by restructuring and making hard decisions, then allocating resources to the defensive line would be wise as well. Henry Melton could be the much needed menace along the defensive front the Cowboys need. He's strong, athletic and quick off the ball while becoming a true sack artist in the NFL.
How much will it cost? The market will determine that but how often do you get the chance to pick up a 25-year-old defensive linemen who can consistently provide pressure?
With the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Josh Brent and the rash of injuries to Jay Ratliff, the Cowboys have no choice but to address the nose tackle position. Knighton could be the answer and be cost effective at the same time. He's a young player, he's a solid run-stopper, and he would fill a need.
Yes, Anthony Spencer. What choice do the Cowboys have at this point? He's piled up eight and a half sacks, he's a force against the run and at times he has simply dominated on defense. This defense would be lost without him. He has slowly been building his case on a weekly basis and the momentum is now too great to overcome.
He will not come cheap by any means but the Cowboys could use a franchise tag on him again. He could be having a great year by angling for a long-term deal or he could finally be reaching his potential. The Cowboys will be hard-pressed to let him go.
The Cowboys let him get away once before but they could legitimately get him back. If they were to target offense, going with wide receiver would make sense because of the depth of the free agent market. Amendola combined with Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray would give Tony Romo a ridiculous amount of weapons.
The issue with Amendola has always been size and health. He's proven that his size isn't an issue but he needs to stay on the field. But going this route would give the Cowboys a true third receiver while also keeping the heat on Austin and adding competition to a deep group.
These are the kind of building blocks that don't necessarily get the draft buzz but are necessary to win championships. Warmack is that type of player and what better training ground to be playing in than the SEC. He's got great footwork, a solid base, he picks up protection well and can handle multiple blocks and is the type of young offensive line prospect the Cowboys need to have on their roster.
He would allow the Cowboys to be versatile with the rest of their offensive linemen and could be a starter right away.
The more I watch this kid play, the more I love his game. He's a pure speed rushing playmaker who has a huge upside. He needs to add some mass to his frame but he's fast, he has great instincts, and could be a great compliment to DeMarcus Ware while also serving as a contingency if Spencer departs for the huge pay day. Don't forget this name.
Another Pac-12 prospect that could fill a need with the departure of Felix Jones. He's a tough inside and outside runner who has excelled in a tough conference. I've watched his game quite a bit and he really has a sound skill set. He protects the ball, he has great vision and he reads the play well. He could be the perfect compliment to Murray while he develops his game.
I just don't envision the Lance Dunbar/Phillip Tanner duo to both be on the Cowboys roster come 2013. Jones just hasn't lived up to the expectations he brought with himself and it would be tough to imagine that a roster spot would be available to him. The Cowboys need to address the running back situation not only for Jones but to preserve Murray as well. Taylor fits the bill.
If the Cowboys are going to rise to NFL supremacy again, they will need more defensive playmakers on defense. Richardson is a disruptive and a high-motor, relentless pass rusher that also adept at playing the run. The Cowboys need to start targeting defensive talent in what has become a pass-happy league.
They need to ramp up the pass rush, wreak havoc on every snap and be able to consistently throw fastballs at opposing quarterbacks. Richardson would help in all three areas. He's athletic, he has great burst and his athleticism is off the charts. He's 6'2" and around 290 pounds but his key strengths are his versatility and upside. The Cowboys could use both.