After another 8–8 season, the Dallas Cowboys are left to ponder several glaring questions as they head into the offseason.
Owner Jerry Jones has already made plenty of changes to the coaching staff. First, he got rid of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Then Jones quickly replaced Ryan with Monte Kiffin, and the Cowboys 3-4 defense has been replaced with a 4-3 scheme.
Jones also removed several other positional coaches and has allowed others to leave on their own. Now, Jones has some tough questions to answer regarding current players.
After the jump, we will take a look at those questions and try to come up with some answers of our own.
Here are the seven biggest questions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason.
Anthony Spencer finished the year strong on the defensive side of the ball.
Spencer led the team in tackles (95) and was second only to DeMarcus Ware with 11 sacks. Based on how well Spencer has performed during the past two seasons, the Cowboys first priority must be to get Spencer under contract.
The Cowboys cannot allow Spencer to test the free agent market because they are struggling with their salary cap limitations and they might not be able to match some of the offers that Spencer may receive from other teams. They have the option of hitting Spencer with the franchise tag, however, they may not want to use the tag on Spencer again.
All that being said, the Cowboys have to get creative with a few other player's contracts in order to ensure that they will have enough money to even begin to consider signing Anthony Spencer.
Moreover, since Monte Kiffin’s arrival means that the Cowboys defense will revert to a 4-3 scheme, Spencer may actually be allowed to leave via the free agent market. The Cowboys might feel that Sean Lee and Bruce Carter will be able to carry the load at the linebacker position, and they will rely on DeMarcus Ware moving to defensive end.
However, letting such a talented defensive player leave the team without compensation would be a horrible decision.
Even the most ardent Tony Romo supporters (of which, I am one) have to admit that the interception against the Washington Redskins in the final game of the regular season affirms most people's opinion that Tony Romo is incapable of winning the big game. I certainly believe that Romo is a good quarterback, but even I was scratching my head on that late interception in the season finale.
Regardless of what I think, the Dallas Cowboys have to decide immediately if Tony Romo is the guy to not only get them to the big game, but to win it.
If the answer is yes, expect Romo to get a contract extension that will allow the Cowboys to restructure the financial terms of the deal. This will certainly help the team with their 2013 salary cap situation.
If the answer is no, look for the Cowboys to take a quarterback in this year’s draft, perhaps as early as the second round. If Romo is not the future, then the Cowboys have to find their next signal-caller sooner rather than later.
The Dallas Cowboys running game was laughable last year. Seriously, it was bad.
The Cowboys’ 1,265 yards on the ground this season came in as the lowest total in franchise history for a 16 game season.
What's worse is that DeMarco Murray was the team's leading rusher with 663 yards, though he did miss six games due to injury. Still, you have to go back 23 years to when Paul Palmer managed a measly 446 yards on the season, which ranked as the lowest output for Cowboys leading rusher in team history.
So clearly the big question is: Can DeMarco Murray stay healthy?
The Dallas Cowboys believe that Murray is one of the key components to their offensive unit. However, in two straight seasons, Murray has not been able to play in all 16 games.
If Murray succumbs to injuries again in 2013, the Cowboys will have to scrap their plan of having Murray be the featured back. They must get back to running the ball effectively and, if Murray cannot stay healthy, they need to look for a running back that can carry the load.
Last year, Tony Romo ran for his life, more often than not. He even has the cracked ribs to prove it.
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line was slightly better than Swiss cheese, and it was so bad that right tackle Doug Free was even called a human turnstile.
All jokes aside, the Cowboys offensive line was lacking.
For some reason, Jerry Jones told ESPNDallas.com in mid-November that he was “really pleased with the offensive line.” So the first thing that Jones must do this offseason is admit that his offensive line was not as good as he claimed.
After he admits that there is a problem, he has to address it. Injuries to center Phil Costa certainly hurt the interior of the line, and although it appears that Tyron Smith can be the answer at left tackle, clearly there were problems with Doug Free on the right side of the line.
With Free scheduled to make upwards of $7 million this season, Jones has to find out if it's worth keeping him or cutting his losses. One thing is certain, though, Tony Romo cannot afford to keep taking the types of hits that he endured last season.
Until Jerry Jones gets serious about addressing this problem on the offensive line, the Cowboys will continue to struggle to protect Tony Romo and will continue to be ineffective at opening holes for the running game.
With the emergence of wide receiver Dez Bryant last season, the Dallas Cowboys certainly started to get a glimpse of what they thought they were getting when they drafted the talented wide receiver in 2010.
However, with injuries continuing to plague Miles Austin, and with the inconsistent play of Kevin Ogletree, the Cowboys clearly have some questions at wide receiver.
The Cowboys have to decide if they are going to keep Austin. Even if the Cowboys manage to re-structure Austin's contract and keep him as the No. 2 option, there is still the question of who will be the third wide receiver?
Kevin Ogletree is a free agent, and although Dwayne Harris was effective in some situations last year, the team may still search elsewhere for a No. 3 receiver.
There has been plenty of speculation over the last month as to whether Jason Garrett will continue his play calling duties. From my point of view, since Garrett is the “genius” behind the Cowboys offensive playbook, he should be the one to call the plays.
Several reports, like this one at SI, say that Jerry Jones is pushing Jason Garrett to give up the play calling. Other reports say the Cowboys have been quietly looking for an offensive coordinator.
If Garrett gives up the play calling duties, will the offensive game plan still be the same?
Perhaps the bigger problem is the overall offensive schemes and not the actual play calling. There were some games last season where the offensive game plan lacked creativity, and maybe a change in philosophy is needed.
Jerry Jones decided that Monte Kiffin would be a better defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys than Rob Ryan, and the team will now be switching to a 4-3 defensive scheme.
But will that type of defense work in Dallas?
This change means that the Cowboys best defender, DeMarcus Ware, will be forced to play at defensive end instead of outside linebacker, which is something that he's never done in his career. So, can Ware be an effective pass rusher with his hand on the ground?
On the plus side, by making this move, the Cowboys are going to have to rely on Sean Lee at middle linebacker. Lee is extremely talented, but he has to remain healthy.
Kiffin’s defense relies on speed, and with cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne on the outside, the Cowboys certainly have that.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys are lacking on the defensive line. If Jerry Jones can afford to keep Jay Ratliff and somehow find a way to keep Anthony Spencer and make him the other defensive end, then Kiffin's system may be great for the Dallas Cowboys.