With the free-agency frenzy creeping closer, the Cowboys have more than a few decisions to make. Team superstars Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware are not getting any younger, and Dallas is running out of time for a Super Bowl run.
Considering the age of some of the team's top talent and head coach Jason Garrett entering his third full season in his position, Dallas cannot afford to make mistakes this offseason.
Here's a look at the top five moves the Cowboys must avoid making during the upcoming free-agency period.
Felix Jones is currently a free agent—and deservedly so—after his most statistically unimpressive year since his rookie season in 2008. At one point a first-round draft pick for Dallas, Jones failed to live up to his potential over the last four seasons.
With the former Arkansas rusher off the roster, though, the Cowboys now find themselves with a need to fill at backup running back. Considering the other backup options available to sign on Dallas' budget probably limits the market, though the team might be tempted to grab Jones at a cap-friendly price.
Sure he knows the system; he's familiar with the Cowboys offense, but at some point, you have to move on from a failed player. A back like Rashard Mendenhall, Cedric Benson or Peyton Hillis would be a smarter option to pursue than Jones. Dallas has given the former No. 28 enough time to grow and mature into a successful NFL player, and he just hasn't done so.
The Cowboys used their franchise tag on Anthony Spencer last offseason and basically gave the linebacker one last year to prove worthy of his first-round draft pick back in 2007. He answered Dallas' challenge, putting together a Pro Bowl year with 11 sacks and 95 tackles on the season.
A season like that almost guarantees that Spencer could grab a big payday during free agency, but he's in contact with Dallas. Struggling to get under the salary cap, it's certain that Spencer's former team does not have the money to dish out that other clubs could for his services in 2013.
Jerry Jones and company will need to persuade Spencer using words like "loyalty" to and "potential" with the club in order to keep Spencer wearing the No. 93 for Dallas. Jones would be ill-advised to let Spencer slip away, but he doesn't hold the best cards available to re-sign the former Purdue player.
ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer recently asked Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones whether Doug Free will be on the roster in 2013.
Jones responded with "I wouldn't rule Doug out."
Please Jones, rule Doug out.
Since receiving his four-year $32 million contract back in 2011, Free has spent the last two seasons underperforming and not earning that big payday.
It makes salary cap-sense to cut Free and try to save some money. It makes talent-sense to cut Free in order to bring in or draft a player who could better help Dallas reach the playoffs.
Basically, there's no reason to keep Free around to simply hope he finally turns the corner after two disappointing seasons.
With the transition from the 3-4 to a 4-3, the Cowboys are in need of another defensive tackle to line up alongside Jay Ratliff. The continual problem for Dallas is finding a veteran who is willing to sign without Jerry Jones driving a truckload of money onto his front lawn.
Seymour is a talented and experienced 4-3 player who won't be cashing in the most money this offseason.
Even if Seymour is unattainable for the Cowboys, they can't go into the NFL draft without a veteran player to play alongside Ratliff. That would leave them with a lack of depth at a key position and only an unproven rookie to start.
Head coach Jason Garrett has made it known that the Cowboys are keeping Jay Ratliff after a forgettable 2012 for the former Pro Bowler.
Ratliff was hampered by a groin injury and played in just six contests for Dallas last year. He was also involved in a rather publicized spat with Jerry Jones at one point during the latter half of the season.
Despite these issues, though, Ratliff has been a vital cog in the Cowboys defense for years. Even with the 4-3 transition, Ratliff should be able to adapt and possibly thrive in the new defense.
He's been battling double-teams for some years now, and adding an interior defensive lineman to help his cause of getting to quarterbacks should help lessen that occurrence.
There's no reason to cut a player who has been a defensive leader and Pro Bowler for your team after one lousy season. Dallas would be foolish to go back on Garrett's word and release one of its defensive stars.