Biggest Needs Dallas Cowboys Must Address After 2013 NFL Draft
The focus here is on three remaining areas that the Dallas Cowboys must address prior to Week 1 of the 2013 NFL regular season because, as you've likely heard, the New York Giants are coming to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington for dinner on Sunday night, September 8.
Perhaps the biggest question is how they address these needs.
Time will tell exactly how effective the 2013 NFL draft selections are for Dallas, but the early indication is that it was a sub-par effort considering the franchise's biggest needs.
This year's selection meeting was loaded with prospects at all the right places including offensive guard, offensive tackle, defensive end and defensive tackle. Dallas failed to select a single player at any of those vital positions.
Remember that fact because it's likely to sting pretty bad later on.
Worse yet is that of Dallas' 15 undrafted free agents that were signed this week, not one of them is even a training camp body that could used at the positions that were ignored during the actual draft.
One of the biggest concerns for Dallas might still be addressed adequately for 2013 but the rest are glaring question marks heading into a season that has a ''make-it-or-break-it'' feel for head coach Jason Garrett.
But the general manager, Jerry Jones, is also on the hot-seat as well. Never before since Jones bought the team in 1989 has Dallas failed to make the playoffs in four-straight seasons. As of now, this historic feat looks like a very real possibility.
No. 1: Right Offensive Tackle
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Right tackle prospect Menelik Watson of Florida State was still available when Dallas finally went on the clock for a selection in the first round with the No. 31 overall pick. The Cowboys chose Wisconsin center Travis Frederick, a solid prospect that certainly could have been chosen later.
Another intriguing tackle prospect, Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, was available in the third round, chosen right after the Cowboys selected Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams.
Given the status of right tackle Doug Free, among the most penalized players in the NFL in 2012, I felt certain that the Cowboys would plan for the future at right tackle well before they worried about center or offensive guard.
I can understand Dallas' reluctance to rely on a rookie to protect the right side of franchise quarterback Tony Romo. Then again, it worked out rather well in 2011 with first-round selection and then-rookie Tyron Smith.
Now, the Cowboys have to figure out how to get Free to take less money to remain on the roster as depth. Free doesn't have much choice in the matter because if he's released, he'll likely find less money than what Dallas is offering him to stay with the Cowboys—remember that Free is also the only backup at left tackle.
The Cowboys will now try to bring in another free-agent lineman like Tyson Clabo or Eric Winston at likely the same money that Free will end up with. Clabo, 31, and Winston, 29, probably only represent an expensive and rather short-term solution for the position, though.
For a franchise that needs both better and cheaper talent on the offensive line, this was probably not the situation to end up in—and it certainly didn't have to be this way.
No. 2: Defensive End
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Yeah, I know former outside linebacker Anthony Spencer has been franchised for a second-straight year. This actually came with shockingly little protest from the seventh-year veteran, who is also being asked to play a new position in 2013.
I felt that heading into the 2013 draft, there was a possibility that Spencer could be traded for additional draft picks, thus allowing Dallas to pursue more of a true, 4-3 defensive end.
Well, it didn't happen.
Instead, the Cowboys seem to be planning on having a pair of very small defensive ends in Spencer, who's 6'3'' and about 250 pounds, and DeMarcus Ware, who's measurements really don't matter. Ware is unquestionably the best player on a defense that has to find a new and better identity in defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's new scheme. Ware has also led the team in sacks since his rookie year in 2005.
There's even rumors floating that Dallas wants to sign Spencer, who is 29 years old, to a long-term contract extension before even seeing him play a down on the defensive line. This is the same kind of thinking that brought bad contracts for players like Free and wide receiver Miles Austin. In other words, Jones opens his wallet for a limited volume of performance sometimes, and this is the primary reason why the Cowboys are hammered by the salary cap.
But regardless of what you think about Spencer lining up against tackles that outweigh him by no less than 50 pounds each week, it's worth noting that the depth chart seems really void of any difference-making pass-rushers in the event that Spencer or Ware miss time due to injury.
Had Dallas not gone the direction of offensive tackle in the first round, selecting a player like Cornellius ''Tank'' Carradine of Florida State would have been a really smart move. The Cowboys thought center was a more important position to address, though.
The issue for the Dallas defensive line, especially at end, is a lack of bulk, height and wingspan. Another prospect named Margus Hunt out of SMU offered some huge upside to play on the edge in the scheme to be run by the Cowboys. The 6'8'' and 277-pound Estonian was the taken six spots after Dallas chose tight end Gavin Escobar in the second round.
Provided that the Cowboys can stay healthy, defenders like Spencer, Ware and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff might form a formidable front in the new 4-3 alignment—but I obviously have my doubts concerning Spencer's size and the wear and tear on Ratliff following his five-year run as a poorly positioned, microscopic nose guard in the scrapped 3-4 playbook.
But if the scenario just mentioned doesn't go as planned, significant adjustments will have to made next year for a defense that still can't stop the opposing running game.
Shutting down the run is the first ingredient for a contending defense.
No. 3: Defensive Tackle
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Remember the 1998 NFL draft?
This was the year that wide receiver Randy Moss, easily the best player not named Peyton Manning, slid down to the Cowboys at the No. 8 overall selection. Passing on Moss mainly due to character concerns, Jones opted for defensive end Greg Ellis—not a terrible selection, especially at the time, but Ellis was certainly not the difference-maker that Moss was.
Minnesota finally chose Moss with the 21st pick and then went 15-1 in 1998, en route to the NFC championship game.
With the 18th selection in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, Dallas passed on another top-player at a very important position. Expected to be a top-five selection, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd of Florida was somehow still available when the Cowboys first went on the clock at their scheduled 18th pick. Jones passed on Floyd in favor of Frederick following a trade down to essentially the end of the first round.
The Vikings took Floyd just five picks after Dallas traded down.
This is not to say that Floyd will make the same kind of impact as a defensive lineman that Moss did as a receiver, but it's ironic that Minnesota was there to capitalize on Dallas' failure to select the best player on the board—again.
Time will tell exactly how those developments will work out for each team, but it seems clear that the Cowboys also missed out on not just the best player on the board but also an opportunity to fill a need.
Dallas, as a franchise, has stated that defensive tackles like Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore are more than enough to form a corps that can easily translate to the new defensive scheme. The Cowboys also think an awful lot of a defensive line rotation that includes players like Ben Bass, Tyrone Crawford and Nick Hayden—obviously Josh Brent can't be expected to participate in 2013 or beyond.
Maybe Jones knows something we don't, and perhaps the guys in place rotate more like the Dave Wannstedt defenses of the early 1990's. I'm sure Kiffin is familiar with this drill.
But if the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the model, I don't really see the Warren Sapp type player on the Cowboys current roster, for example.
Either way, you can never have enough pass-rushers or inside penetration for opposing offenses to deal with.
Maybe the Cowboys have plenty, or perhaps they don't.
If not, Dallas' 2013 NFL draft effort will take all of the blame.