Eric Winston of Houston battles Jason Hatcher of Dallas
If there's one thing the Dallas Cowboys 2013 offseason will not be remembered for, it's the imported free-agent veterans acquired from around the NFL. When names like Justin Durant and Will Allen top the list of new talent, you know that FAs were not a critical part of the ''uncomfortable'' offseason that owner and general manager Jerry Jones promised upon the conclusion of last season.
With training camp now within a matter of days, Dallas needs to keep its eye on the few remaining veteran free agents who still have yet to find a gig for 2013. It's a safe bet that Jones is well aware.
Last month I offered a similar list, and even fewer are available now than just a few weeks ago.
Nonetheless, there are still a few names the Cowboys should consider, especially seeing as how the price tag for these players figures to keep dropping the closer we get to the preseason.
None of the following players likely represents a part of Dallas' long-term future but rather a stop-gap for a team that still has a few questions heading into Oxnard, California for camp.
While understanding that the Cowboys will likely pass on all of the following names, one or two could emerge as players that Dallas might wish it had at some point during the regular season. Each player mans a position that is not seen as being either a strength or very deep.
I realize the Cowboys enter camp with at least a couple of running backs who will go far in determining Dallas' fortunes in 2013. But I also realize that both DeMarco Murray and fifth-round draft selection Joseph Randle, a rookie, have already been limited this offseason by injuries—Murray has yet to play a complete season in two previous years as a pro.
Enter Michael Turner.
Yes, Turner is a classic example of an aging veteran who has seen his better days. No longer do you want him carrying the football 20-plus times per game as he used to.
Still, Turner represents the kind of running back that Dallas lacks: a true goal-line runner.
Turner is 5'10'' and weighs close to 250 pounds, a nice combination for a runner once his offense gets inside the 20-yard line, let alone the five. It's not like rushing touchdowns have been a strength for the Cowboys in a long time.
Even if you think that Murray and Randle can offer expected contributions week in and week out this coming season, it's not like either are built to push defensive lines for short yardage.
The Dallas defense has had its share of weaknesses over the past several seasons. The biggest of those liabilities, without question, has been stopping the run.
I'll save you the statistics but will point out that if a defense can't stop the opposing running game, it's simply cooked.
Now, the cupboard isn't exactly bare at Valley Ranch where defensive tackles are concerned. What is a question, however, is exactly how fresh and useful the groceries are in that cupboard. Beyond the name Tyrone Crawford, I can't think of too much concerning young, blue-chip talent on the defensive line—and Crawford plays defensive end anyway.
Beyond the names Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore, the rest of the tackles look more like projects and camp bodies, at least for the moment.
Veteran Shaun Cody remains homeless heading into the 2013 regular season, and there's no real reason for him to have to even leave the state of Texas to resume his playing career.
At 6'4'' and just over 300 pounds, Cody would certainly provide some push along the interior and help make sure that Dallas resumes its identity as a tough defense to run on. Following the past four seasons often playing as an undersized nose guard with the Houston Texans, it would likely be a breath of fresh air returning to a simpler and less physically demanding gig in Dallas' new 4-3 alignment.
Remember that Cody played college football at Southern California and also his first four years in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, both 4-3 programs.
Veteran Richard Seymour made a name for himself as one of the primary pieces of a New England defense that would appear in four Super Bowls while he was with the Patriots. Having spent the past four years with the Oakland Raiders, it's possible that at the age of 33, Seymour might be done.
Obviously Seymour has spent his entire pro career playing as a defensive end in the 3-4 alignment, and with great success. But would he be up for a run in the 4-3 in Dallas?
Seymour wouldn't be a necessity for the Cowboys, especially considering last season's hamstring injury. But if he's got something left in the tank, he could be a talented, savvy, veteran playmaker who could be a nice part of the Cowboys' rotation.
Seymour will reportedly retire unless he gets a contract he likes a lot. His asking price may very well be out of Dallas' league while an organization like Atlanta is probably better equipped to accommodate him.
But if the opportunity is there, having Seymour for a season or two, provided he wants to adapt to the Cowboys' defensive scheme, could be a surprising benefit for a franchise trying to re-establish itself as an NFC contender with a dominant defense.
The former Arkansas running back has yet to play more than two seasons with any NFL team, and if the Cowboys were to bring in this linebacker-looking running back for only that long, it could be a brilliant move.
As I mentioned before concerning Turner, Dallas really has nothing concerning physicality at running back. It's time to think about changing that concept because neither Murray nor Randle offer much of that in their game.
The Cowboys have a couple of guys that can hit the home run ball out of the backfield, so to speak, so the idea of having a bruiser for short-yardage situations should be quite appealing.
It wasn't long ago that Hillis graced the cover of Madden NFL 12, an honor that always goes to a guy who's quite productive, obviously. Hillis has had some big games, and even if his career is winding down, he could certainly break the goal line a few times over the next couple of seasons and then move on to wherever.
Hillis is far from a necessity, and I predict he gets picked up as soon as injuries begin to pop up across NFL training camps—Dallas could very well be one of those places at any moment, as history has shown.
If there's one pimple on the face of the Dallas offense at this time, it's the right tackle position. The only positive that Dallas has accomplished for itself at this position is financial. Forcing incumbent starter Doug Free into taking a significant pay cut is good for the salary cap, but it does nothing concerning the quality of play at a key position on the offensive line.
Perhaps Free returns to previous form.
Maybe Jermey Parnell ends up winning the job over the course of training camp.
But what if neither of those possibilities actually occur?
Eric Winston has been linked to Dallas this offseason, and I believe that the only thing holding up the situation is money. Winston, like the aforementioned Hillis, just spent 2012 in Kansas City with the Chiefs. The reality is that if he were as good of a player as he thinks he is, he would likely still be in Houston.
This former third-round pick in the 2006 NFL draft would likely not be a long-term solution, but he could possibly help save the job of head coach Jason Garrett.
I'm still amazed the Cowboys chose to select tight end Gavin Escobar, not even the highest-rated player at his position, in the second round of this year's draft—and forget Escobar helping too much in pass protection. The former Aztec is a pass-catcher only at this point.
Offensive tackle was of much greater importance.
Winston expects to earn somewhere between $3-4 million for this coming season, and it's unlikely he'll get that in Dallas. There's a better chance than not that some other team will have no other choice but to sign the former Miami Hurricanes lineman at some point during training camp.
But Dallas should be watching Winston closely as a potential stop-gap before the franchise can land its next blue-chip tackle to play opposite left tackle Tyron Smith.
Jones shouldn't wait too long, either.