The Dallas Cowboys head into this offseason with many questions, many concerns and numerous holes to fill. Those holes aren't exempt to any position whatsoever, but none is a more gaping hole than the defensive line. This team cannot rely on another magic act by line coach Rod Marinelli, and it's simply time to fix it.
But once again, this franchise faces limited available resources due to cap constraints, the need for numerous restructuring of contracts and also difficult decisions regarding some veterans. The time for 8-8 is over, and it's time for the Cowboys to start making progress.
It's difficult to solve every issue, flaw or problem in one offseason, but when your defensive line coach is your positional MVP, it's a problem. Yes, finding a gem like Nick Hayden helps, but you just can't win with a revolving door of day laborers auditioning for positions on this team.
For quite a while, the offensive line was the issue until Jerry Jones took it seriously, now what was once viewed as a potential strength in training camp, turned into a Wes Craven horror story. The Cowboys need to make some resources available, look for some bargains and also approach the draft with urgency.
If Jones wants to fix this unit with a chance at sustainable success, then the construction needs to be thoughtfully done. With the almost certain departure of Jason Hatcher to free agency and an aging DeMarcus Ware unable to stay healthy, the term major overhaul is necessary.
Extreme situations call for extreme measures, and when you finish last in the NFL in defense, it's downright ugly. Let's look at the options that can realistically help this group.
If the Cowboys want to rebuild their defensive line right, it needs to start in the middle. If the Cowboys want to start with 25-year-old defensive tackle Linval Joseph, then this team has the right idea. Would New York really let this player walk to an NFC East rival? Not if it could help it.
But remember, it was the Giants who took Chris Canty from the Cowboys, and what better time to return the favor? Joseph is a 6'4", 323-pound tackle with nine career sacks, but it's his tough and rugged play inside that makes this such a great option.
He plays the run well, he plays with strength and power, and he excels at pursuing runners and applying pressure between the guards and center. For a young player like Joseph, his market demand will be strong, but if the Cowboys really want to improve, they must consider a player like him.
The Cowboys gave up 2,056 rushing yards to their opponents, and that is not a recipe for success at all. This would immediately improve that statistic.
There is a lot to like about Robert Ayers' game, and he would make an excellent addition in Dallas. Ayers is a 28-year-old defensive end who plays a crucial role in Denver. He's a 6'3", 275-pound player who can start, be a rotational lineman and be effective in the 4-3 scheme with his athletic ability.
He wouldn't fall into the upper tier of defensive ends, so this can be a financially sound option for the Cowboys. The Cowboys have major question marks at the end position, and this would serve as an upgrade from Jarius Wynn, Everette Brown and Corvey Irvin.
Ayers has been a durable player during his five-year career, and adding him to Ware and George Selvie would give this team a much-needed boost.
The Cowboys will need to keep cap dollars in mind this offseason, but if they want to take a step in the right direction, then the Jones clan has to start thinking about life without Ware in the near future. It may not be in 2014, but his injury situation is just too much of a risk to rely on him for major production.
I'm not suggesting Lamarr Houston is the next Ware, but he is a talented, athletic and versatile defensive end who could simply flourish in Dallas. This is major league talent, and it won't come cheap, but 16 career sacks doesn't justify backing up a Brinks truck on his front lawn either.
Houston represents a young pass-rusher, and that is a commodity in the NFL. When you go back and watch his first few seasons and contrast that to the past few seasons, you see a player who just keeps improving, a player who is around the ball and a playmaker.
Maybe this is a player who may be a bit pricey, but it's an option that must be taken seriously.
If a 6'6", 315-pound defensive line prospect isn't enough to get you excited, it's time to follow another sport. Ra'Shede Hageman could be the type of player this defense needs, and his sheer size and ability alone would provide a different type of dimension.
He is physically imposing and really has the body of an offensive tackle, but he just jumps out at you on the game footage. In Dallas, he could line up at the 3-technique or over the nose tackle to utilize his size, strength and explosiveness.
At times he does appear raw and he relies on those physical traits in his play, but with a coach like Marinelli, his upside and potential could be huge. This is a player who could fit in nicely with either the 16th or 17th pick in the first round of the draft.
I have watched a lot of game footage on Trent Murphy, and the more you watch, the more you keep saying the word intensity. Intensity, toughness, grittiness and hard worker are all adjectives that describe Murphy's game. But he also backs up those words by leading the Pac-12 with 14 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss.
Not to shabby for this 6'6", 260-pound defensive end who would also happen to be an outstanding addition to this Cowboys defense. There were many games in 2013 that get you excited about Murphy's potential, but the Pac-12 Championship against Arizona State was a masterpiece.
Murphy went on to compile seven tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble. And he completely outplayed Sun Devil Will Sutton, who happens to be a highly regarded prospect as well. Not only is Murphy an option for Dallas, but his versatility also makes him quite intriguing.
Keep an eye on this player.
Timmy Jernigan is a 6'2", 300-pound defensive tackle who would give the Cowboys another solid option early in the draft. He really plays with some athletic ability for his size, he attacks his opponent, he does a great job of tracking the play and he shows nice instincts.
He finished the 2013 season with over 60 tackles and four sacks, but it's his active style of play that allows him to be around the ball. Jernigan would be a nice fit in Marinelli's style of play and the type of snap-to-whistle effort he requires out of his players.
Jernigan could be an immediate starter and a productive player in Dallas. Overall, this is a nice fit.
Most people think of a player named Jadeveon Clowney when they think of defensive linemen from South Carolina, but Kelcy Quarles is a player to become familiar with. Quarles is a strong defensive tackle who could be a solid option on Day 2 of the draft.
He is 6'3", 298 pounds and led the Gamecocks in sacks with 9.5 and tackles for loss with 13.5. As a fan of SEC football, I've watched Quarles in action on several occasions and he, like Jernigan, plays with an aggressive and active motor.
He also represents another player who would work well in Marinelli's scheme in the defensive front. Many times Clowney benefited from the attention drawn to Quarles. He's a solid player who can step in right away. And that's what this team needs.