The Dallas Cowboys have a rather tall task ahead of them as we get deeper into the beginning of the NFL offseason. If Jerry Jones had any clue whatsoever, he should have been watching Seattle's Super Bowl performance over and over and over.
I'm not trying to make it sound as if it's that easy of a formula to replicate, but Pete Carroll's unit looked reminiscent of the early 90's Cowboys' teams, and even possibly better. Stout defense and an efficient offense driven by the run game and offensive line still remain the key to a championship.
Again, it sounds like an easy blueprint, but the execution of this construction isn't an exact science. If you want proof, just look at Dallas' record over the last 18 years and their inability to get over the proverbial hump despite an owner who has resources and passion.
The Cowboys face yet another offseason with fiscal constraints, so there’s a need for contract maneuvering and some tough decision-making. It's a vicious cycle the Cowboys seem to always be stuck in, but for this franchise, getting out of it is a must.
So with that being said, it's time to focus on how the Cowboys plan on getting there. Much can be made out of coaching changes, schemes and philosophies, but one aspect that overrides everything is the need to improve this roster.
The Dallas Cowboys need to improve this roster, they need to do a better job at matching personnel to scheme and, unfortunately, it all starts with Jones, who may ultimately be the franchise’s biggest problem.
But let's not even touch the subject of Jones removing himself. Let's focus on the immediate term and the impending free agency season and May’s draft. It's the only aspect, right now, that any franchise can control and that's where the energy and focus has to rest.
With a little bit of luck, maybe this wish list will come to fruition.
Robert Ayers, DE, Denver Broncos
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The Cowboys need to be all about economical free agency options, which Robert Ayers serves in two capacities, both financially and in position need. Ayers is a productive, 28-year-old defensive end who can slide right into the starting lineup.
He is not an elite pass-rusher, but at 6'3" and 274 pounds, he's been an effective starter and rotational player for Denver. In 2013, Ayers posted five sacks (12 for his career), but he is solid in setting the edge, has some burst off the ball and is a dependable player.
For Dallas, questions concerning the defensive line are plentiful. The declining play of DeMarcus Ware is alarming and the departure of players like Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher make this a huge position of need. Ayers can also play tackle when necessary in nickel situations, so he is versatile.
Ayers was originally drafted as on outside linebacker but switched to his natural position of defensive end. Since being drafted in the first round in 2009, Ayers probably hasn't lived up to his full expectation, but a change of scenery may be just what he needs. He is young, he won't break the bank and he comes from a winning program.
Henry Melton, DT, Chicago Bears
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This may seem a little bit of wishful thinking, but think about this move for a second. Melton, who is familiar with Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, is coming off ACL surgery and could be looking for a fresh start while giving the Cowboys a bargain due to his injury.
Melton's only leverage is his performance while he was healthy, which was impressive. But players come back strongly from injury all the time, so this may be a great opportunity for the Cowboys. Other young defensive tackles such as Linval Joseph may be more appealing, but more costly.
Melton is only 27, and if he handles some of his off-field issues and returns to health, he can be a disruptive force in reuniting with Marinelli. In the Cowboys defensive scheme, the tackle position, in general, is the motor that drives the defense.
What makes this wish even more appealing is that Melton is a Texas native and former Longhorn. The Cowboys need to get serious about this defensive line, and what better way than a familiar face for Marinelli.
Michael Mitchell, S, Carolina Panthers
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Since we are on the subject of wish-list players for the Cowboys, Mike Mitchell is a player I'm hoping becomes a reality. The Cowboys have been linked in many mock drafts to Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but it's hard to envision Jones drafting a safety three straight years.
Mitchell is a 6'1", 220-pound safety who can hit, he's aggressive and he brings an element of nastiness. He rotated with Quintin Mikell at strong safety, but Mitchell is the kind of player who could be a perfect running mate with Barry Church.
Mitchell had 67 tackles, four sacks and four interceptions in 2013, and he has come a long way since his days with Oakland as a complete player. The Cowboys' depth at safety, besides Church, includes Matt Johnson, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath as notable players.
This unit was victimized repeatedly, and if the Cowboys want to improve, adding Mitchell into the mix will only make this group more competitive. The Cowboys have to live with the growing pains and potential of Wilcox since taking him in the third-round, but they also need some punch.
Not only would Mitchell provide that, but he plays with that aggressive style, he has range and smarts that would only elevate this defense. Johnson has suffered through injuries and Heath is another young player that may be suited for more of a backup and special teams role.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt
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If you watched the Senior Bowl, as well as the practices, it wasn't hard to fall in love with Aaron Donald. Considered undersized by NFL standards at 6'0", 285-pounds, Donald is anything but undersized and he plays large.
Any solid performance by an NFL prospect in the Senior Bowl or combine for that matter is sure to draw the eyes of the scouts, and that's just what Donald did. Donald, the winner of several college awards including the Bednarik and Outland to name a few, is a perfect fit for this team.
When you watch his game footage, you see a player who is strong, explosive and plays with a high motor. Marinelli would love this kid just based on his sheer determination and hustle. One way the Cowboys can generate pressure in this scheme is to have a player like Donald.
In 13 games last season, Donald compiled 59 tackles, 28.5 for loss and 11 sacks. You think the Cowboys could use some of that especially with the likely departure of Hatcher?
This player is more like putting on the must list.
Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia
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I cannot stress enough the benefit of watching college postseason activities like the Senior Bowl. That's where you can focus on a select group of collegiate players with a history of production and something to prove while fighting for the same resources.
Will Clarke was one of those players for me, who initially passes the eyeball test at 6'6" and 275-pounds, but also backed it up with a great performance. Clarke, who also has 34" arms, was hard to deal with, he repeatedly beat Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin.
The Cowboys need to get bigger, faster and younger along the defensive front and that needs to be examined throughout the draft. Clarke is fast, he has that obvious size, but he can also be a player that offensive linemen cannot lock on to because of that size and length.
The defensive line for Dallas needs a massive overhaul and finding pieces such as Donald and a player like Clarke are vital to that success. We were all privy to what transpired in the Super Bowl and that was no accident. When you have such a disruptive line like Seattle's, it allows you to operate your scheme.
For the Cowboys, this point cannot be stressed enough.
Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
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This wish list would not be complete unless the Cowboys focused some of their efforts on an athletic linebacker who can cover. Bruce Carter was very disappointing in 2013, he struggled mightily in coverage and lost significant reps to Ernie Sims.
That's not the kind of path Dallas needs to have their younger players on a track for, so the need to look at this position becomes critical. The Cowboys could be at a crossroads with Carter so now is the time to improve while looking ahead.
Jones is a tremendous athlete who stands 6'4" and weighs 235 pounds. Built similarly to Carter, Jones had six tackles in the Senior Bowl and displayed that athletic ability and his knack for being around the ball. When you watch him play the word fluid just keeps coming to mind.
At times he might rely on athletic ability a bit much, but NFL coaching will change that and his technique will become more sound. But the Cowboys would be blessed to select Jones to shore up the front seven and be able to cover tight ends.
If bigger, faster, stronger is the theme, then Jones is a fit for that business model. It's also a nice way to finish the wish list.