Dallas Cowboys: Ranking Remaining Offseason Priorities
The Dallas Cowboys have brought in their new rookie and free-agent class. They have brought in new coaches and bid veteran players adieu. Despite all this work though, the team still has more to do.
Dallas still has questions that need to be answered and decisions to make regarding some key players. Backup quarterback Kyle Orton hasn't been seen at Valley Ranch all offseason. Anthony Spencer isn't back to full health. The safety position only has one clear-cut starter.
The Cowboys need to do some serious housekeeping before the end of August. Let's take a look at what the team still needs to take care of, ranked by order of importance. For the purposes of this article, importance is defined as how much these situations will affect on-field success over the next few seasons.
Start New Contract Talks with Dez Bryant
Dallas and Dez Bryant might not come to a new long-term contract before next season begins. Even if Bryant doesn't have a new deal before Week 1 though, it's important for the Cowboys brass to let him know it's on their mind.
Currently set to become a free agent at the end of the 2014 season, Bryant will make just $1.78 million this year.
Bryant is one of the Cowboys' building blocks for the future and is just now seemingly coming into his prime. The wide receiver has tallied 25 touchdowns and more than 2,600 yards combined over the last two seasons.
Dallas needs to show Bryant that the team is committed to paying him what he deserves, making him a Cowboy for a very long time. Even if a deal isn't done before training camp and preseason conclude, it's important to start those contract talks now.
Anthony Spencer's Recovery Timetable
Dallas was able to lure back Spencer, a 2012 Pro Bowler, this offseason. Having Spencer back in the fold at defensive end should pay off next season but only if No. 93 is fully recovered from injury.
Spencer went down in Week 1 last year and has been rehabbing ever since but still isn't back to full strength. The Purdue product admitted to Rainer Sabin of The Dallas Morning News that it's only a possibility he'll be active in practice even once training camp concludes.
"I probably won't see any preseason work," Spencer told Sabin.
Team executive vice president Stephen Jones realizes the veteran might need more time than that to recover.
Stephen on Spencer: ‘Certainly not going to be surprised if he starts the season on PUP. ... We knew that was a very real possibility.’— Carlos A. Mendez (@calexmendez) May 16, 2014
The Cowboys took defensive end Demarcus Lawrence in the second round, but they still need a healthy Spencer as soon as possible. This line has lost so many veteran faces. Having a proven player like Spencer to work with new faces like Lawrence and Henry Melton has to be the ideal situation for Dallas.
Figure out Kyle Orton's Status
Orton has been absent from all voluntary team activities this offseason. ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins wrote that Orton's indecision to return to the team is the "biggest offseason mystery for the Cowboys right now."
Dallas needs to figure out if it can count on Orton to back up Tony Romo next season or not. The starter has undergone two recent back injuries, and the Cowboys very much still need a veteran backup.
The team has brought in Caleb Hanie, Brandon Weeden and undrafted free agent Dustin Vaughan this offseason. These moves could very well have been made because the Dallas front office is unsure of if and when Orton will return.
“I don’t know,” Jerry Jones told Watkins regarding Orton’s status. “There’s nothing new other than I do expect him."
The Cowboys do have some capable backups on the roster thanks to some signings but still need a proven player like Orton. Finding out whether or not No. 18 will don the star in 2014 is a bigger concern than some might think.
Decide Which Safety Will Start Opposite Barry Church
The biggest training camp battle soon to take place is which safety will start alongside Barry Church. 2012 fourth-rounder Matt Johnson, Jakar Hamilton, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and rookie Ahmad Dixon will all be fighting for that spot.
Wilcox started for a time last season but ultimately lost the job to Heath, who was inconsistent at best.
"Johnson is the great unknown,” Stephen Jones told ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer. “We’ll see. Maybe he’ll stay healthy and we’ll get to really take a long look at him.”
Johnson has never played a regular-season game for Dallas due to injuries. Hamilton and Dixon will also be in the mix, as this is really anyone's gig to win. No safety, aside from Church, has proven that they have a legitimate claim to start.
This will be the camp battle that will captivate most Cowboys fans and arguably affect on-field success the most. Dallas posted the worst defense in the league last year and cannot afford to let offenses torch that unit for a second straight year.
Regardless of who wins the job, that player has to be able to step up their game, and most importantly, not become a liability.
Get the Rookies NFL-Ready
The Cowboys selected nine players in this year's NFL draft and brought in more than 20 undrafted free agents. Not all are going to make an immediate impact for the team but more than a few will.
Dallas needs to especially focus on preparing guys like Zack Martin and Lawrence, who will likely start right out of the gates. Martin will likely take over either Mackenzy Bernadeau's or Ronald Leary's role as a starting guard.
Lawrence could easily start if Spencer isn't ready to go Week 1 at defensive end. It was important for the team to bring in some young talent at each position, but now, the coaches need to get them ready for the big leagues.
The Cowboys' window of opportunity to make a playoff run with Jason Witten, Romo and other veterans is closing quickly. In order to break the streak of recent 8-8 seasons, this team will need its 2014 draft class to produce right away.