The NFL today is a young man's game more than ever before. Exceptions will always be made for superstars as they seem to defy time and space. That said, you find this happening less and less in a league where veteran salaries routinely clash with the salary cap and inexpensive youth is the only alternative.
The 2010 Dallas Cowboys have reached a cross roads. The future success of this franchise will require some difficult decisions in the weeks ahead. Despite two NFC East titles and finally a playoff win within the last four seasons, the Cowboys find themselves holding a talented roster that still has holes. These holes are getting bigger now and as things move forward, the train will only have room for so many.
Tony Romo is going nowhere, despite some calls for 39 year old Jon Kitna to take his place as the starter. DeMarcus Ware will always be in Dallas as fierce pass rushers are just too hard to come by. Going down the roster I see most of this team returning for 2011, but it will be nothing like the return of almost every starter in 2011.
Here's a look at seven starters on both sides of the ball that I predict will not be in Dallas next year. Understand that I am going on my gut only as far as the actual moves but in each selection there is a reason I think think this and it might not have anything to do with the age of the player. I'm also using common sense, as it applies to the depth chart, and also a bit of impulse.
Here we go ...
Marion Barber was drafted in 2005 primarily to back up then starter and current journeyman Julius Jones. This unique running back I used to call "Predator" because of his long flailing dreadlocks made a name for himself quickly in the Dallas backfield.
Barber's physical running style was generally thought to be the most aggressive in the NFL. He was impossible to tackle and had a stiff arm that seemed like a baseball bat. By 2007 Barber was believed to be a better starting back than 2004 first round pick Jones who was faster but didn't seem to get great production.
Owner Jerry Jones, following a 13-3 regular season in 2007, signed his Pro Bowl backup to a 7 year, $45 million dollar contract. Since then Barber has been the starting running back and you could argue that his production hasn't exactly been what you would expect a franchise runner to be cranking out.
You know that Barber has never rushed for 1,000 yards. This is fine since he has come very close two times, rushing for 975 in 2007 and 932 in 2009. But with a salary of $4.25 million due in 2011 as Barber is on a current pace to rush for around 400 yards this season, provided he returns from injury, it is not looking good either fiscally or competitively.
Barber is great example of what generally happens to running backs in the NFL. The average career at this position is about 2 1/2 years. Those that make it passed that point, and many running backs do, tend to hit the brick wall at 30. Barber will turn 28 before next season and, in his case, that's close enough.
Barber obviously does not have the elusiveness or the quickness to evade defenders like a Felix Jones or an Emmitt Smith. It's awesome watching Barber break tackles the way he did and usually can today if healthy. But there's a price to pay for all of that contact which, in Barber's case, generally goes to the knees, calves and ankles.
When you factor in the presence of Jones and Tashard Choice also on the Dallas roster, it becomes more and more obvious by the week that Barber's days in Dallas are probably numbered.
The picture to the left looks to have marked the beginning of the end for 9th year offensive tackle Marc Colombo. It's hard to say whether or not Colombo has completely recovered from that broken fibula suffered in Green Bay during what would end up a loss against the Packers at Lambeau Field.
Colombo did make it back for the two playoff games last January but the results were very mixed. Dallas handled Philadelphia in the Wild Card round but was destroyed at Minnesota the following week to end their season. Colombo really hasn't been the same since.
In training camp this year Colombo had to have arthroscopic surgery on his knee, costing him the season opener against Washington and probably the game if you recall the effort by backup Alex Barron on the final play of the game.
It's important to remember the issues Colombo faced just trying to get on the field with the Chicago Bears, the team that drafted him in the first round in 2002. In short, the Bears released Colombo following their season opener in 2005 as he had played very little during the latter part of 2004 and that was about it.
Colombo has been a solid right tackle for Dallas when he is healthy, but that has been a career-long challenge for him. Call it bad luck or just a very big man who's legs and knees just can't hold up in the NFL. It's probably a combination of the two and it's time to either give former first round pick Alex Barron a good look for the remainder of 2010 and / or look at bolstering this position in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Andre Gurode was once thought to be the best guard available in the 2002 NFL Draft. The Cowboys selected him 37th overall to shore up the center position which he has played most of his career in Dallas, takeaway a two year stint at guard under former head coach Bill Parcells in 2003-04.
It seems like Gurode is winding down as the Cowboys have not been running the ball very well over the last several years. Some can point to Dallas' overall ranking in rushing yards a year ago as evidence to the contrary. Then I point out that that many of those yards came against opposing defenses that were actually waiting for the pass on 3rd and forever. These situations many times produce a 5-10 yard gain, but no first down. In other words, the Cowboys had to be tops in the NFL last year in completely empty rushing yards.
Even more troubling than the Dallas running game is Gurode's frequent tendency to snap the ball from where ever he is at to another zip code, forcing a made scramble for a loose ball that, even if recovered, probably destroys a drive. No team is good enough to consistently overcome such sloppy play that should have disappeared by high school at the latest.
Yes, Gurode has been to the Pro Bowl but this is completely cosmetic in the grand scheme of things. If there was a Toilet Bowl for poor snaps he would be in the running for MVP in each of the past several seasons. He could not play guard and, for the reason just mentioned, he's really not a very good center. You never saw Mark Stepnoski pull stuff like that.
Gurode may not be shown the door following 2010 but at the very least future plans need to be made. My recent Dallas Cowboys mock draft offers what looks like an intriguing if not possible solution for the future. The former Colorado Buffalo will be heading into his 10th season next year as well.
The time for change is now. Let's not forget that Dallas has no other center on the roster at the present time.
Drafted near the end of the 7th round of the 2002 NFL Draft by San Francisco, Kyle Kosier was thought to be a tackle prospect. Check this out:
After three seasons, Kosier was a restricted free agent suddenly being pursued by the Detroit Lions. Offering the lowest tender possible, the 49ers obviously did not seem to think anybody would bid more than $656,000, for only a year mind you. But there was the Lions offering a whopping $980,000, also for only a year since Kosier would be unrestricted after the coming 2005 season. San Francisco was cool with this and essentially bid Kosier good luck.
It took the Lions just one season to figure out that there was no point in offering a long term, lucrative contract for a guy who was only 13 slots away from being Mr. Irrelevant the year he was drafted.The Lions, in their only season with Kosier went 5-11, so it's not like he represented any part of future improvement apparently.
Here's where things get really weird: As the Cowboys were set to release Larry Allen following the 2005 season, probably a year or two before they should have, an alternative was needed at the left guard spot. Let's also remember that the right guard spot was temporarily manned by free agent Marco Rivera who's back would only hold up through 2006.
With Allen gone, Rivera on the way out and Gurode back at center, Dallas had to dip into the free agent well again for help with the interior of the offensive line, and they would do so again in 2007 with massive Leonard Davis. But prior to Davis Jerry Jones opened the checkbook for Kyle Kosier.
Kosier went from making those sub-million dollar salaries on rebuilding teams in San Francisco and Detroit to signing a dreadfully long 5 year, $15 million dollar contract with Dallas at a time when the Cowboys were trying to "hurry" their way to a Super Bowl while Parcells was still coaching ... he retired after that season.
I read several years ago that an anonymous NFL general manager was quoted as saying essentially that the Dallas expenditure on Kosier, given his skill set and such, was the most shocking thing he'd ever seen in the free agency era. Just last year I saw old and broken down Jeremiah Trotter knock Kosier right to his rump in the regular season finale at Dallas.
Kosier is a tackle that is not good enough to play tackle. At guard he's better but he is kind of tall and light at 6'5" and 300 pounds. Thus, he offers little push in the running game. Why have a guard that can't move today's defensive tackles into the secondary?
Kosier plays hard and is a stand up guy but you have to have better than him if you want to win a championship, period.
This one is hard because Father Time is the primary reason it is time for Brooking to go. Let me add that it would be nice to have Brooking remain in the fold for depth, especially since Dallas has virtually none at inside linebacker. But the future at inside linebacker, opposite Brady James, arrived last April in the NFL Draft.
Brooking plays as hard as anybody on the roster and he's certainly an emotional leader and a great example for younger players to follow. But rookie Sean Lee's presence will only get louder and louder. Lee's two interceptions of Peyton Manning in an overtime Cowboys win Week 13 at Indianapolis is a clear indication that he can just cover more ground than Brooking.
Whether Brooking is here or not in 2011 isn't so much the issue. He just doesn't need to be starting in Dallas. Youth has to be involved and as a second round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Lee should be ready to lock down a starting job next season.
The Cowboys will have three unrestricted free agent defensive ends once the season ends. Between Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen, a position that was once quite deep not long ago looks to be getting mighty thin. I feel the Cowboys might be able to keep two of these linemen but not three.
Spears, the second of two first round draft choices in 2005 could very well be the odd man out in this situation just based on dollars and cents. Statistics really won't play much role in how the Cowboys determine who to keep versus who to let go. Defensive ends in the 3-4 alignment are not the same kind of ends in a 4-3 where serving as the primary pass rushers is always expected.
Hatcher was chosen in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft and seems to offer a little more pass rushing ability than Spears although there is no indication I can see that he is better in run support. Bowen was signed as an undrafted free agent the same year Hatcher came in and is quite similar as far as pass rush ability.
Spears is the guy to keep if run support is what you want for the future but I feel that Hatcher and Bowen might make more fiscal sense. We can also look to the 2009 free agent departure of Chris Canty to the New York Giants as precedence in terms of how Dallas will approach this position on the roster. Canty was a fourth round pick in the same draft class as DeMarcus Ware and Spears.
Either way you look at it, the defensive end position will have at least one a new face next year. I think one not-so-new face is already on the roster. His name is Jay Ratliff and it's time he was maximized as likely the best 3-4 defensive end in the NFL. Also keep in mind that Igor Olshansky will remain a starter at end in 2011.
I know. You think I'm crazy with this idea but just hear me out first.
As any Cowboys fan can recall, Miles Austin finally got his first NFL start in place of the injured Roy Williams in Week 5 of last year. Despite needing overtime to beat a Chiefs team that finished 4-12 and was winless at the time, it was a breakout game for the 4th year wide receiver from tiny Monmouth. Austin finished the day with 10 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns. It stands as the franchise record for receiving yards in a game.
That game was good because Dallas won and possibly saved their 2-2 season coming in. But it also set the stage for a logjam at wide receiver that I don't think is sustainable if we're talking about winning a championship.
When rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant fell into the lap of Jerry Jones in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the Cowboys acquired the best wide receiver they did not have. Neither Williams or Austin are in the same class as Bryant and if you've watched the Cowboys closely this year then you can't deny this fact.
Some will argue that Williams should go long before Miles Austin. They hate that big contract he signed and all of those dropped passes a year ago. But what about Miles Austin's matching $54 million dollar contract over 6 years and his dropped passes this year, and the year before?
Let's get something straight: Miles Austin drops a lot of passes. Even if you go back to his first start last year you might recall that he dropped two passes in the endzone on the way to that huge game. Austin has always dropped passes while Williams only had issues last year. No, 2008 does not count because Williams only got about 5-6 games with a healthy Tony Romo and was not healthy himself. I even feel that close to half of Williams' drops in '09 were marginally acceptable passes from Romo, usually because of poor pass protection. So who's $54 million dollar drops do you prefer? Why is it okay for Austin to drop passes but not Roy.
If Jones is really smart, he'll look for a deal involving Austin that could bring forth an additional first or second round pick. You could try this with Williams but I think Austin is worth more and that Williams will likely restructure his contract either next season or thereafter.
Keep in mind Dallas can only finish .500 this year with the three headed monster at wide receiver. There's other areas that need attention now that the push for Super Bowl XLV is done.