The victory gave the Cowboys a winning record for the last half of the season, but it also may have put them in a precarious position when they are on the clock in April during the NFL Draft.
Despite having five players named to start in the Pro Bowl, the Cowboys have a number of holes to fill.
If there was ever a time to adhere to the cliché “best player available” in the NFL Draft, this is it. However, taking the player ranked highest on the Cowboys board might be easier said than done.
In analyzing the Cowboys starters, it is easy to see that there are certain positions where they are extremely weak and other positions where they are fairly strong. It would be great to have the luxury to take the best player available, but it is not really practical at this stage for the Cowboys if they plan on making a quick turnaround next season.
The following is a breakdown of each position, and the likelihood that the Cowboys would use the ninth pick in the draft to improve the position:
QUARTERBACK BREAKDOWN: Tony Romo will be the opening day starter next season.
Jon Kitna proved to be a very capable backup, and will likely return. Stephen McGee finally got the opportunity to show what he can do in the final two games of the season. Based on his performance, he certainly looks like he will be the third quarterback, and maybe even compete for the backup job.
CHANCE OF PICKING A QB: Very low. The only QB that would be too good for the Cowboys to pass up with the ninth pick is Andrew Luck, and he is probably already house hunting in Carolina.
However, quarterbacks could be the key to the Cowboys getting a player that they covet. If Cam Newton turns heads (as he has done all year long) when Auburn plays Oregon for the national championship, he may very well creep up into the top of the draft.
In the Cowboys' dream scenario, Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Ryan Mallet all get picked in the top eight.
RUNNING BACK BREAKDOWN: Felix Jones will be the starter next season. He will most likely split time with Tashard Choice and possibly a short-yardage back as well. If the Cowboys are smart, the third back will NOT be Marion Barber III.
CHANCE OF PICKING A RB: None. The NFL is no longer a running back-driven league.
This year’s leading rusher, Arian Foster, was undrafted.
Most teams use a running back-by-committee approach, so the odds of a running back being taken at the top of the draft is becoming less likely with each passing year.
There is no Adrian Peterson in this year’s draft, and there most likely will not be any running back this high on any team’s draft board.
TIGHT END BREAKDOWN: Jason Witten is arguably the best TE in the NFL. Martellus Bennett continues to show flashes, but still hasn’t lived up to expectations. John Phillips is solid when healthy.
CHANCE OF PICKING A TE: None. No tight ends will get picked this high in the draft.
WIDE RECEIVER BREAKDOWN: Dez Bryant showed that he is the real deal. If he stays healthy, he is going to make a lot of teams regret passing on him.
During the Cowboys' abysmal 1-7 start, many of the players seemed to be mailing it in. Dez Bryant was not one of them. When he learns the playbook, he is going to cause headaches for opposing defensive coordinators.
Miles Austin had a breakout year last year, and was rewarded with a big contract. He showed flashes of brilliance this year, but also showed a propensity to drop the ball. He will start opposite Dez Bryant, and hopefully bounce back with the kind of year that earned him the big contract.
Roy Williams has been a disappointment since joining the Cowboys. However, if he is willing to rework his contract, he should return as a solid third WR.
CHANCE OF PICKING A WR: Moderate. The Cowboys will know well before the draft if they are bringing back Roy Williams. If they part ways with him, there is a chance that the Cowboys could take a WR with the pick, but they already have a lot of money tied up in the position.
If a WR was the best player available when they pick, they would probably try and trade down. However, in the pass-happy NFL, you can never have too many WR’s.
If A.J. Green slips, Jerry might not be able to restrain himself.
OFFENSIVE LINE BREAKDOWN: Andre Gurode made the Pro Bowl again, and will probably return, but his skills are diminishing.
Doug Free was the one that everyone was concerned about going into the season, but he turned out to be their best lineman. He could move to RT if a dominant LT was available, but since that isn’t the case this year, he will likely start 2011 protecting Romo’s blind side.
Kyle Kosier cannot be counted on anymore. His injuries continue to mount, and he is not as effective as he once was.
Leonard Davis hit the proverbial wall this season. He is no longer dominant, and at times, his play was downright poor.
Marc Colombo beat the odds when he came back from injuries to join the Cowboys. The desire may still be there, but the skills are gone. He was a liability this year. Plain and simple, the Cowboys must find a new RT to start next season.
CHANCE OF PICKING AN OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Moderate. Jerry Jones has shown no propensity to draft offensive lineman in the first round, and it has cost him dearly. Even if he were willing to change his mindset this year, it is still unlikely that he would find OL value with the ninth pick.
The best chance of the Cowboys picking an OL in the first round is if Trader Jerry does his usual Texas two-step and moves down in the draft.
DEFENSIVE LINE BREAKDOWN: Jay Ratliff was voted once again to the Pro Bowl. He did not dominate the way that he did in 2009, but that may be partially due to the fact that the players around him dropped off.
Josh Brent showed potential, and the key to Ratliff dominating may be to convert him to end (assuming that the Cowboys stick with the 3-4 defense).
Sean Lissemore will probably get the chance to earn the backup job.
Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen produce similar results; they are around the same size and same age. It is possible that they could both return, but more likely that the Cowboys will only keep one of them.
Marcus Spears has always been solid, but nothing spectacular. Every year it seems that he is on the way out. As a free agent coming off of an injury, it looks like this will be the year that Spears is forced to find a new team.
Igor Olshansky didn’t do much, and when he does make a tackle, he embarrassingly celebrates as though he just helped the team win the Super Bowl. His Cowboy days should be over.
CHANCE OF PICKING A DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: High. If the Cowboys could find an impact player to pair with Jay Ratliff and possibly Josh Brent, it would go a long way towards fixing what ails the Cowboys defense.
Marcell Dareus and Nick Fairley would both be ideal picks in this slot.
LINEBACKER BREAKDOWN: DeMarcus Ware is the premier outside linebacker in the league. He didn’t get as much credit as he deserves for his play this year because the Cowboys defense was terrible. But he showed in the finale against the Eagles that he can still be one of the most dominating defensive players in the game.
Anthony Spencer took a step backwards opposite Ware this season, but he will get the chance to redeem himself next season.
Victor Butler showed some pass rush ability, and should see more playing time next season. Behind Butler, the rest of the outside linebackers haven’t shown anything special.
The only sure things going into next season on the inside are Bradie James and Sean Lee. It is debatable whether or not Keith Brooking will return. The rest of the linebackers are unproven, low- salaried players.
CHANCE OF PICKING A LINEBACKER: There is always a chance that the Cowboys will fall in love with a player’s pass rush ability and try and convert him the way they did with Ware. However, they have a lot of money tied up in Ware and Spencer, so this is probably not going to be a priority unless their top players at positions of need are off the board and they can’t trade down.
Robert Quinn and Da'Quan Bowers are the only linebackers likely to entice the Cowboys with the ninth pick.
CORNERBACK BREAKDOWN: Mike Jenkins had a terrible year. If not for the fact that he was a first-round pick who made the Pro Bowl last year, he would probably be cut.
However, there is no way that the Cowboys are going to dump him and get nothing in return. He will be back, but he should not be handed anything. His salary and draft status should have no bearing on his playing time going forward.
Terence Newman had his moments, but overall, he is no longer close to the CB that he once was. Newman will turn 33 at the beginning of the 2011 season.
It is time to replace him with a younger CB with more speed and upside.
Orlando Scandrick struggled along with the rest of the secondary, but he seemed to be the most solid CB that the Cowboys had down the stretch.
CHANCE OF PICKING A CORNERBACK: Very high (if the top ones are available).
If Patrick Peterson and/or Prince Amukamara are still on the board when the Cowboys are on the clock, they should sprint to the podium with the pick.
SAFETY BREAKDOWN: The starting safeties played a large part in the abysmal play of the Cowboys secondary this season. Perhaps the biggest mistake that the Cowboys made this offseason was naming Alan Ball the starting FS. He may be a serviceable fourth CB, but he should never take the field again as a starting safety in the NFL.
Gerald Sensabaugh did nothing to intimidate WR's and make them think twice before going across the middle. He may be serviceable if the rest of the secondary is strong, but he is not enough of a playmaker or enforcer to be the starter in an otherwise weak secondary.
CHANCE OF PICKING A SAFETY: None, unless they are able to draft Patrick Peterson and they decide to convert him to safety.
If the draft gods are smiling on the Cowboys, they will get the opportunity to choose either Patrick Peterson or Prince Amukamara.
They are both considered blue-chip prospects at the position of greatest need for the Cowboys.
If not, then Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus would bolster the Cowboys defense immediately.
If all four of the aforementioned prospects are off the board, things are going to get interesting. It’s possible that the Cowboys will end up having to choose between adding another high-priced outside linebacker (Robert Quinn / Da'Quan Bowers) or another high-priced WR (A.J. Green) if they can’t trade down.
For the Cowboys’ sake, I hope that at least one other quarterback besides Andrew Luck gets picked in the top eight. Otherwise, they might be left wondering if the last-minute comeback win against the Eagles in the finale was a blessing or a curse.
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