Despite a horrific 2010 season, the ‘Boys are still in position to make a run this year. Here is what they need to do to improve their chances for success in the upcoming season...
5. Hold an Open Kicking Competition
I know a lot of DCT readers disagree with me on this, but I don’t think David Buehler should be kicking field goals for the Cowboys in 2011. Buehler should be given a fair shake at winning all kicking duties and, unless he wins handily in training camp (unlikely), he should remain on the roster as a kickoff specialist/special-teamer only. I realize using two roster spots on kickers is less than ideal, but the alternative is potentially watching Buehler shank field goals and extra points again. Plus, Buehler’s special teams ability makes it more like using 1.5 roster spots.
One of the first articles I did on this site was a study of the importance of kickers. I concluded that the difference between a top kicker (90 percent accuracy) and a sub-par one (70 percent accuracy) is an “extra” win per season. Even with the inherent unpredictability of kickers’ performances, that is a substantial enough difference for me to be fine with having two kickers on the roster. I like Kris Brown and, if I had to make a prediction right now, I’d say he'll be kicking field goals for the ‘Boys this season. I’m okay with him, or another quality veteran. Buehler can continue to develop and work on his craft while learning behind a veteran.
It is worth noting that one of the perks of having Buehler kick field goals is that, because he is erratic, Jason Garrett was (and will be) more likely to go for it on fourth down. He should be doing that more anyway (and I think he knows it), so Buehler’s presence as the placekicker is a built-in excuse for Garrett to make what is the statistically correct decision anyway.
4. Re-Sign Doug Free, Kyle Kosier, Stephen Bowen and Gerald Sensabaugh
Re-signing Doug Free should be the Cowboys’ top offseason priority. He proved he is a very solid (but not yet spectacular) tackle last season, yielding only three sacks and seven quarterback hits at the most difficult-to-play position on the line. I gave him a B- for the season in my 2010 Offensive Line Grades. I think Kosier deserves a two-year contract, and I’ve already explained why here.
I think the Cowboys should let Jason Hatcher walk and re-sign Bowen. Bowen is a superior player with a better pass-rush repertoire, even if he hasn't yet lived up to his potential. His production should improve with Rob Ryan in town.
The B+ grade I gave Sensabaugh in my 2010 Safety Grades was one of the highest on the entire team. He allowed only 6.95 yards-per-attempt and one touchdown in 2011, compared to 10.07 and seven for Alan Ball (yes, Ball’s free safety spot is more difficult to play, but not by that much). Since there are an abundance of talented safeties on the market and I am higher on Sensabaugh than most, I think the ‘Boys should be able to re-sign him for a reasonable price.
3. Cut Marc Colombo, Marion Barber and Igor Olshansky
The first two are so obvious I won’t even talk about them. The last one might be less clear because if the ‘Boys re-sign Bowen but let Hatcher walk, they could be dangerously thin at defensive end. Of course, the position could be upgraded in a big way if a certain nose tackle who is already on the roster moves outside.
“But the Cowboys don’t have a nose tackle to take over for Jay Ratliff if he moves to end!?”...read on.
2. Sign Free Agents Michael Huff and Aubrayo Franklin
Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin is going to be a free agent and, in my opinion, he’s an extremely underrated player. The Cowboys may have to compete with a few other teams, including the Redskins, for Franklin’s services. If they can land him, though, the upgrade at both nose tackle and defensive end would be enormous. Pro Football Focus rated Franklin as the 13th best defensive tackle and No. 2 run-stuffing defensive tackle in the NFL in 2010. He deserves those accolades.
Another player on whom both PFF and I are high is Michael Huff. Huff has been heavily linked to Dallas, and at this point, I would consider it a minor upset if he isn't wearing a star on his helmet in 2011.
1. Hand Sean Lee Starting Job
I’m fine with Keith Brooking staying on the team (I’m indifferent, really), as long as he is a role player and leader. There is no way he should be starting or receiving significant snaps at inside linebacker.
I wasn’t high on Lee at the start of the 2010 season, but I sure am now. His improvement over the course of the year was staggering, and you can bet he will have made significant improvements to his game by the time the 2011 season begins. I gave him a B- and rated him as the Cowboys’ top inside linebacker in my 2010 Inside Linebacker Grades. I think he has a chance to be an “A- player” this year.