There are a couple of players on the Cowboys who have been hotly debated over the past months. The merits of men like Marion Barber III, Martellus Bennett, Alan Ball and Mike Hamlin have been talked about for some time now. These are show-me players, players who need to show the fans something in the upcoming season.
A player can be a show-me player for a multitude of reasons, he me be coming back from injuries like Barber, or maybe he underperformed like Bennett. They could be younger guys who need to step up their game to fill a need like Doug Free, Ball or Hamlin. Either way, they are players who, if they don’t produce on the field in 2010, may be wearing a different uniform in 2011. Here are some guys who I think qualify as players who need to step-up or step out.
Marion Barber III – Injuries have slowed down The Barbarian. Last year he was a respectable back – unfortunately he’s being paid as a premiere back. Trade rumors have swirled around Barber and fan reaction on BTB has been mixed to those rumors. With Choice and Felix waiting in the wings, Barber will have to return to his Barbarian ways in order to justify his contract numbers (2011: $4.25M, 2012: $5.75M, 2013: $6.25M, 2014: $7M).
Martellus Bennett – Bennett has all the talent in the world. He’s the Cowboy’s version of Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, right down to the “million dollar arm with a 10 cent head”. Bennett will become a free agent in 2012, so if he doesn’t outperform unheralded John Phillips, the Cowboys may be forced to see what trade value Bennett has.
Roy E. Williams - This is probably Roy's last chance to win over fans in Dallas. His contract numbers simply don't match his production, which means he'll have little to no trade value. If Roy wants to stay a Cowboy beyond 2010 he has to prove he can be the perfect Robin to Miles Austin's Batman.
Bobby Carpenter – A favorite whipping boy for many fans, Carp has a role in the defense. However, he has never fully lived up to his first-round status. Carp will be paid $1.19M this year but will be a FA in 2011. If he wants to remain a Cowboy, he’ll need to push starters Keith Brooking and Bradie James for playing time, and hold off second year player Jason Williams.
Alan Ball – Ball has managed to be a player who has stuck around on the depth chart for many years with the Cowboys. He offers versatility as a CB/S combo. He stepped in for an injured Ken Hamlin last year and didn’t embarrass himself. Ball will be a RFA in 2011 and needs to show he’s ready to be the playmaking safety the Cowboys covet, or risk being used as trade bait next year.
Marcus Spears/Jason Hatcher/Stephen Bowen – All three of these players will play under a one-year contract. At least one needs to step-up and prove they can handle the starting job. I’m sure the Cowboys would love for either Jason Hatcher or Stephen Bowen (who will be cheaper on the open market) to prove capable of the starting role.
Pat Watkins – Similar player to Ball in that he has been on the depth chart for years. Has some experience as a starter, but has yet to live up to his impressive size/speed ratio. He signed a one-year $1.176M contract for 2010.
Orlando Scandrick – Scrandrick is under contract until 2012. But I’m sure he and his agent will want an extension before then. Scandrick showed great promise as a rookie, but hit a sophomore slump. Has played well at times, and he considers himself to be a starting caliber corner. He’ll need to prove himself again in 2010 to make the Cowboys fans comfortable with the idea of Scandrick replacing an aging TNew.
Doug Free – Ah, the Free debate. Are you comfortable with Free at LT? RT? Or is he simply a good backup? 2010 will be a big year for Free, especially considering he's in the last year of his current contract. Doug Free will be playing for a big-money contract this year.
Kyle Kosier – Kosier is in the final year of his contract, earning $2.99M this year. Long thought the weak link on the line, his injury – and subsequent drop-off in line play – thrust some doubt onto that argument. Kosier will turn 32 in November and depth behind him is a concern. Will Kosier play well enough to earn a second contract from the ‘Boys?
Mike Hamlin – Hamlin is a player many fans are looking to replace recently departed Ken Hamlin. Hamlin’s injury last year makes him hard to evaluate on the NFL level. However, Hamlin has an excellent opportunity to cement himself as a fixture in the Dallas secondary in 2010.
There are several players on this roster who have something to prove in 2010. And with a new draft class arriving in Dallas in just a few short days, the opportunities to prove they belong on this roster may become even more limited.
[Note: I'm operating under the assumption there will be football in 2011, as well as a new CBA agreement that includes a salary cap.]