William Shakespeare's underlying premise in most of his wonderful works pertains to the discrepancy between appearance and reality. The NFL's version to Hamlet is the Pro Bowl.
Tony Romo has a 102.2 passer rating throwing the ball to receivers that have not amassed 1,000 yards (Witten 873, Bryant 858, Robinson 797, and Austin 559). Stafford and Manning have 96.6 and 90.3 passer ratings respectively throwing to receivers that have 1,437 (Calvin Johnson - Pro Bowler), 1,358 (Victor Cruz) and 1,116 (Hakeem Nicks) yards. It is obvious that Romo has not had the dominant receiver that Manning and Stafford had this season.
As with Shakespeare, the perception is that Romo cost the Cowboys wins. The reality includes the passer ratings for Eli, Matt, and Tony in their respective teams' losses:
Yet there is something to glean from the Pro Bowl voting. "To be or not to be..."
Pro Bowl candidates on offense
Tyron Smith: Tyron has been spectacular as a rookie. If Smith continues to improve, he will surely be a stalwart at the Pro Bowl. Tyron will likely be a left tackle next season.
Miles Austin: Miles was injured far too much this season to make another run at the Pro Bowl. Just look at his total yards through 15 games for the season: 559.
Dez Bryant: While Dez has improved in many areas, he is still not Pro Bowl worthy. At this point, he is behind Tyron Smith and Sean Lee in Pro Bowl consideration, and needs to continue to get much better. Dez had some injury problems early in the season.
Demarco Murray: Demarco's biggest issue may be his health now that he has showcased his talent. The verdict is out on this kid's Pro Bowl potential until he puts together several healthy seasons.
Jason Witten: Jason has had a solid season again, and may end up making the Pro Bowl if Gonzalez or Graham elect not to go. Witten is a legitimate Pro Bowl player on this roster.
Tony Romo: See Jason Witten and statistics above. Romo also toughed it out through a pneumothorax and two broken ribs early in the season.
Pro Bowl candidates on defense
DeMarcus Ware: He is in the Pro Bowl and will hopefully continue going for a long time. He has been hampered by an injury towards the end of this season.
Sean Lee: Like Tyron Smith on the offensive side of the ball, as Sean continues to improve, the Pro Bowl invitations will come. Sean needs to avoid the injury bug for a few seasons. Like Tyron, however, he is not there yet.
Jay Ratliff: He also made the Pro Bowl, and his performance this season warranted the honor. Like Ware, he has played through a significant injury for the last few games.
Mike Jenkins: Mike made the Pro Bowl in 2009, then played very poorly in 2010. Jenkins has played much better in 2011, but not to his 2009 Pro Bowl level. In his defense, Mike has been beat up for most of the season.
Pro Bowl candidates on special teams
Mat McBriar: He has made the Pro Bowl, and when healthy, he should garner consideration for the Pro Bowl. As with many other good players on the Cowboys, however, he has not been healthy this season.
Dan Bailey: Dan had a spectacular rookie season, making 26 (I believe) field goals in a row, including several game tying and game winning kicks. If Dan can continue to develop from a strong rookie season, he could become a Pro Bowl player.
Of the 12 players mentioned above, 9 had injuries limiting them this season (all four on defense), 5 have been on the team for two seasons or less (which is promising), 2 made the Pro Bowl, and 2 more could make it before the game in Honolulu is played. The breakdown includes 6 offensive players, 4 defensive players, and 2 players on special teams.
Not everyone in the kingdom can be a King. Now look at the role players that subjectively contribute more than expected on this Cowboys team:
Laurent Robinson (as a 3rd wide receiver)
Felix Jones (as a 2nd running back)
L.P. Ladouceur (or whomever one may insert here)
"Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool."
Of the 53 players on the Dallas Cowboys active roster, 12 have the potential to be among the league's best. Perhaps 4 more players are performing well in their roles. That leaves over 30 players that are not contributing to a satisfactory level.
The 2012 Pro Bowl voting exposes the real problem that was most evident in the first game against the New York Giants: there is a chasm of difference between the performance of the 12 most talented players on this team and almost everyone else. Consider that 9 of the 12 elite players have missed time due to injury this season, and the abyss of talent down the roster is further exacerbated.
"O, from this time forth..."
There are players that will likely play better in new roles or with more experience that are currently on the roster, but they seem to be few. These are the best candidates:
Doug Free: Doug played surprisingly well in his first action during the 2009 season when he took over for Marc Colombo at right tackle. As a left tackle last season, Free's performance dipped as he led the offensive line in penalties and had his share of problems in protection. This season Doug has regressed further from his 2010 play, all but insuring his move back to the right side of the offensive line.
Kevin Kowalski: The coaches have been effusive in their praise. He has demonstrated good mobility in his limited action. If he can demonstrate that he can effectively anchor as a center, he will become the new starting center if Dallas does not draft a center.
Bruce Carter: He lost almost his entire rookie season recovering from an ACL injury he suffered at the end of his senior season at North Carolina. His punt block against Philadelphia was impressive, but he needs time to show the type of player he can be: considering James and Brooking are past their prime and in the final seasons of their respective contracts, Carter will probably have plenty of opportunity next season.
Sean Lissemore: He has steadily improved this season and is pushing to get more playing time. An injury to Josh Brent has opened the door for Sean, and he has responded with very good play the last few games.
There may be some other draft choices and free agents that may blossom next season (e.g., David Arkin, Dwayne Harris, Raymond Radway, and Bill Nagy to mention a few), just as some of the afore mentioned players may not play to their potential in 2012. In other words, it will probably be a wash if other players contribute.
"Suffering the slings and arrows..."
About 20 players from the 53-man roster will probably significantly contribute to the Cowboys season in 2012. This team has a grave dearth of talent after the top 12 players are eliminated from the roster, as injuries did this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
The cause of this problem is obviously poor drafting. Drafting one or two playmakers at outside linebacker (opposite Ware), cornerback, or safety will not completely solve this problem. The gaping disparity in talent will still exist on different units.
Unfortunately, Cowboys fans, current players, and coaches are suffering through the indiscretions of the past under former administrations. Fans, players, and coaches, however, can take solace in the fact that the last two drafts have begun to address this sobering problem.
Hopefully this trend will continue: let this not end in a tragedy. "Perchance, to dream..."