The signings of Leonard Davis, Marc Columbo, and Kyle Kosier have made this team reliant on overpaid free agents and delayed building the offensive line through the draft. Now that Kosier, Davis, and Colombo are 31 and older, it is time to rebuild this team for the long haul. We should have looked at the line after the playoff loss in 2007 and especially after the 2009 loss, but now we are in a precarius position with the defense performing at a historic low. As pointed out a recent fanpost by BTB member Kegbearer (Perception vs Potential) there are slim pickings at RT in free agency. At guard Logan Mankins will be franchised, Carl Nicks could be an RFA, and other than Justin Blaylock there isn't any other player that would be a significant upgrade from Davis and Kosier at Guard. The tackle free agent prospects is even worse than that. This leaves the draft a likely solution.
The problem with addressing the offensive line in the first round would be there are no players that warrant a pick that high (maybe Tyron Smith but lets wait until the combine). BTB stats guru O.C.C. had a post a while back about trading possibly trading down with the Patriots who hold the 17th, 28th, and 33th picks in the draft (O.C.C.'s post). Some of the trade posibilities listed were:
Cowboys 9th and 140th (1386 pts) = Patriots 17th, 60th and 92nd (1382 pts)
Cowboys 9th and 71st (1585 pts) = Patriots 17th, 33rd and 124th (1578 pts)
Cowboys 9th & 40th & 140th (1886 pts) = Patriots 17th, 28th and 60th (1910 pts)
I chose to bottom option for this scenario. So what does trading with the Patriots have to do with a meat and potatoes draft? It gets the team in range for one of the top offensive tackles in the draft. Tyron Smith and Gabe Carimi should be our targets. The trade also gives the war room a late first round pick to take one of the best interior lineman or a 1st round talent who slids into the bottom of the draft. This should give us an opportunity to select a wide range of players (assuming a few guys drop a few spots) including Phil Taylor, Benjamin Ijalana, Muhammad Wilkerson, Mike Pouncey, Steven Paea, and maybe Danny Watkins. Something to keep in mind is that the Chargers hold 5 draft choices in the 2nd and 3rd rounds if we chose to trade with them. Here is the mock draft:
1.17 - OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin - 6'7'' 315 lbs
If you watched Wisconsin play football this year then you know that they ran the ball a lot and effectively. Carimi feels like the safest OT prospect (Tyron Smith may need to add some weight) and he can play in a lot of places. In the senior bowl and the practices, he played at guard in addition to tackle to showcase his versatility. Now at 6'7'' he is probably too tall for guard, but showing the scouts he doesn't mind kicking inside was a plus. Mike Mayock said he believed Carimi could play at LT at the next level, but with Doug Free on the left side he can play at RT. He's got some nastiness in him and you can bet Jason Garrett will use his connection to good friend Paul Chryst to get a good evaluation on not only him but teammate G/C John Moffitt, who is a mid-round pick to keep an eye on.
1.28 - C/G Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State - 6'3'' 306 lbs
The war room can't believe their luck when Sean Lee's former teammate becomes the next future franchise center for Garrett's new offensive line. His arrival could allow the front office to balk on resigning aging Kyle Kosier, who makes the line calls. Wisniewski is an smart player who plays with good technique. Mike Pouncey is another option but I think he is strictly a guard at the next level and may be gone at this point. I watched Pouncey's first game at center this season and he struggled snapping the ball out of shotgun. With that I choose Wisneiwski as the pick. With Wisniewski on board, Garrett could move Gurode to guard or play Wisniewski at G until Gurode is gone.
2.60 - SS DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson - 6'1 210 lbs.
via www.vikingsgab.com from Josh D. Weiss Photography
Since Darren Woodson retired, safety has always been a need for this team. This draft offers very little in terms of good quality safeties but with Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh likely gone safety is a huge need. I was one of the people calling for us to draft Morgan Burnett instead of Sean Lee last year, but with that in the past it's time to get a guy that would make players like DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith, and Santana Moss pay for going through the middle. Rahim Moore will be gone by now, Deunta Williams should fall due to injury and off the field issues. And I see Ahmad Black as a third rounder, hence DeAndre McDaniel. McDaniel plays a little bit faster than his timed speed and Rob Ryan will be able to use him immediately on the field. He can come up and make a hit and has enough ability to make plays on the ball.
Here we decide to make a trade with the Chargers to pick up another 3rd round and swap 6th round picks for the rest of our draft.
3rd (71), 4th (109), 6th (171), & 7th (210) for Chargers 3rd (82, 89), (178)
3.82 - FS/CB Ras-I Dowling, Virginia 6'2'' 205 lbs.
Here's a guy who a few months ago was rated as a 1st round corner and his stock has taken a dip. I've seen him going in third rounds in some recent mock drafts. Dowling is big, tall corner than could even make the move to free safety. He was a teammate of former Virginia corner Chris Cook who we were high on, so I know the scouts have taken a look at him. He and Akwasi instantly provide some flexibility as player that could play both safety and corner. Rob Ryan likes to play a three safety look at times and Ras-I can be the perfect hybrid for that.
We make another trade, this time with Buffalo and get an extra pick for trading down 10 spots.
3rd (89) for 4th (99) & 5th (130)
4.99 - ILB Kelvin Sheppard, LSU - 6'3'' 240 lbs.
Bradie James has been a solid starter for the Cowboys, nothing great but an above average player in this league. His contract is up after this coming season and it is time to find his successor. Where better than his alma matter. In comes Kelvin Sheppard, who was a fiery and emotional leader for the Tigers. With Keith Brooking likely on the way out and Sean Lee sure to take over the reins, ILB is a spot the will likely need some depth behind the two starters.
5.130 - G William Rackley, Lehigh - 6'4'' 310 lbs.
Hudson Houck gets a small school prospect for the interior offensive line. William Rackely may go in the fourth, but lets hope he slides seeing that he never played at Lehigh. He offers some potential to kick inside and develop as a future starting guard, according to Wes Bunting. With Wisniewski already on board, Rackley can wait to develop behind Montrea Holland.
6.178 - WR Jeff Maehl, Oregon - 6'1'' 184 lbs.
Almost every mock on BTB has Aldrick Robinson taken as the late round slot receiver, so lets change it up. How about Jeff "The" Maehl(man), a slot receiver who will deliver on Sundays (yeah that's a lame joke, I know). We can use this late round pick to build some depth at a weak spot on the roster. If Roy Williams and Sam Hurd are not on the roster next season like expected, the receiving corp may look thin behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. I think a slot receiver is more of an urgent late round need than a third back. Kevin Ogletree is a player who has flashed some potential but is still can't be counted on yet. While Patrick Crayton ran his mouth, he still was pretty productive as a 3rd receiver. At worst the Maehl man delivers some depth to a position where Manny Johnson, Jesse Holley, and Teddy Williams finished the season on the 53 man roster.
Draft Recap and Free Agent Period
In this draft, the Cowboys hope to have 4 players who could become starters within two years. Carimi, Wisniewski, and McDaniel could start from day one, while Sheppard backs up Bradie James until he departs for free agency. Rackley will take over at guard once Gurode's starting days are over, if he doesn't win the job initially. Ras-I will be utilized by Rob Ryan in various sub-packages and will be a rotational player, and best case scenario he takes over for Newman at cornerback next season. Jeff Maehl will hope to provide a Blair White type option from the slot and will battle Ogletree for playing time until one of them separates themselves from the other.
Free Agents We Should Resign:
LT Doug Free, DE Stephen Bowen, DE Marcus Spears
Free Agents Who Should Go:
FS Alan Ball, SS Gerald Sensabaugh, WR Sam Hurd, DE Jason Hatcher, LG Kyle Kosier, OT Alex Barron, QB Chris Griesen
Players Under Contract Who Should Be Cut or Seek a Trade:
RB Marion Barber, WR Roy Williams, ILB Keith Brooking (stay on as a coach?), RT Marc Colombo, RG Leonard Davis, DE Igor the Russian Dancing Bear
You might be wondering why the defensive line get a high draft choice during the draft. With the RT, both Guards, ILB, CB/FS and SS addressed; free agency can focus on making a splash with the CBA being an issue we should try and go for quality and not quantity. The remaining holes in the starting lineup are at S and DL. By splash I don't mean Haloti Ngata, Lamar Woodley, or Nnamdi Asomugha (even though I wouldn't be opposed to getting another elite player outside Ware and Rat) but this seems unrealistic and far too expensive. But IF a guy like Cullen Jenkins (who is a tier below elite) hits the free agent market we should go after him. Same goes for Richard Seymour and Sean Ellis, although early indications are that the Raiders plan to bring back Seymour. Ellis may be a possbility since the Jets have 16 other players becoming free agents. Paul Soliai and Aubrayo Franklin are also options if Ryan plans to move Ratliff to defensive end, even though I think Brent is capable to play run downs However, we decide to sign 30 year old Cullen Jenkins.
Speaking of the Raiders, Ryan may like to bring in a familiar face like Michael Huff to run the secondary. Brodney Pool and Dawan Landry may also be considered if Huff goes back to Oakland. Pool and Landry have played with Rex Ryan so they know the defense Rob likes to play for the most part. I like the signing of Huff in the short term since he already knows the Rob and can line up at safety right away unlike a rookie. Ryan can also use Akwasi, Huff, McDaniel, or Dowling in his three safety looks; these guys have enough athletic ability to lineup in various places. With the CBA likely limiting the amount of cap space the Cowboys would like to work with to sign Jenkins and Huff, Jerry can get creative to create enough space to get these guys on board like restructuring contracts (Romo and Ware). We also save money by releasing some of our players (ie. Barber).
Here's what the roster would look like with these acquisitions:
QB (3): Romo, Kitna, McGee OT (4): Free, Carimi, Young, Parnell
RB (3): Jones, Choice, Miller OG (4): Wisniewski, Holland*, Rackley*, Brewster
WR (5): Austin, Bryant, Ogletree, Maehl, Holley C (2): Gurode, Costa
TE/FB (4): Witten, Bennett, Phillips, Gronkowski
NT (2): Ratliff, Brent MLB (4): James, Lee, Sheppard, Cummings
DE (4): C. Jenkins, Spears, Bowen, Lissemore CB (5): Jenkins, Newman, Scandrick, Dowling, McCann
OLB (4): Ware, Spencer, Butler, Williams S (5): Huff, AOA*, McDaniel*, McCray, Church/Sendejo
Key: Starters, * Denotes a camp battle
This free agent and rookie class focuses on the middle of the offense and defense. The Cowboys have enough flash and skill players on offense such as Miles, Dez, and Felix; so I made the O-line a priority. They will struggle early on, but lets hope they gel and become a strength for team for year to come. The defense is littered with first round draft picks and other quality talents like Ware, Newman, Jenkins, Spears, Spencer, Ratliff, James, and Lee that Ryan has yet to work with previously in his career. These players obviously have talent and it didn't just disappear in one offseason. I'm impressed by the staff Garrett put together and I think they can mold this team into a tough playoff team won't shoot themselves in the foot.
So what do you think? Are there too many rookies on the offensive line? Not enough change on the front seven? Did I make some unrealistic trades? Are Jenkins and Huff a pipe dream? Give me your feedback.