The challenge for Jerry Jones, or any general manager, is living within parameters. One parameter is the salary cap. Another is the free market where free agents can decide where to go. Another parameter is the likely football lifecycle of key players, like Tony Romo. Jerry Jones and every other GM can't control those parameters. Rather, it's a matter of what to do about them.
For the Cowboys, those parameters mean having to define your priorities. After all, we can all see areas of need. We need to shore up the interior of the offensive line. We need to get more pressure on the QB. We need better play from our defensive backfield. If all of our free agents left, we would have some additional areas of need, including wide receiver, TE, OLB, and so on.
Then there's the very big question of how the core players will perform next year. Is Witten on the decline? Will Austin shake the injury bug? Will Bruce Carter step up? Will Lissemore become a bigger force on the defensive line? Can McGee be a legit number 2? Can Phillips fill the void left by the departure of Bennett?
So what would your priorities be if you were Jerry Jones?
More after the jump.Yes, many of us would make getting a new GM priority number one. But here's the deal. That's not an available parameter. We're stuck with Jones.
Our defense has so many holes, it's hard to imagine it going from mediocre to great in one season. Also, this team isn't going anywhere without Tony Romo, and right now, our offensive line is putting him at risk. A smashed hand because of an all-too-common collapsed pocket was key to the season-ending loss to the Giants. I'm not saying the Cowboys would have won if Romo had been 100 percent healthy. But, really, who thought we had a chance after seeing Romo's hand that day? For the Cowboys to beat the Giants on the road, Romo was going to have to play the game of his life.
And let's not forget the cracked rib earlier in the year. Or his broken collar bone last year. Mostly, let's not forget that Romo will be 32 next year and age will make him less mobile, less quick, and more susceptible to pressure.
For all of those reasons, I'd make offensive line the highest priority. With upgrades there, the Cowboys have a legit chance to be elite offensively, especially if they resign Robinson. Yes, Phillips will have to step up at TE (if Bennett is not resigned, which seems unlikely). And Free will have to be a lot more like the player we saw in 2010 than the one we saw last year. More time in the pocket would mean a lot more vertical passes, which will open up the soft underbelly of the defense for Murray and Witten, in particular.
And let's not forget about the impact of better offensive line play on the running game. The Cowboys have the makings of a powerful one-two punch in Murray and Jones. With bigger holes, those guys could take a lot of pressure off Romo, too, and make the play action pass, which Romo is great at, a much better weapon. So I say let's go all in and sign Nicks. I might even use the #1 on another guard. I'm sorry, but I want to see what would happen if Romo had all day to pass the ball and his running backs actually had holes to run through, instead of getting stopped in the backfield.
The next highest priority for me is pressure on the QB. Pressure there will make whomever is playing CB or safety better. My thought is to keep Spencer and find a beast at DE who can bring pressure. (I just don't buy the idea that those guys can't get sacks in the 3/4).
Right after that I'd make signing Robinson a priority. Unless they feel someone like Radway is going to be able to step up, it seems to me that signing Robinson is part of a plan for having a high octane offense. You can't pay him starter money but he's got a chance to be an elite #3 receiver, especially if Romo has more time to throw.
The next priority would be cornerback. There's no way Newman's coming back and so the Cowboys HAVE to get a third CB, even if it's only a stop gap solution.
Next on the priority list would be safety. No one is ready to replace Elam. I wouldn't be surprised to see him resigned, even if he is Just a Guy.
Next would be help at ILB. We all hope Bruce Carter will step up and form a great tandem with Sean Lee but there has to be some back up there. Brooking and James are not likely to be resigned (and shouldn't be, from what I could see).
I'm guessing that Phillips will be able to replace Bennett. Unlike some, I have a feeling Bennett will catch a lot of passes as some other team's number one TE. And I have this really bad feeling that Witten is slowing down and we'll all be griping about letting Bennett get away in a couple of years. If he ever gets a coach that tells him how to use his body and fight for the ball, he could be a real beast, especially in the end zone, jumping over smaller CBs. But I've been thinking that for several years now and can't take the chance of putting so much money into a position that will be less a factor because of more 3 receiver sets next year.
I'm also guessing McGee can be an adequate #2. I know he'll never be a starter. At least, I hope not, not for the Cowboys anyway (I'm all for him starting for the Eagles or Giants). But he can stand in for a game or two. And, let's face it, if the Cowboys lose Romo for any period of time, they're not going anywhere anyway. QB would be a high priority next year in the draft or possibly the year after, and if what I felt were a franchise QB fell to me in the draft this year, I'd go in that direction but that seems really unlikely.
So there you have it. Tell me what you think the priorities should be?