Cowboys 2012 Free Agency Roundtable, Part I: Grading The Roster

Last year, during draft season, I published an extended conversation with one of the primary scouts at Drafttek, Long Ball--a guy who also happens to be a BTB member. We looked at the Cowboys' positions of need, and discussed potential collegians they might target. This year, I wanted to expand the format, not only to include free agency but also to add another expert talent evaluator (and BTB member): Birddog26.

Here's the great thing: Long Ball's area of expertise is the offensive line (the position he evaluates at Drafttek); Birddog's is the secondary (he's a contract scout, who's paid to offers expert opinions on corners and safeties, and also a personal coach and trainer for NFL players). As luck would have it, these guys' areas of expertise are the Cowboys' two greatest positions of need, so our roundtable features two fine gentlemen uniquely qualified to assess the spots where our beloved 'Boys need the most help.

I asked Birddog and Long Ball to proceed as an NFL team would, first by grading the roster, the results are below. Later today, we'll delve deeper into positions of perceived weakness and, finally, in the last part, consider the various available roster upgrades. I'm planning another, similar, conversation during the draft, so if you like this, let Long Ball and Birddog know in the comments section!

Check out the roundtable discussion after the jump...

BTB: If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to begin this process as NFL war rooms do: by evaluating the players currently on the Cowboys roster. In your professional opinion (or that of other scouts whom you trust), how does the Cowboys overall talent rate? If you had to give each position group a 1-10 rating, what numbers would you give each of the following, taking into account ability, depth, age, upside, etc:

Offense:

Quarterback:
Long Ball: 6 - Romo gets an 8; McGee gets a 4. Dallas needs to start the process of bringing in mid-to-late round QB’s (or UDFA’s) every year from here on out.
Birddog: 7 - Romo is a top QB in the league and McGee plays a valuable role in running the scout team but they lack a viable number two. I think this will be addressed in free agency, but for now the position group gets a 7 for lack of depth.

Running Back:
Birddog: 9 - With Murray, Jones and Fiammetta this is as good a group as they have had in a long time. I look for some heavy competition for the third running back slot in OTAs and camp.
Long Ball: 8 - I like the Murray/ Jones/ Tanner triumvirate, and Fiammetta at FB (incidentally, can anyone tell me why Dallas drafted Chapas instead of Hynoski?). My only concern here is the injury propensity for the top two.

Wide Receiver:
Long Ball: 7 - This score assumes Bryant and Austin are healthy, Robinson is re-signed, Radway comes back from injury and Holmes progresses.
Birddog: 9 - They have two solid starters in Austin and Bryant, and Robinson is already looking for a house in Dallas. I look for a hell of a battle for the other spots by the young guys.

Tight End:
Birddog: 8 - They have a Pro-Bowler in Witten and a developing TE in Phillips who I see as having better hands and route discipline than Bennett. I do not expect Bennett back and don’t think this will hurt the Cowboys at the TE position.
Long Ball: 7 - A blocking TE to back up Witten and Phillips can be found in the fifth round or later.

Offensive Tackle:
Long Ball: 6 - Assuming the flip-flop works, Smith will need some adjustment time and I look for Free to bounce back on the right side. I like Parnell’s athleticism.
Birddog: 8 - Free and Smith are solid at the OT spots. I think Free will move to the right with Smith on the left and give the Cowboys bookend tackles. They do need a capable backup, but as far as starters they are set.

Offensive Guard:
Long Ball: 3 - As the roster exists today, Arkin/ Kosier/ Nagy…‘nuff said!
Birddog: 4 - Nothing more to say, really!

Center:
Birddog: 4 - I liked what I saw in training camp last year with Dallas’ young guys, but as I said at the time I did not think they were ready for prime-time. A full offseason may help, but they really need to solidify the OG and OC positions. This has to be a priority this offseason.
Long Ball: 4 - This grade is not so much for Costa, but for the potential I see in Kowalski, plus the possibility of either Nagy or Arkin making a future move to the pivot.

Defense:

Defensive Line:
Long Ball: 4 - Depth is there, but where are the starters? Where does Ratliff play and if at DE, can Lissemore provide sufficient NT back-up for Brent?
Birddog: 8 - I like their D-line and do think it is a strength. They have solid starters and are building depth there. If they can improve in the secondary and at inside linebacker, I think everyone will see this is a solid unit.

Inside Linebacker:
Birddog: 5 - They have a great player in Lee but he’s the only one who has proven he can play. I feel Carter will be a very good--if not great--ILB, but we have not seen it yet. Brooking and James are not good fits in Rob Ryan's scheme, so they need to find a starter (possibly Carter) as well as backups.
Long Ball: 5 - I’m splitting the difference based on "potential": Lee is a stud, and we hope Carter is too. But there’s no experienced depth (although I do want to see more of Lemon).

Outside Linebacker:
Long Ball: 7 - This assumes Spencer is opposite Ware. Butler is a situational pass-rusher; Albright is good depth.
Birddog: 8 - They have one of the best in Ware and I am a supporter of Spencer's. I know what his primary responsibilities are in the scheme and he does them better than anyone out there. In Ryan's scheme, he is not a primary pass rusher; that is a secondary responsibility. I think we’ll see more sacks with better secondary performance.

Cornerback:
Birddog: 4 - See below re: safety
Long Ball: 3 - Sorry folks, Scandrick is not a starter and only marginally effective on the slot; Newman should be gone.

Safety:
Long Ball: 4 - And that’s the number of strong safeties/ special teamers on the roster.

Birddog: 4 - I saw many problems in the secondary. From injuries, lack of speed, communication and coaching. This has to be addressed all the way around or they will continue to struggle in the future.

Okay, we’ve graded the roster as it currently stands. Later today, we’ll discuss the current roster and how we can improve from within and where we need to look elsewhere for answers. Take a load off until then guys; that was some good work!

If you liked what you read, or have questions for Birddog and Long Ball, go to the comments section and fire away!

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