Cowboys Offseason 2012: Retooling The Roster

These gentlemen have been doing work!

Back in February, with the book on the past season still freshly sealed, I offered up a series of posts in which I looked at the Herculean offseason task facing the Cowboys, which amounted to no less than a radical roster overhaul. My starting point was to imagine I was a member of the Dallas braintrust (if I keep imagining this it will eventually come true, I suppose), tasked to ask a pair of key global questions: first, what positions need to be filled and/ or replaced? and second, how might we best address those roster spots: via free agency? the draft? a combination of the two?

My first step was to take a long, hard look at the Cowboys roster. As we waved goodbye to the 2011 campaign (and to several Cowboys whose contracts expired as the season did), the roster was in ragged condition. Consider the laundry list of offensive priorities then facing the Cowboys: a backup quarterback, a third receiver, a backup tight end and help (either starters or depth) at offensive guard. In addition, several questions emerged: at what level should Dallas tender Tony Fiammetta (a significant part of this equation was: what do they think of Shaun Chapas)? Would the Cowboys give Stephen McGee another year or seek to groom another young QB? Will they offer Kevin Ogletree a tender of any kind?

The list on defense was no less extensive; check out these holes on the defensive depth chart: outside linebacker (with Anthony Spencer a possible departure); two inside linebackers, either at starter, if they felt Bruce Carter wasn't ready, or in terms of depth, if they did; cornerback, where they were almost certainly going to cut Terence Newman, which would necessitate that they pick up 2-3 new players; and free safety, where Abram Elam had played out his one-year contract.

In total, our beloved 'Boys had a lot of work to do; they would need as many as twelve new faces just to maintain the status quo. This was most evident in the defensive back seven (er, eight?), where, considering key depth players, it looked like Dallas would need to add as many as seven new players. Given the fact that even the best of drafts yield three immediate starters, filling all of these holes in one offseason seemed an impossibility. But the Cowboys used a combination of free agency and the draft to engineer a stunning roster overhaul. A team that had significant soft spots and gaping roster holes now has solid starters and good depth at many, if not all, positions.

Perhaps some cool graphics will illustrate this more clearly? Make the jump to wander through some multicolored charts and stuff...

Let's begin with the offense as it looked a couple of weeks after the Super Bowl. I have gone only three deep on the depth chart (apologies in advance; there may be some pet cats that don't show up). Any roster spots previously manned by players who were no longer officially on the roster, such as Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery, I marked with a "????"). In addition, I marked the team's only two RFAs, Tony Fiammetta and Kevin Ogletree, with a single asterisk. Aging vets whose roster spots are in danger receiver two asterisks.

Here's what the offensive depth chart looked like in mid-February:

Starter Backup Third String
QB Tony Romo ???? Stephen McGee
FB *Tony Fiammetta
Shaun Chapas
RB DeMarco Murray Felix Jones Phillip Tanner
SE Dez Bryant *Kevin Ogletree Dwayne Harris
FL Miles Austin ???? Jesse Holley
TE Jason Witten ???? John Phillips
LT Tyron Smith Jermey Parnell
LG Bill Nagy ???? David Arkin
OC Phil Costa Kevin Kowalski
RG **Kyle Kosier ???? David Arkin
RT Doug Free Jermey Parnell

Pretty scary, huh? And here's what the offensive depth chart looks like now. I've colored free-agents light blue; recent draftees are in light red. I've also included select UDFAs; they're in light green:

Starter Backup Third String
QB Tony Romo Kyle Orton
Stephen McGee
FB Lawrence Vickers Shaun Chapas
RB DeMarco Murray Felix Jones Phillip Tanner
SE Dez Bryant Kevin Ogletree Danny Coale
FL Miles Austin Raymond Radway
Andre Holmes
TE Jason Witten John Phillips James Hanna
LT Tyron Smith Jermey Parnell
LG Nate Livings
Bill Nagy Ronald Leary
OC Phil Costa Kevin Kowalski
RG Mackenzie Bernadeau
David Arkin
RT Doug Free Jermey Parnell

All of February's evident roster holes have been filled, save for third receiver, which has several candidates. Speaking of candidates, there is significantly more - and better - depth here, which is a critical step forward for a team that waggish scribes have characterized as composed of "stars and scrubs." As Jason Garrett has made clear, the Cowboys will have competition throughout the roster. A prime example is interior offensive line. Say what you will about the players the Cowboys brought in (or failed to) this offseason, but this much is sure: they will have meaningful (and, I'll bet, fierce) competition at the three interior O-line positions.

Here's what the defensive depth chart looked like in February (you might want to tell the kids to avert their eyes). As above, vacated roster spots received the dreaded "????"; aging veteran corners with bloated contracts who can't cover a goalpost and are thus certain to be cut were marked with two asterisks:

Starter Backup Third String
LDE Kenyon Coleman Sean Lissemore
NT Jay Ratliff Josh Brent
RDE Marcus Spears Jason Hatcher Clifton Geathers
LOLB ???? Victor Butler
LILB ???? Bruce Carter
RILB Sean Lee ???? Orie Lemon
ROLB DeMarcus Ware Alex Albright
LCB **Terence Newman Orlando Scandrick
SS ???? Barry Church
FS Gerald Sensabaugh Danny McCray
RCB Mike Jenkins ???? Mario Butler

And here's where the roster is now. I took the liberty of removing Kenyon Coleman from the depth chart - which I can do, since I'm a member of the Cowboys braintrust, right? As before, FAs are in blue; draftees in red; UDFAs are in green:

Starter Backup Third String
LDE Sean Lissemore Tyrone Crawford
NT Jay Ratliff Josh Brent
RDE Marcus Spears Jason Hatcher Clifton Geathers
LOLB Anthony Spencer
Kyle Wilber
Adrian Hamilton
LILB Dan Connor
Bruce Carter
RILB Sean Lee Caleb McSurdy
Orie Lemon
ROLB DeMarcus Ware Victor Butler Alex Albright
LCB Brandon Carr Orlando Scandrick Lionel Smith
SS Gerald Sensabaugh Barry Church Matt Johnson
FS Brodney Pool
Danny McCray Eddie Whitley
RCB Morris Claiborne
Mike Jenkins Mario Butler

This is where the offseason makeover is most evident. Dallas is particularly improved at cornerback and inside linebacker, two positions that were regularly exploited in coverage by opposing passing attacks last season. If this cast of defenders doesn't thrill you, quickly scroll up to see what it looked like a mere ten weeks ago. Garrett and the Joneses evidently developed a clear plan of action and carried it out, almost as if it were a process.

Before we get all gooey inside, it must be noted that there are still numerous soft spots that must be addressed in future offseasons - defensive line, safety, perhaps offensive tackle - and a hole remains at third receiver. Jason Garrett inherited an old, thin, and overpriced group and, in two seasons, has created a younger, deeper, more competitive, and less entitled bunch. We may not see the results of this makeover in 2012, but I believe we will, and sooner rather than later.

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