FanPost

The Cowboys are "X" number of players away from being a championship contender.


Well, that was a disappointing end to a disappointing season. The Cowboys fought hard, but ultimately injuries sapped the 'Boys of the talent required to reach the playoffs. Injuries are never an excuse and every team has them and embraces the "next man up" mantra; but there is a noticeable drop off in talent when the team is forced to play guys like Everette Brown, Frank Kearse, Corvey Irvin and Cam Lawrence instead of Tyrone Crawford, Ben Bass and Anthony Spencer.

There is hope on the horizon though. It looks like the Cowboys have finally addressed the offensive line to the point where it is no longer the Achilles heel of the offense. The average age of the Cowboys starting offensive line is just 25 and they ended the season playing at a level not seen in Dallas in many a year. And there are several position groups which look to be in good shape heading into next season.

Hope and optimism are two things which Owner/President/General Manager/Cowboys Czar Jerry Jones has in spades. This often leads to a misguided evaluation of the roster and a "one player away" mentality going into the off season. However, the educated fan base here at BTB knows better. The Cowboys are mired in mediocrity after three successive 8-8 seasons, and upgraded are needed at several positions in order to elevate above the masses and into the tournament.

Below, I'll give my take on the roster and leave it up to you, BTB nation, to decide just how many players are needed to take this team back to the 'ship.

Quarterback:

On the roster for 2014: Tony Romo, Kyle Orton

Grading the Group: B

I think Tony Romo is a very good QB and will be hard to replace once he decides to hang 'em up. Romo is who he is, a QB capable of a league MVP, elite performance one minute and making a bad decision putting his team in a losing position the next. You take the good with the bad because the good far outweighs the bad. But Romo looked just a little off all year long. His stats may not show it, but some of his throws lacked the normal zip and accuracy Cowboy receivers have come to expect. Normally a combination of Romo and Orton would earn an A, but concerns about age and Romo's back are enough to warrant a drop. Jerry Jones has already said the team will not be in the market for a QB with a premium pick in the draft, but bringing in a guy to be the third QB would be a good idea.

Players Needed: 0

While I think the 'Boys need to invest in the position at some point in the draft, there is no need to reach for a player here.

Running Back:

On the roster for 2014: DeMarco Murray, Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar

Grading the Group: B+

This is a difficult position group to evaluate as the Cowboys often abandoned the run. DeMarco Murray ended the season with 1,124 yards, 9 TD and a 5.2 yards per carry average. Murray was the work horse of the Cowboys, but only had 217 rushing attempts in 14 games (15.5 carries per game). By comparison, LeSean McCoy led the league with 314 rushing attempts (19.6 carries per game) for 1,607 yards and 5.1 yards per carry. Can Murray hold up for a 250+ carry season? Can the Cowboys commit to the running game? Also, 2014 will be a contract year for Murray, should the Cowboys extend the guy who was such a big time player down the stretch this year for the Cowboys. Or do they let Murray, who has yet to put together a full 16 game season, take his talents elsewhere. Backup Joseph Randle has shown flashes as a rookie, but he does not look to be ready to take over Murray's production at this point. Lance Dunbar has also shown to be good change of pace back with some big play potential, but fumbles may have put Dunbar in the Garrett doghouse this year. Dunbar will be a restricted Free Agent in 2015.

Players needed: 0

The team is in good shape for 2014 but a big decision looms in regards to Murray's contract. Murray has been great as a Cowboy, but if I were in his shoes I would not resign with a team which has not shown any commitment to consistently running the ball, even when it is working at a high level. If I were the Cowboys I would be hesitant to offer big money to a back who cannot stay on the field for a full season. You can find running backs in the draft which is where I think the Cowboys need to look to add depth to the position although it may not be needed this year.

Wide Receiver:

On the Roster for 2014: Miles Austin, Cole Beasley, Dez Bryant, Dwayne Harris, Terrance Williams

Grading the Group: A

Dez Bryant is 25, Cole Beasley is 24 and Terrance Williams is 24 there is the Cowboys future at the position. Re-sign Dez next year and extend the Beas in 2014. Release Austin as his age (29), contract and injury history makes him expendable. Dwayne Harris will be a free agent in 2015 and the Cowboys will need to make a decision on him. He is a proven weapon on returns, but what kind of contract will he be looking for?

Players needed: 0

Moving along, nothing to see here.

Tight Ends:

On the Roster for 2014: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna

Grading the Group: B

Jason Witten is a Hall of Famer and still playing at a high level, but can Escobar step his game up to merit his second round selection. Can Hanna ever reach his athletic potential as a receiving threat? Witten is getting up there in age and would benefit greatly from having someone able to come in and give him a breather.

Players Needed: 0

Please, please do not draft a TE this year...

Offensive Line:

On the Roster for 2014: Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Doug Free, Jeremy Parnell, Darrion Weems, Phil Costa

Grading the Group: B+

Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick are guys you can build a dominant offensive line around. They have justified their first round status already. Ronald Leary had his ups and downs but seemed to really settle into his position as the year wore on. The same can be said for the other guard, Mackenzy Bernadeau. Doug Free, on the other hand, started the season great but faded as the season progressed. The best part about this group is they are young and healthy. Tyron Smith is 23 and rapidly ascending to one of the top tackles in the NFL, Leary is 24, Frederick is 22, Bernadeau is 27 and Free is the old man at 29. The only injury on the line was when Brian Waters went down. The last few weeks of the season, the Cowboys offensive line actually looked like an asset. When was the last time you could say that?

Players needed: 2

Offensive linemen typically take some time to develop into quality starters and the worst thing the Cowboys could do is allow themselves to descend back into the hell of not having a quality line to protect their QB and provide push in the run game. Smith and Frederick are here to stay for hopefully a very long time, but Free will be a free agent in 2015 as will his backup Jeremy Parnell. A replacement will need to be in place either as a starter or a swing tackle. Leary will be a restricted free agent in 2015 and a decision will need to be made on whether he is the long term answer at one of the guard positions. Bernadeau is signed until 2016, but at that point his age may prevent him from getting a new contract. The Cowboys have done a great job rebuilding the line, but now is not the time to rest on their laurels.

Defensive Backs:

On the Roster for 2014: Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, B.W. Webb, Barry Church, Jeff Heath, J.J. Wilcox, Matt Johnson, Jakar Hamilton

Grading the Group: B-

Carr has not lived up to his contract yet, but he is a good corner. Scandrick has long been a very good slot corner, but injuries moved him outside and he responded by being the best and most consistent corner on the team. Claiborne has struggled some and injuries have slowed him down, but when he is on his game you can see the skills that made him a top pick. Barry Church is a solid safety but not a spectacular one. Heath looks lost in coverage more often than not and Wilcox is still very raw. No clue on Johnson or Hamilton they could be players or the could just be camp bodies. Switching to a defensive philosophy which takes advantage of the corners ability in man press would raise the grade a bit.

Players Needed: 1

Like it or not the corners are here to stay, all are signed through at least 2016. But safety is still not solved. Church is a player who is good enough to start but not good enough to stop you from drafting a replacement. Heath, Wilcox and Johnson will probably head into camp competing for a starting spot, but adding a play maker to this group would go a long way to helping this defense take the next step.

Linebackers:

On the Roster for 2014: Bruce Carter, DeVonte Holloman, Sean Lee, Martez Wilson, Justin Durant, Kyle Wilber

Grading the Group: B

Sean Lee is a great LB, too bad he cannot stay on the field. At this point you have to plan on only having Lee on the field for about 12 games a year. Not sure what to make of Bruce Carter, is he the guy who disappeared for long stretches, or is he they guy who filled in for an injured Lee and took charge of the defense. Maybe he just needs some more time, but I was a little worried when I watched games and Carter seemed to be giving less effort than those around him. DeVonte Holloman is a rookie who has really shown an ability to make plays this year. The future could be bright for him.

Players needed: 0

Between Carter, Lee, Holloman and Durant the starters are set. Due to injury history, quality depth is a must here which is why the emergence of Kyle Wilber as a viable option is important. A MLB may be needed for depth.

Defensive Line:

On the Roster for 2014: George Selvie, DeMarcus Ware, Nick Hayden, Frank Kearse, Ben Bass, Tyrone Crawford

Grading the Group: C-

The only thing keeping this group from being an F is the respect I have to DeMarcus Ware. Selvie has turned himself into a solid player, but I believe he is better as a rotational guy than a starter. Ben Bass and Tyrone Crawford both have upside, but have yet to prove anything on the NFL level. Hayden adn Kearse are JAG's and may not make it through training camp. Ware is a declining player, but he is still capable of wreaking havoc.

Players needed: 3

A complete overhaul of the defensive line is needed. Free agent to be Jason Hatcher is a leader and a life long Cowboy, but his Pro Bowl caliber year will price him out of Dallas. Hopefully the Cowboys have learned to not give big contracts to defensive lineman over 30. Same lesson applies to Anthony Spencer who got paid ten million dollars to sit on injured reserve. If the 'Boys can find two or three players to come in and produce along the line, you will probably see the defense flourish. The Cowboys have a few pieces, but play makers are needed in this group.

So there you have it BTB nation, my take on the roster. I think the Cowboys are 6 players away from being a championship caliber team. More players than can be expected in one off season given the current cap situation.

I think the Cowboys are two good drafts away from being considered a contender, and by then it may be too late if guys like Romo, Ware and Witten decline.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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