One of the question marks for the Dallas Cowboys this offseason is what to do about their offensive line. Our own OCC has done an analysis and thinks that continuity could help boost production. But, will the Cowboys stand pat with what they have? They could pick up some help in the draft, and one position that is under the microscope is right tackle. Doug Free was signed to a nice-sized contract and was supposed to be the answer after the Cowboys flipped him over there, moving Tyron Smith to left tackle. Unfortunately, Free has regressed, so much so that Jeremy Parnell split time with him over the last month of the season.
Stephen Jones was asked about Free's status.
Free’s play was so bad that the Cowboys were forced to act. In the final four games they made Free give up some of his snaps to Jermey Parnell, an undrafted player who was seen as a project. But Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones isn’t ready to push Free out the door just yet.
"I wouldn’t rule Doug out," Jones said. Asked if the Cowboys would propose a pay cut to Free less than two years after he received a four-year, $32 million contract, Jones said, "That’s speculative."
I don't know about you, but that's not exactly a ringing endorsement. In the offseason, coaches and front-office types tend to lean towards the optimistic side of things. If that's Jones' optimism towards Free, the beleaguered right tackle could be in trouble.
Jones also opined on signing free agents. As we've been saying for a while, don't expect much on that front. The Cowboys need to make some moves to get under the cap...
But would those moves allow the Cowboys the freedom to acquire a bushel of talented veterans on the open market? "I don’t think we’ll be able to do a lot," Jones said. "I think we’ll be able to do the things we need to do. I don’t think it’s going to be major like it was last year. We’re not going to be able to go out and get a bunch of guys."
If they plan to re-sign Anthony Spencer, that would probably eat up any free agent budget.
The Cowboys are definitely in the market for running backs, my guess is they'll be using a mid-round draft pick on one.
"In this league I think you’d like to have more than one back," Jones said. "Obviously we love DeMarco, but you also have to look he’s not been healthy yet in terms of a full season. I think we need a back. We like (Lance) Dunbar and (Phillip) Tanner but I think they’re more third backs, not second backs." Felix Jones is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. Like Murray, he has had a difficult time staying healthy, but he could be an option to return at the right price. "I would never shut the door on anybody," Stephen Jones said.
Jones isn't too worried about the Romo restructuring.
"We’re going to get our situation with Tony worked out," Jones said. "He’s as motivated as we are. With this particular situation with Tony, we think we have a great quarterback, and we want him to be our quarterback here for the next four or five years. We’re fortunate that we have a really good quarterback, if not a great one, and he deserves to be paid."
Romo’s deal is up at the end of the 2013 season, and he’s scheduled to count more than $16 million against the cap. Jones said while salary cap issues are important and fascinating for the media and fans, people tend to panic too much about being too high over the cap. "Everybody always gets under," Jones said. "That’ll be the case here with us. We’re going to put together what we hope to be a championship caliber football team."
As the Cowboys transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, we wonder if they can do it successfully in one offseason. The answer could be yes, as we have an example from last year of a team doing the same.
If there is one coach who is aware of the challenge, it’s Denver head coach John Fox. He moved the Broncos from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 before the 2011 season. Last year, the Broncos ranked second in total defense, allowing just 290.8 yards per game. But Fox said it’s not easy for coaches such as Kiffin and Marinelli to evaluate players on film.
"Any time you change it’s difficult," Fox said Thursday morning at the scouting combine in Indy. "But evaluating guys … because you’re watching tape of them playing an entirely different position, any time there is a change, it’s difficult. But how hard players will work to learn it and master it … that’s what the whole game is about."
Fox reiterated many times the most important aspect is finding the right player to fit the scheme. "It takes a lot of hard work," he said. "I don’t think any of it is easy. You’re dealing with people and making decisions on people. I think at the end of the day … it’s how they perform and how hard they work to get better. Really, that’s the kind of people you’re looking for because their work ethic is critical."