Dallas Cowboys: Time To Find Replacements For The Big Five

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

The Dallas Cowboys have five core players that the team is still centered around. But with age catching up with all of them, it is time to look at replacement strategies.

A recent article by Rainer Sabin asked the question, If the Cowboys were to blow up their roster, was this the year to do it? It discussed how the team might have gone that route if Jerry Jones had really wanted to do something radical to change things. The conclusion, logically, was that while the Dallas Cowboys weren't exceptionally good, they were not bad enough to tear down and start over.

It's the Cowboys' tendency to straddle the line between good and bad and play just decent enough to maintain optimism that has paralyzed management and prevented the locker room at Valley Ranch from being napalmed. Sure, Dallas has stumbled a lot. But the Cowboys have also gone toe-to-toe with the best, giving the front office hope that the team can one day put it all together.

The article specifically talked about five players that tie up a lot of cap space and that are aging, and in some cases seeing injuries interfere with their performance: WR Miles Austin (28), DT Jay Ratliff (31), QB Tony Romo (32), TE Jason Witten (30) and DE DeMarcus Ware (30). The team clearly sees all five as important contributors this year, but all five have had some injury issues in the past couple of seasons. It does raise the question of what the team might need to do to plan for the future. All of these players could well be gone in three to four years. At least a couple are almost certain to be retired by then.

I wondered if there is any indication the team may be looking for some players to step up as the replacements for any of these names. There is really only one player already on the roster that I think could be seen in that light, TE James Hanna. He made John Phillips expendable and has some potential to replace Witten as a receiver, although he is unlikely to ever be the all-around player the Senator is - but then that is going to be hard to find under any circumstances, since Witten is arguably the best true tight end in the league today.

Otherwise, I was curious about who the team may be interested in drafting, and if there are any candidates there. I looked at a couple of OCC's recent posts on national invitees and Dallas Days participants.

If there is any indication here of the team's intent, it is that they are not going to worry a lot about quarterback this year. That may be as much a function of the weak and rather hard to evaluate crop coming out of college as anything, but with only one local quarterback, UDFA candidate Kyle Padron out of Eastern Washington, it looks like any Romo replacement is still a ways off.

The other players are a different story. Dallas is looking at some players that might well become eventual replacements for those positions.

The deepest talent pool the team is looking at is on the defensive line.

Proj. Round Name POS College Source
Defensive Linemen
1 Sheldon Richardson DT Missouri Sheldon Richardson
1 Damontre Moore DE Texas A&M Damontre Moore
1-2 Kawann Short DT Purdue ESPNDallas
2 Margus Hunt DE SMU Mike Fisher
4 Jordan Hill DT Penn State Mike Fisher
4-5 Bennie Logan DT LSU DallasCowboys.com
7 - UDFA Stansley Maponga DE TCU ESPNDallas

This is a pretty stout group, and well distributed through the draft. There are potential replacements for both Ware and Ratliff, and the team does not have to have immediate starters here. If Maponga does not wind up getting drafted late, since some boards show him more of a 5-6 type, he is likely to be brought in as a priority UDFA, depending on who is actually drafted by the Cowboys (assuming his visit goes well, of course).

It may be too much to hope that Dallas could line up a future replacement for both Ratliff and Ware this draft, but I think the odds are quite good that at least one of them will get a chance to show his eventual replacement how it is done.

The tight end situation does not seem as urgent, possibly since the team seems to have found something in Hanna. They are going to look at Colin Anderson from Furman and TCU's Corey Fuller, but they definitely have the look of depth guys at best.

Wide receiver, however, is a position that really intrigues me. I found a very interesting comment from Bryan Broaddus when he was asked how the team might be using new coaches with recent college experience to look at draft prospects.

"I think the coach that is going to be used the most in this, believe it or not, is Derek Dooley, the receivers coach who was head coach at Tennessee. Listening to him talk about these players and college players, he was working some receivers when I was standing there talking to one of the scouts and he had a pretty good take of what was going on. So look for Derek Dooley maybe to help them with some of these SEC kids."

The team has several candidates who are visiting.

Proj. Round Name POS College Source
Receivers
1-2 DeAndre Hopkins WR Clemson Todd Archer
2 Marcus Wheaton WR Oregon State Star-Telegram
2 Terrance Williams WR Baylor Brandon George
5 Josh Boyce WR TCU Charean Williams
UDFA Skye Dawson WR TCU Star Telegram
UDFA Darrin Moore WR Texas Tech Clarence Hill

But Broaddus' remark opens up the possibility that they may have extended their horizons here. And receiver is always a bit of a need, since the team will need a minimum of five on the roster, plus would like to have a couple stashed on the practice squad. Dez Bryant is definitely still on an upward trajectory, but Austin and his recurring, nagging injuries would be a good candidate to target for replacement. He has made some big contributions, but reliability will always be a question with him.

Of course, visits are by no means a sure indicator of who the team would draft. Sometimes, they may not invite someone who they are already sold on just to disguise what they would like to do. With the limit of 30 on national visits, it makes sense to use that for players you need to find out more about, and not expend the resource on someone you already know you would take in a given round.

And, as Broaddus put it elsewhere, the Cowboys are at the mercy of the draft. Sitting at 18, they have to see who comes off the board first. That will drive what they do to a large extent. In the draft, everyone ahead of you has some control over your fate.

But this year I see a good chance that two or three of the key players could have their replacements signed by the team. I hope they at least make the attempt. Better to line up cheap, first contract players than have to worry about going back to free agency when the time inevitably comes. Get a couple now, then work on the rest the next couple of seasons.

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