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Fix that Line

Many of you are speculating on threads how near or far the offense is from matching the defense. I've seen some suggest the offense could be as many as eight players away from respectability.

To keep you busy while I work on the Chiefs preview, I offer the football version of "Name That Tune," here entitled, "Fix that Line."

Older hands will recall a'70s game show by that title in which contestants tried to name popular songs by hearing just the first few notes played on a piano. The one who could properly name a song using the fewest notes won. It let to crazy boasts such as, "I can name that tune in two notes." If you got too bold and could not name the song, however, you lost.

Bill Parcells, personnel chief Jeff Ireland and Jerry Jones face a similar problem next year. Their offensive line is broken -- again. The running game has never gotten off the ground in '05. The pass protection, which was so good until Flozell Adams went down, collapsed last week.

They've got to get the problem fixed. But the salary cap limits their desire to spend wildly. I'd like to know how you can fix the line in the least number of moves. I'll go first. Call me a homer, but I think -- optimistically -- that the line can be patched in four moves. Understand that I am going to included fullbacks and tights ends as part of the o-line, since they are needed to get a running game and protection schemes off the ground.

1. Tackle -- I'm not going to add anything here. I figure Flozell Adams will be back. He's not the second coming of Jim Parker or Art Shell, but he's a good NFL left tackle. I'm going to assume that between Rob Petitti's sophomore year, Marc Columbo's comeback and Torrin Tucker's last shot at RT, you'll find one guy to finally man the right edge. You may not agree, but remember, I'm trying to solve the problem in the fewest possible moves.

2. Guard -- they're going to get one, probably in the draft. Larry Allen has been the rock of this year's line, but how much longer can he go? Marco Rivera has been the disappointment of an otherwise banner offseason. Be it injury or age, he's not playing up the standard he set in Green Bay. He' s not even close.

The position cries out for a veteran replacement, but it won't happen. Blame the salary cap. Allen has the biggest contract on the offense and Rivera got a $9M signing bonus this past spring. The Cowboys can't afford to shoehorn even more money into the guard position. Yet, they've got nothing if one of these guys goes down. Why do you think Rivera keeps going out there week after week? If Stephen Peterman were ready I'm sure he would have some starts by now, but he's lucky to be activated most weeks.

I expect a first day pick to go for a guard. Depth is vital, given the age at this position.

3. Center -- Al Johnson is game, but frequently injured. Andre Gurode is approaching free agency, and has done nothing to force Dallas to retain him. He will probably leave this offseason. Do you want to pin everything on a young center with questionable knees? Didn't think so. A veteran signing might come here and it might be another old Parcells hand. New York papers have been reporting for weeks that the Jets will likely blow up their offense and start over, since so many aging veterans are due new contracts next year. Among them is center Kevin Mawae. Parcells signed him away from Seattle in 1998 and New York has reaped the benefits ever since. Mawae played in six consecutive Pro Bowls between 1999 and 2004.

A Mawae signing presents risks. He will be 35 when the 2006 season kicks off. He is currently on injured reserve rehabbing a torn triceps muscle. On the other hand, these conditions should lower his price tag. Dallas would not looking for a long term solution, just somebody to challenge Johnson and to hold the line together if A.J.'s develpment fails to progress. Remember, Ray Donaldson was 37 and had 15 seasons under his belt when he replaced Mark Stepnoski in 1995. Donaldson would have been the NFC's Pro Bowl center had he not dislocated his ankle in the Thanksgiving Day game. For some reason, centers have some of, if not the longest careers in the NFL, never mind the offensive line. Think of Jim Otto, Mick Tinglehoff, Jeff Van Note and Donaldson, who were all near or over 40 when they quit.

I also think the team will draft another center, even if a veteran is signed. My favorite is Fresno State's Kyle Young, whom I have mistakenly called Ryan Young. (Ryan was the former Jet who washed out as RT in 2003.)

Fullback/tight end -- I think one or the other is necessary. A fullback would be preferred and the tryout given to former FB Jamar Martin last weeks suggests the coaches feel the same. As I've pointed out, fullbacks are hard to find these days. A blocking tight end would also fill the bill, since the college game seems better at turning them out these days. Either way, a dependable lead blocker who can also catch the ball would kick the offensive production up a notch. If the team pursues a fullback, free agency would likely be the preferred route. Few teams use the fullback full time, as Dallas did with Daryl Johnston in the '90s. That fact would keep a veteran's price tag low.

There you have it. One from the tight end/fullback bin, one young guard and two centers, one a vet, the other a draftee. That keeps the free agent money spent to a minimum.

What are your thoughts?

Note: You've probably seen some weird comments in the "Bullet Points" section today. We get bombarded from time to time by gambling, porn and other varied spammers. Today is such a day. We're working on it.

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