The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill offers hungry fans a few worthy crumbs about the Cowboys' offseason plans while offering his predictions. I think his list provides an opportunity for me -- and all of you -- to trot out your Cowboys' crystal balls. I'll use his list as the basis for my own.
What to do at offensive coordinator?
Hill predicts, correctly I believe, that OC Sean Payton will be hired somewhere, while DC Mike Zimmer, who has only interviewed with the Rams, will return.
I disagree with Hill's claim that former Cowboys' OC Norv Turner would be the best candidate to replace Payton. Turner's system differs significantly from the one Parcells and Payton installed. Rebuilding the offensive line will be work enough. You don't need to destroy what offensive continuity the team has. Besides, Kansas City's Al Saunders and St. Louis' Mike Martz have run the Sid Gillman/Don Coryell offense better than Norv in recent years and they're available too.
Because Parcells can run his own game, I doubt he would bring in an established gunslinger who would challenge him on play calling. I could see him going for a trusted friend like Carolina's OC Dan Henning, but league rules forbid lateral moves. More likely, he'll go for a younger QB coach or OC with a reputation for creativity, which Payton had when he was hired away from the Giants. Someone like Green Bay's Tom Rossley, might be closer to the mark.
What to do about right tackle?
Hill offers Lions LT Jeff Backus and Cleveland OT L.J. Shelton as candidates to displace Rob Petitti. Backus will cost too much, being a left tackle. He's also the Lions' free agent most likely to be franchised. Shelton was a high Cardinals draft pick who never panned out in Arizona.
I'll offer two names of my own: New England RT Tom Ashworth and Green Bay OT Kevin Barry. Ashworth has only four years of wear on his treads and has been a starter on Super Bowl lines. He also had back trouble in '04 and will need a thorough medical evaluation -- read Marco Rivera. Barry got a chance to play extensively after injuries hit the Packers line. He struggled midseason and was almost benched, but rebounded and has the support of his line coach Larry Beightol, who feels he's ready to blossom. Barry's inexperience could make him one of those low cost-high impact type players front offices dream about.
Will Greg Ellis and LaRoi Glover be moved?
I agree with Hill that they will. Ellis has a cap friendly deal, but it's high for a rotation player. The bigger question is how much the Cowboys can get in return for them? Glover is still a productive, pass rushing DT. Some team that runs a 4-3 should covet him. Ellis' contract should also make him attractive as a trade option, since he's also a steady 4-3 performer.
If Dallas isn't greedy, as New Orleans was last spring when it put DE Darren Howard on the market, it should get a strong return for both players.
Who's the player most likely to be Brady James in '06?
Hill offers LB Kevin Burnett. He also confirms that Burnett was being moved to ILB when he injured his knee. I predicted back in camp that that Burnett's best position would probably be at Dat Nguyen's weakside ILB spot. If Burnett rehabs on schedule, he'll get his chance, since Nguyen may retire soon. A resurgent Burnett would make the linebacker unit makeover much easier.
Who Will Dallas Draft at pick 18?
Hill projects Texas DB Michael Huff. It's hard to say, since free agency will determine what positions the Cowboys target in April. Huff belongs on any short list, however. He has the skills to finish the secondary restoration and could make an impact his rookie year.
I predicted Ohio State OLB Bobby Carpenter back in September. I still like him, but from what I've read so far, Dallas could trade down several spots and still select him. The draft boards won't really take shape until the Senior Bowl is played in early February.