I was trying to wait out the Tuna. I wasn't going to get into team needs, free agency or any of that stuff until we got an answer from Bill Parcells. But at this rate, free agency might be over before we know who the coach is for the 2007 season. How much longer does Parcells need? Anyway, I decided the time has come to start talking about the future instead of belaboring a depressing past. Yeah, we had a lot of mistakes this season, and Romo's bobbled snap was just a fitting coda to a wacky season. I remember writing before the season started that the 2006 Dallas Cowboys would be anything but boring. With Parcells and T.O., Jerry Jones and the continued spotlight from ESPN, there was no way we wouldn't be a soap-opera. Then the Tony Romo story took off and that led to a resurgence of hope, and a resurgence of media attention, only to be shredded in a December to forget.
OK, you can't fix a team without examining the past and learning from it. I think we've done a lot of that over the past week. I've been as guilty as anybody in pointing out our flaws, so let's talk about fixing them.
The poll I ran this week was all about the identifying the problem areas on the Cowboys. After 200 votes, the top problem areas according to you guys are:
Along the Cowboys offensive line, we have three players that should be locks to come back, provided we can negotiate some long-term contracts for unrestricted free agent C Andre Gurode and RT Marc Colombo. Both players had good to excellent years and should be a top priority for signing. Kyle Kosier, although he was a little inconsistent down the stretch, still did a credible job at LG. That leaves RG and LT. RG isn't even an issue for me, the Cowboys have to part ways with Marco Rivera and either Cory Procter, a free agent or a draft pick need to be plugged-in. At LT, it's a little more difficult. Finding quality left tackles is one of the hardest things to do in the NFL. Flozell Adams was up-and-down this year, but I've seen worse. So throwing Flozell overboard for a replacement is an attractive idea, until you think about who we could actually get to replace him. Maybe Pat McQuistan will be ready, but that's risking a lot on a young, inexperienced player. Even though it won't please some people, I'm guessing that Adams will be right back at his starting position next year.
At FS, the Cowboys desperately want Pat Watkins to be the guy. In my mind, that's still a very real possibility. Watkins has the physical gifts to do the job, and after a poor start to the season, he seemed to be better later in the year when he got a second chance. Keith Davis is probably now permanently where he needs to be, a backup who is an ace on special teams. The one variable that is currently unclear is how real is Jerry Jones' statement that CB Anthony Henry might be in the mix at FS. I'm not really a big-believer in that idea because that exposes Dallas to having to find a new CB. Aaron Glenn is pretty good as a nickel corner, but he would struggle having to play every down, especially as he's getting older. The easier path is to turn the job over to Pat Watkins or to bring in help. If they bring in help, here's hoping it's an experienced free agent instead of a draft pick that would still be learning.
The defensive line was a source of much consternation, specifically at both defensive end spots. At NT, Jason Ferguson was one of the bright spots on defense, but he does need a backup capable of giving him rest. At DE, the Cowboys have a whole contingent of options with Spears, Canty, Hatcher, Coleman and Ratliff. The problem is they all have shown potential but have yet to turn that into quality play on the field. The Cowboys have a real question as to whether any of them will become playmakers, or do they need to bring in some help from outside.
I was actually surprised to see CB ranked as high as it was, with Terence Newman turning in another quality season and Anthony Henry, though inconsistent at times, performing as well or better than a lot of #2 CB's in the league. I'm willing to ride both those guys again next season, but I would like to have a 3rd CB who can compete with Aaron Glenn, who looked to be a step slow on some occasions this year. He is getting up there in age and the Cowboys need to start thinking about the future at the position.
Linebackers are the key to a 3-4 defense and you can never have enough quality players at that position, especially on the outside. When Greg Ellis went down, we didn't have a viable backup ready to go. Al Singleton is steady, but you really need a playmaker at that position, and Bobby Carpenter only showed flashes of that late in the year. Assuming Ellis can come back, and assuming Carpenter will continue to improve, the Cowboys might think they are set here, but I doubt it. Bill Parcells collects LB's like he does TE's, so I expect at least one major move in this area either in free agency or the draft.
If it's in free agency, I think the San Antonio Express-News has the right idea.
The seven-year veteran from Southern Mississippi notched a team-high 11 sacks for the Baltimore Ravens this season, giving him a whopping 28 over the last three seasons.
Thomas, 29, is expected to be among the top two or three pursued free agents and will demand a three- or four-year deal that would make him one of the league's highest-paid linebackers.
With the 6-foot-2, 270-pound Thomas lining up opposite DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys would have two of the league's top edge rushers. The defense slumped badly in December mainly because it couldn't generate a consistent pass rush.
Thomas, a Pro Bowler who has 38.5 career sacks, didn't talk to reporters yesterday after he cleaned out his locker at Ravens headquarters. His agent and team officials have talked but are said to be far apart.
As for the strong safety spot, we all have our frustrations with Roy Williams' performance, particularly in pass coverage. But there's nothing to be done here except working on his coverage skills, because Roy is going to start and he's going to play every down. So let's hope he puts the work in over the offseason to make him less of a liability in coverage.
The SA Express-News also has some opinions on the draft.
Guard, safety, linebacker, receiver, defensive line and cornerback are the positions of need. Some help will come via free agency, but this draft has to be a top-to-bottom winner if the Cowboys are going to become Super Bowl contenders before the decade is out.
I like guard (offensive line), linebacker, defensive line and cornerback in the draft, but I would leave safety to free agency and receiver is all dependent on Terrell Owens returning. If he returns, Dallas has a quality backup in Patrick Crayton, and a couple of young guys with potential, Sam Hurd and Miles Austin. I'm not sure we need to draft a receiver with Owens back in the fold.
And it goes without saying, we need a quality backup QB for next season.
Meanwhile, Nick Eatman notes the importance of FG's based on the weekend's playoffs results, and Dallas' own bad luck kicking a playoff FG.
As the games this past weekend proved, field goals indeed win games.
And failed opportunities can lose them as well.
The Cowboys found out that part the hard way in a 21-20 loss to the Seahawks. But the entire NFL should take notice, if it hasn't already, just how important these football three-pointers can be.
Three of the four Divisional games were settled by only three points. One game ended with a field goal in overtime, while another game was settled with a go-ahead field goal in the final minute.
As it turned out, head coach Bill Parcells was again right on this one. He brought in Martin Gramatica, who not only hit a game-winning field goal in his Cowboys debut to beat the Giants on the road, but made 6-of-8 field goals and both of his playoff kicks, including a 50-yarder.
But he never got to that third playoff kick.
Let's hope Martin Gramatica appreciates the second-chance the Cowboys gave him and decides to sign at a reasonable price. If he doesn't, there's another position we have to worry about in the offseason.