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How Many Spots Will Be Open on the '09 Cowboys' Defense?

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This is normally a question that is raised just before camp, but Adam Jones' release and Zach Thomas' certain departure have me thinking there could be a lot of turnover on a defense that ranked 8th in yardage allowed this year. 

Here are the 26 '08 defensive players, with the numbers for each of their units in parentheses:


DL (6)

Sure to return (4)

  • Jay Ratliff
  • Marcus Spears
  • Stephen Bowen
  • Jason Hatcher

Question Mark (1)

  • Chris Canty

Likely Gone (1)

  • Tank Johnson

I think Johnson is almost certainly gone and Canty is 50/50.  His return will likely depend on what other teams offer him.  He had an underwhelming year for a guy on a salary drive, though he played much better in the second half of the year than in the first.

Nose tackle was ignored last year.  I don't think Dallas can afford to overlook it again.  I expect one of the Cowboys' first three picks to be used on a big run stuffer.

Linebackers (9)

Returning (5)

  • Demarcus Ware
  • Anthony Spencer
  • Greg Ellis
  • Bradie James
  • Bobby Carpenter

Maybe (3)

  • Kevin Burnett
  • Justin Rogers
  • Carlos Polk

Gone (1)

  • Zach Thomas

Carpenter is a black-hat Cowboy, but he's under contract so he's returning.  Dallas can't dump him, lose Thomas and also risk losing Burnett in free agency.  That leave only Bradie James at inside linebacker, unless Justin Rogers returns.

Burnett will be a tough call.  He's very good in the nickel, but does not have the size to play every down as a 3-4 ILB.  He's probably a better fit in a Tampa-2 scheme and if a team like the Colts, Bucs, Lions or Bears waves money at him, he could leave.

Inside linebacker will be addressed, in free agency or the draft.  More than likely, Dallas will dip into both talent pools.

Cornerback (6)

Returning (5)

  • Terence Newman
  • Anthony Henry
  • Mike Jenkins
  • Orlando Scandrick
  • Alan Ball

Adam Jones is gone and I don't know if the Cowboys will make a high signing to replace him.  The rookies Jenkins and Scandrick look like players and Ball played very well when he took the field.   Dallas may use another late-round pick on a corner, but they'll spend higher picks on....

Safety (5)

Sure bets (1)

  • Ken Hamlin

Probably (1)

  • Roy Williams

Maybe (1)

  • Keith Davis

Likely Gone (2)

  • Courtney Brown
  • Pat Watkins

What a mess.  Hamlin can play safety.  Williams can play the run well.  Davis is Williams lite, not as good versus the run and just as weak versus the pass.  It's popular to predict Roy and his big salary will depart, but with Davis as the only other SS alternative, he's likely back by default.

Davis played hard, but let's remember that Dallas cut him last year.  He'll be back if Dallas keeps five safeties or be back on the bubble if the Cowboys keep four.

Regardless, Dallas will probably draft two safeties, or draft one and sign a budget veteran.

Overall --The Cowboys could be looking for as many as seven or eight new defenders, depending on the Canty and Burnett negotiations.  That means a busy offseason for the pro and college scouting staffs, and for us.