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Cowboys 2012 Free Agency: Dialing Up The Competition

One of the key themes that Coach Garrett has addressed repeatedly throughout his tenure as a head coach is the idea of competition. Shortly after the draft last year, Garrett talked about the importance of competition with Pro Football Talk's PFT Live:

Well, we like competition throughout our football team and we certainly like it at the quarterback position as well as at every position - at the tight end spot, offensive and defensive line, the runners, the receivers, the linebackers and the cover guys.

We believe that's an important component, an important dynamic to have on a good football team and that each and every day you have to go out there and compete against the guy across from you, but also with the guy next to you, to earn the time that you have or the particular role that you have on our football team. And that goes for the number one guy on our football team all the way to 53, and throughout training camp all the way through number 80.

So we think that's important

Many observers have described the Cowboys' free agency activities this year largely as an attempt by the team to fill holes. And that's probably a valid assessment, but what if the Cowboys' free agent shopping spree wasn't just about filling holes, but at least in equal part about creating competition on the roster?

The Cowboys currently have 58 players on their roster. This excludes free agents and un-tendered restricted free agents (who, because they weren't tendered, are now also unrestricted free agents). Some of those free agents might eventually return to the team, but for now we'll assume they're not on the roster.

In the following, I'll compare today's 58-man roster with the final 53-man rosters on opening weekend of the six previous seasons to see at which positions the Cowboys might already be 'heavy' on today's roster, and where they may be 'light'.

Here's how the today's 58-man roster compares to previous years.

Position 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
Quarterback 3 3 3 3 2 2 2
Running Back 3 4 3 3 3 3 3
Wide Receiver 7 5 5 5 5 6 6
Tight End 2 4 2 3 3 3 3
Fullback 2 1 2 1 1 2 1
Offensive Line 9 9 10 10 11 10 9

Defensive Line 9 7 7 6 6 6 7
Linebackers 8 7 9 9 8 8 9
Defensive Backs 11 9 9 9 11 10 9
of which: CB 6 5 3 4 7 5 5
of which: S 5 4 6 5 4 5 4

Specialists 4 4 3 4 3 3 4

Obviously, the roster will increase in size to 80 players by the time training camp starts as the Cowboys get their draft picks on board, sign some undrafted college free agents, bring in another veteran or two or even swing a trade. But for now, here are some general observations about how the roster is put together today:

Wide receiver and defensive backs are the two positions where there are already two more players on the roster today than there will be in September.

The position split for defensive backs is a bit misleading because the Cowboys officially list safety Justin Taplin-Ross as a corner, but so be it. The Cowboys already have 11 defensive backs and were reportedly also interested in Packers corner Jarrett Bush before he re-signed in Green Bay today. They are also quite likely to draft at least one, and probably two defensive backs in April. Add some UDFAs later and you have the makings of a great training camp competition.

From a pure numbers perspective, the situation at wide receiver looks similar, but it really isn't. In fact, despite the many bodies, the Cowboys are actually pretty thin at wide receiver. Teddy Williams is probably still nothing more than a project, and he'll be lucky to get a spot on the practice squad. Raymond Radway's health status is unclear, and it's not sure he'll be ready to go for training camp. That basically leaves five guys: Austin, Bryant, Ogletree Holmes and Harris. Five guys competing for five roster spots is no competition at all. With this numbers game in mind, it's easy to understand why the Cowboys re-signed Ogletree to a minimum contract. Look for the Cowboys to add a few more wide receivers to the roster.

What's a little surprising is the relatively low number of offensive linemen. With only nine guys currently on the roster, the Cowboys fairly thin and could use another big body or two. Will one of those bodies be a first- or second round pick?

Tight end also looks unusually low versus previous years and the Cowboys will very likely look to add a lot of bodies here during camp and let them battle it out.

One other thought that bears watching is the depth at quarterback and at kicker. Going light at QB and kicker could open up two roster spots at other positions where the Cowboys may need the depth more urgently.

It's unlikely that the Cowboys will carry two kickers again this year. Dan Bailey and Kai Forbath will duke it out in camp, and unless one of them suffers an injury and is put on PUP or IR (wink, wink) there will only be one kicker on the roster in September.

Finally, what's up with Stephen McGee? He's in the fourth and final year of his contract. He probably won't see any significant playing time this year behind Romo and Orton. And he does not have any value for the Cowboys once his contract expires. Can't the Cowboys trade him somewhere? Before he simply leaves in free agency next year, I'd try to swing some sort of a trade. I'd even take a conditional seventh-rounder, but at least get something. Or play him. But don't just waste another year of this guy's life only to let him go anyway.

In part, the number of free agents the Cowboys brought in suggests that they want to create strong competition at key positions this year. Not all eight free agent signings will end up as starters for the Cowboys. Heck, some of them won't even make the final roster. But all of them will compete hard for their spot on the roster.

All of this should make for an exciting training camp - and that's even before factoring in our rookies.

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