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2012 Cowboys Roster Likely To Highlight Phillips-Era Talent Gap

Gerald Sensabaugh (43) is the only projected starter for 2012 who was acquired between 2008 and 2009.
Gerald Sensabaugh (43) is the only projected starter for 2012 who was acquired between 2008 and 2009.

One of the most exciting things about training camp is watching how the roster develops. We'll get almost daily updates on which players saw their stock move up, and which players saw their stock decline. And this year, competition for a roster spot may be tougher than ever.

Just like last year, the Cowboys will be entering training camp with 90 players, ten more guys than in previous years. Add seven free agent signings, also more than in previous years, and the Cowboys could have one of the most competitive training camps in recent memory, as players work hard for their roster spots.

Yet that competition for roster spots will be fought largely among the backups - most of the 22 starters are probably already locked in at this point. After the break, we look at a projection for those 22 players, and look at which Coaching Era - Parcells, Phillips or Garrett - the starters belong to, and it's not a pretty picture.

Andrew Brandt, Packers vice president from 1999-2008 and now a player agent and columnist for ESPN, recently remarked on how teams have their depth chart already largely set before camp:

Teams have most of their depth chart and final roster established well before camp opens. Sure, there will be a couple of tweaks, but absent of a sustained impressive performance through camp and a scout or coach standing on the table for a prospect, odds are minimal.

Sadly, many players have no chance of making the team no matter how well they perform, and that may be due more to the position they play than how they play it. When a team sets its final roster, it examines its scheme and determines its numbers for the final 53: five or six receivers, three or four running backs, etc. These numbers ultimately determine final roster spots as much as or more than performance.

With that in mind, I looked at who currently have earmarked as the 22 starters for the Cowboys. I don't necessarily agree with all of their choices, but I used their depth chart anyway and looked at which of the 22 projected starters were brought in by which coaching regime. The table below summarizes that exercise:

Offense Defense
Pos Coaching Era Player Year Pos Coaching Era Player Year
LWR Phillips Dez Bryant 10 LDE Parcells Marcus Spears 05
RWR Parcells Miles Austin 06 NT Parcells Jay Ratliff 05
LT Garrett Tyron Smith 11 RDE Parcells Jason Hatcher 06
LG Garrett Nate Livings 12 LOLB Phillips Anthony Spencer 07
C Phillips Phil Costa 10 LILB Garrett Bruce Carter 11
RG Garrett Mackenzy Bernadeau 12 RILB Phillips Sean Lee 10
RT Phillips Doug Free 07 ROLB Parcells DeMarcus Ware 05
TE Parcells Jason Witten 03 LCB Garrett Brandon Carr 12
QB Parcells Tony Romo 03 SS Garrett Brodney Pool 12
FB Garrett Lawrence Vickers 12 FS Phillips Gerald Sensabaugh 09
RB Garrett DeMarco Murray 11 RCB Garrett Morris Claiborne 12

The final tally: barring major injuries, seven players acquired during the Parcells era will be starters this year. Only six starters remain from the Wade Phillips coaching era. And Garrett can lay claim to the remaining nine starters.

And the problem here is not just that Phillips is trailing his predecessor, the issue is that there's a huge talent hole smack in the middle of the Cowboys' talent acquisition record: If you look at when the above starters joined the Cowboys, outside of free agent acquisition Gerald Sensabaugh, there are no starters on the roster from 2008 or 2009:

2012 Cowboys starters by acquisition year, 2005-2012
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
3 2 2 - - 1 3 3 6

As you look at the average over the other years in this table, there are about four starters missing from 2008 & 2009. It is no surprise that this is almost the same number as the five free agents brought in this year and penciled in as starters. In the end, the free agents brought in this year are a late cost of the Phillips era. And while it's easy to lay the blame squarely at Phillips' feet, that would not be very accurate. The entire Cowboys organization, from the scouting department through the coaches and the owner failed here.

And it's not like the Phillips-era Cowboys had fewer first-round picks than during the Parcells years. In fact, every one of the three coaches we're looking at here averaged one first-rounder for every draft he presided over:

- Parcells ('03-'06): 4 - Terence Newman, Marcus Spears, DeMarcus Ware, Bobby Carpenter
- Phillips ('07-'10): 4 - Anthony Spencer, Mike Jenkins, Felix Jones, Dez Bryant
- Garrett ('11-'12): 2 - Tyron Smith, Morris Claiborne

Parcells built a team that was able to contend for the playoffs, and the Phillips-era Cowboys rode that talent to playoff appearances in 2007 and 2009. But the '08 & '09 talent gap caught up with the team in 2010 and 2011. And keep in mind that what we've looked at here is only the talent level at the starter position - the situation would be even more dire had we traveled further down the depth chart.

All that talk the last couple of years about how talented the Cowboys were? Baloney.

That talent got this team to a 6-10 and 8-8 record. The Cowboys needed a talent transfusion to make up for the talent gap on the roster and to get this team anywhere. They brought in a lot of guys this season to fill that talent gap. Let's hope they turn out to be the "Right Kind Of Guys" to fix that gap.

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