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Cowboys' Offseason Plan: What We Learned At The Combine

During the Combine, we learned a lot about myriad draft prospects. But we also heard from members of the Cowboys organization. What do we take away if we synthesize all this information? Read on, loyal BTBers, read on...


Now that the NFL has wrapped up its annual Underwear Olympics, aka the Combine, all 32 teams' scouting types have rushed back home to digest all the information (and misinformation) they gleaned in Indianapolis. Yes, it's a bad idea to allow Combine results outweigh - or even seriously alter - the tape review that is the basis for establishing player grades. Nevertheless, a lot can be learned from watching guys run around in skin-tight Under Armour togs. For Cowboys fans, some players at positions of interest emerged, secured their draft status, or presented questions that must be answered.

Most importantly, members of the Cowboys' organizational triumvirate met seriously with the media for the first time in a long while. On Friday, aboard the Cowboys team new team megabus, Jerry Jones held court with Dallas area reporters, and said quite a few revealing things, several of which contradicted or complicated what we had heard from Jason Garrett and Stephen Jones in the last few weeks. What happens when we parse some of their quotes and mix them up with a heapin' spoonful of Combine test results? The latest edition of the "Offseason Plan" series, of course!

Priority one was, surprisingly, not to upgrade the talent at thin or weak positions, but to upgrade the coaching staff. Think about the various hires; other than Jimmy Robinson's replacement, Derek Dooley (and that happened because Robinson was exhausted moreso than a need for an upgrade), they upgraded the level of coaching across the board - especially the quality of teaching. As Garrett pointed out to assembled reporters, several of the new hires have head coaching experience, two at the NFL level. Consider: Bill Callahan, Monte Kiffin, Dooley and Rod Marinelli have all worn the head coaches' headset. There is a lot of strategic and organizational experience in this bunch.

In the salary-cap era, when the money teams can spend on players is roughly equal, one place where a franchise can gain a real advantage by spending a little extra green on coaching, where there is no cap. The Cowboys spent freely indeed (as Cowboys scribe Jeff Sullivan put it, this might well be the highest-paid coaching staff in history), but they now have the best coaching staff they've had since Bill Parcells roamed the sidelines with the likes of Sean Payton and Todd Haley. Also, I really like that they held on to some of the promising coaches already in the fold, especially emerging stars Matt Eberfluss and Jerome Henderson.

The team has a lot more comfort in its offensive line than we might imagine. Cowboys Nation uttered a collective groan when Jerry proclaimed "If there were a place theoretically that you had to have a weakness with Tony Romo at quarterback, [O-line] might be a place to have it." Because of the cap, Jerry intimated, "You just can't have it all." Therefore, he (and, apparently Romo?) would prefer to divert precious resources to the skill positions, specifically tight end and wide receiver.

I don't think this means that they will ignore offensive line entirely. I do think it means that there won't be an O-line overhaul. Rather, we're much more likely to see them upgrade one position, and they seemed to suggest that right guard, where Mackenzie Bernadeau is currently penciled in as the starter, might be the focal point. If they were to upgrade the position, pundits immediately assume, Bernie might move to center. Not so fast, Jerry counters; short-armed OC Phil Costa could "start for several years." If this proves to be the case, Bernadeau would provide valuable depth (he'd essentially fill the role Derrick Dockery had in 2012; tell me that isn't an upgrade). Whatever they decide, they'd better find some kind of upgrade, as...

Resigning Romo (probably for 4-5 years) is a top priority. Whatever you may think about Romo, the team loves him - and he's well thought of league-wide. If, as many fans want, Romo were to be released, there would be a frenzied war for his services, with as many as 25 teams participating. That's not gonna happen, however; Romo will almost certainly be the team's quarterback for the remainder of his career. The only real question is: when will this be made official. I've heard that a lot of teams were waiting for the Tom Brady deal to be finalized - and for the bar to be set - before re-signing and/ or restructuring their QB's deals. Now that that's out of the way, I'd expect the team and Romo to come to an agreement sometime soon. That's good, because...

We received conflicting stories about the Cowboys' cap situation. Although Jerry stressed that money was tight, Stephen Jones, the team's capological maestro, summarily dismissed charges that the Cowboys were in a dire cap situation, even suggesting that the team had a lot more cap room than pundits had been predicting.

As a result, we're not going to see wholesale cuts, as had been speculated; reporters had written that high-priced, under-performing veterans like Miles Austin or Jay Ratliff could be on the chopping block. But Jones made it clear that neither would simply be "cap casualties," saying "They're important to us." While the Cowboys have given linebacker Dan Connor an ultimatum to take a pay cut or be released and safety Gerald Sensabaugh could be a cap casualty (saving a cool three mil), and OT Doug Free could still be a June 1 cut, especially if a choice draftee falls into the Cowboys' laps, what we're mostly going to see a lot of restructured contracts. Indeed, in the last three days, a multitude of Cowboys, including Austin, inked new deals that helped to create $23 million in cap space.

Nevertheless, the organization is unlikely to make a splash in free agency. While confident about the state of the cap, Stephen Jones made it clear that they were going to be prudent, low-dollar shoppers on and after March 12. Indeed, I'd expect them to remain true to Garrett's offseason blueprint, using free agency to fill obvious roster holes so that they can go into the draft without glaring needs. Those holes, as I've written elsewhere, are at backup RB and TE as well as OLB and Safety. That said, they probably don't want to go hog-wild getting top-shelf free agents at all of these positions, as...

This draft's positions of strength match up well with the Cowboys needs. The Combine underscored the feeling among draftniks that this is a strong year for linemen, where Dallas' needs are most acute. The first round will be rich on offensive and defensive tackles, but there will be good candidates available on all three days. Moreover, the quality at other positions is located in spots where the Cowboys can take advantage. At running back, for example, there are precious few first-rounders, but the list of draftables swells in rounds three and four, where they'd be much more likely to take a back. Dallas needs a safety, but its hard to imagine them taking one in round one. Thankfully, there are a lot of terrific second- and third-day safeties to be had. And, after a thin year for tight ends in 2012, there is a slew of intriguing TEs on the draft board.

Furthermore, it appears that several excellent OLB candidates emerged in Indianapolis. As O.C.C. made clear in the final installment of his awesome Combine numbers series, there are a few second and third day OLBs who are athletic specimens. I'm particularly interested in Southern Missippi's Jamie Collins and UConn's Sio Moore, both of whom have the rare combination of size, speed and quickness to play the strongside in Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme. Most draftniks have them going in rounds 3-5, so I could see one of them coming aboard at the beginning of day three, and wold be ecstatic were that to happen. On the other hand...

We learned at the Combine that the 2013 NFL Draft's defensive end group is not nearly as deep or talented as we might have imagined going in. Largely, this was a case of public opinion catching up to that of real scouts, who were less likely to have the likes of Bjoern Werner of Damontre Moore graded as top-ten players. Still, if the Cowboys go into the draft hoping for a pass-rushing strongside 4-3 end, who might that guy be? There are names, but they all have questions attached to them - usually too many to consider them starting material out of the gate. This is problematic because...

Its not looking like the team will be able to retain Anthony Spencer. Stephen offered the first public statement, telling reporters that, as much as he loves number 93, he'll be too costly to retain. Jerry joined in later, but altered the tune only very slightly. He hinted that keeping Spencer in town could be tough, saying the contract figure he had in mind for Spencer "is much less than he is going to take," reminding reporters (and fans) that "We are going to have to pick our spots to spend this money." So, although there is a possible scenario in which Spence will wear the star in 2013, signing him to a deal at market prices would almost certainly mean they couldn't do anything else, and be forced to go into the draft with multiple roster holes.

I could see the team forgoing DE in free agency if they felt super confident they could find one early in the draft, but this is not the case. In the next week or so, therefore, it would behoove us to study the down-the-list free agent DEs.That's what I'll be doing this weekend, along with a few other things (cleaning out the basement is on the list). Have a great weekend, y'all; its March 1st, and you know what that means: free agency is just around the corner!