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Dallas Cowboys Roster: Is Three Years Of "Retooling" Enough?

The Cowboys have undergone some significant player personnel changes since Garrett took over as head coach. The question is, have they retooled enough?

Jim McIsaac

In yesterday's Dallas Cowboys press conference, both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett made a point about pointing out that only 17 players remain on the Cowboys' roster from the time Jason Garrett took over from Wade Phillips as interim coach in the middle of the 2010 season.

In fact, if you look at the starters in Garrett's first game as interim head coach, the 33-20 win over the Giants at the Meadowlands, only six of that day's 22 starters are still with the team: Jason Witten, Doug Free, Miles Austin, Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, and DeMarcus Ware.

Of course, Tony Romo is still on the team as well, along with a few other players, but Romo inactive with a broken clavicle, and other players were also either inactive or simply held backups roles at the time. Here's an overview of which players from mid-2010 are still with the team, and what role they played in Garrett's first game:

Backups Inactive
Quarterback Tony Romo
Running Back
Wide Receiver Miles Austin Dez Bryant
Tight End Jason Witten
Offensive Line Doug Free Phil Costa, Jermey Parnell
Defensive Tackle Jay Ratliff

Jason Hatcher, Sean Lissemore
OLB/DE DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer
Linebacker Sean Lee
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick
Safety Danny McCray, Barry Church
Specialist L.P. Ladouceur

There are some commentators that would have you believe the Cowboys are in a rebuilding mode. I always scoff at that notion, because if you were to look closely at what is happening with the roster, or if you actually knew what you were talking about, you'd recognize that the roster renewal is intrinsic to the way the NFL operates.

Garrett describes the process of getting younger over the last two seasons as "retooling":

"The great challenge in the National Football League is, as you are kind of retooling and trying to build something, you have to be competitive."

"I think we’ve done a good job as an organization getting younger. We had to get younger. Sometimes, as an organization, you get to the point where you feel like you are close and you make some individual decisions that you think can help you get over the top. We had done that, and we had gotten close. But then, we had to bring it all back down."

What's interesting in this look back at the 2010 roster, perhaps even more than looking at the absolute numbers of returning players, is to look at where the "retooling" has been heaviest:

The Cowboys gutted their entire starting secondary and linebacker units, as well as the running backs. Similarly, the O-line has seen a wholesale makeover, with Doug Free the only starter left from 2010.

Looking over the names in the table above, with a few exceptions this is the veteran core of the team. Garrett references that core of players when he talks about having two tiers of players on the team:

"If you think about the core group of players we have – Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, some of these veteran players who have been around here for a while and have been really good players for us – and then you add this younger tier of players, a Tyron Smith, a Bruce Carter, a Mo Claiborne, a Brandon Carr, Sean Lee. You add that to the mix, you feel like there’s a good combination where we are with our roster right now."

With the benefit of a succession of good drafts, the Cowboys have indeed built a very promising "younger tier" of players. And while "retooling" is probably a constant process, at some point that type of retooling has to pay off. After all, the Cowboys have now had three successive non-winning season, the first such stretch since going 5-11 for three consecutive years from 2000-2002.

So what do you think: Is three years of "retooling" enough? Will we finally see some results this year, or do we need to wait another year?

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