While the Dallas Cowboys are going to be doing everything they can to win as many remaining games as they can in hopes of a miracle, One Cool Customer is correct in pointing out that the last half of the season is of necessity going to involve some serious thinking about who is going to be part of the team past this season. He ran through several names in his article. I was also thinking along these lines, and want to go a little deeper into some specific players that the team has to make some hard decisions about.
Things are complicated. While some of the players would have little or no effect on the cap, others are possibly costly to move on from. And the last eight games can radically change the opinion the staff has of these players. But right now, here is a list of some of the most important names that might wind up no longer with the team next year.
Rolando McClain. He showed up considerably heavier this year, perhaps having dealt poorly with a bad case of the munchies. He has not looked much like the high-impact player he was in 2014, and clearly cost the team on several plays so far. Last offseason, there was some speculation that he was in trouble with the staff for several reasons, and it looks like that may have been true. Unless he recaptures some of that spark he brought to the field last season, he will likely be looking for a new job.
Greg Hardy. Jerry Jones infamously said that he hoped to sign Hardy to a long-term deal after this season. He is now the sack leader for the Cowboys, but otherwise he has not had nearly the impact on the field that the team and the fan base expected. He is exhibit one in the "close but no cigar" category of not quite getting to the passer. While the team has repeatedly said that the huge baggage he brings is not a factor, it is hard to imagine that is actually not something that enters into the equation. However, he also is one player who can completely change things if he starts to catch fire in the last half of the season. And if the rest of the rushmen start to come through, his role in drawing attention to himself will also have to be considered. He has a lot to gain, but the comments from the coaches and players of the Eagles about him shutting it down somewhat are disturbing, even given the source.
Doug Free. It looks more and more like he is the weak link on the offensive line, despite his veteran presence on the otherwise very young unit. He also represents a cap decision, and would bring a cap savings of $2.5 million, offset by $3 million in dead money (all cap figures here are from the Over the Cap site). The obvious problem with him, as with all others, is who would replace him? No one knows what the team has in the semi-mythical Chaz Green. And the needs during free agency and the draft look a lot more widespread than they did just three months ago.
Ronald Leary. His contract ends this year, and it looks like La'el Collins may have made him superfluous. Mackenzy Bernadeau still has the edge as a backup since he also can play center. With his experience, it seems likely he will leave in free agency to some team with a crying need at guard.
J.J. Wilcox. His issues can be summed up by the last play of the Eagles loss where he took a bad angle and was unable to close to make a tackle on the Eagles' winning touchdown. That happens all too often. However, good safeties are so hard to find. The team may have to hang on to him just as insurance, but you can expect them to be looking hard in both free agency and the draft for a possibly replacement. Byron Jones may also become a full-time safety to take the starting job, but the team may feel Wilcox is better as a backup than whatever else is available. A tough call at a position that is so hard to fill. I almost put Barry Church in this list as well, but it is hard to see the team getting rid of both the starting safeties from the beginning of this year.
Sean Lee. The most painful name on this list, in more ways than one. Lee is often brilliant on the field, but his body just is not able to handle the violence of the game. Now he is recovering from his second concussion of the season, and that may be significant. He will cost the team both on the field and financially if he is not able to go next year, but it may be time for him and the team to really consider if his health needs to come first. And as much as it hurts to say it, the team also has to consider just how much it can rely on him. Waiving him would be a highly controversial move, and he would probably go somewhere else and have the best year of his career. It is hard to know what is the right thing to do about him, but it is a harsh business.
Those are some big names. All are or have been starters this year, and could leave some huge holes for the team to fill. But drastic times call for drastic measures, and times don't get more drastic than what the Cowboys face now. Things that seemed unthinkable in August now have to be looked at dispassionately. One name that is not listed here is Brandon Weeden, but that is because that decision is likely to be made when Tony Romo returns from IR. With the news Kellen Moore has been waived with the intention to sign him to the practice squad if he clears, it look like the Cowboys will go with only two quarterbacks. Matt Cassel looks to be a much more capable backup, and will likely get a new deal to provide the veteran backup Jason Garrett wants.
But you don't have to put your passion on a shelf. None of these are done deals by any means. Let us know what you think - politely and in accordance with our site standards, of course.