- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- Not necessarily by popular demand, but Five Wonders is back and we'll look at a number of issues the Dallas Cowboys face in the offseason.
On to the Wonders:
I wonder how different the Cowboys' offense will look in 2014 with the addition of Scott Linehan. He will call the plays, but they will be Jason Garrett's plays in the pass game and Bill Callahan's plays in the run game. If there is a change, I wonder if it will be in the deep passing game. He was unafraid to take shots down the field. That's easy to do when you have a receiver like Calvin Johnson and a quarterback with an arm like Matthew Stafford. The Cowboys did not force the issue down the field with the 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos as the only real exception. Tony Romo averaged a career low 7.2 yards per attempt in 2013. As an offensive line coach, was Callahan protecting his guys from having to hold the fort a little longer by not calling the deep ball as much? Was Romo protecting himself in some ways because he has taken a beating in recent years with an offensive line that had too many holes? Maybe it's partly both. Linehan will have to boost the confidence in the deep passing game to make a real difference.
I wonder if the Cowboys look at extending Doug Free's contract. He is set to make $3.5 million in 2014 and the final two years of his deal voids after the season. Free, who had a bounce back season in 2013, will count $6.520 million against the cap and if the Cowboys choose to extend Free, they would gain cap space as well as have one of their tackles in place for 2015 and beyond. The Cowboys will have to make it worth Free's while after they cut his pay in half the last two seasons. He will be under no obligation to get do something “team friendly,” but he is not in a hurry to leave. He just turned 30 last month and is entering his eighth season. His backup, Jermey Parnell, is about to enter the final year of his deal. He was supposed to press Free in training camp last summer, but he never did in part because Free never really allowed it.
As you look at what the Cowboys might do in the May draft, I wonder if just how much you should keep an eye on wide receiver. I would almost guarantee Miles Austin will not be back with a $5.5 million base salary in 2014. With Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams the Cowboys would have to feel good about their top two receivers. I wonder if they would look at a receiver in the third round, like they did last year in taking Williams. Or I wonder if they will look for a veteran that is not looking to break the bank. Somebody like New Orleans' Robert Meachem comes to mind. If the Cowboys lost Bryant or Williams to injury, then they would need to have receiver ready to be a No. 2 receiver, like how Laurent Robinson filled in a few years ago.
Last year was the year of the hamstring injury for the Cowboys. Austin, Justin Durant, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne, Gavin Escobar, Dwayne Harris, Danny McCray, Ernie Sims, J.J. Wilcox and Williams were among those troubled by varying hamstring injuries last year. Jason Garrett said the Cowboys continually looked at the reasons why. They studied how much they stretched, what they ate, what they drank. The Cowboys had players wearing GPS-like monitors in practice to gain different measurements. I wonder if the Cowboys practiced too long as the year went on. Garrett liked to say you don't want to leave it all on the practice field during the week, but could they have been in a position where they practiced so much in the week they were gassed for the game?
Sometimes patience is required when it comes to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I wonder if that will serve Charles Haley well. Haley was once again left off the final ballots of the voters, but that doesn't mean he will not get in. Not to go all Garrett on you, but it is a process. In the last two years we've seen the receiver logjam break with Cris Carter and Andre Reed getting selected. That could be good news for Tim Brown in 2015. Haley has seen defensive linemen Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan get selected the last two years. Maybe next year is his turn and if it is, then nobody will remember all the years it took him to make it to Canton, Ohio, and his gold jacket will be the same as every other Hall of Famer. The voters have a difficult job. I'm not of the belief Haley's conduct toward the media has played a role in his lack of support so far. Sapp was hardly the friendliest player and he got in. It will happen for Haley, one day.