Dallas Cowboys: Victor Butler

Cowboys need more Bradie James picks

May, 7, 2014
May 7
10:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- In talking about Bradie James on Tuesday, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones could not help but think of the draft.

It wasn’t just that the draft is coming up Thursday. It was something James signified in turning into a starter from 2005-11 with the Cowboys, a captain and the leading tackler for a six-year run.

“When I think about the fourth-round value of what Bradie brought us, that’s where you’re trying to go,” Jones said.

James was the 103rd pick of the 2003 draft. When the Cowboys moved to the 3-4 scheme in 2005, he became a better fit for the defense. He was a sure tackler, dependable player and good leader. He was solid in a lot of ways.

Since James, the Cowboys have not been so fortunate with their fourth-round selections.

In 2005 they drafted Marion Barber (109 overall) and Chris Canty (132 overall). In 2007 they drafted Doug Free (122 overall). Barber earned a Pro Bowl spot and was a tough runner. Canty was a solid player for four years before leaving in free agency. Free is the Cowboys' starting right tackle.

Since selecting Free in the fourth round, however, the Cowboys have not found an every-day starter. Running back Tashard Choice (122 overall, 2008) started four games in parts of four seasons. Quarterback Stephen McGee (101 overall, 2009) and Victor Butler (110 overall, 2009) combined to start three games. Brandon Williams (120 overall, 2009) never made an impact in part because of a knee injury.

The Cowboys never figured out of Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (126 overall, 2010) was a cornerback, safety or wide receiver in his two seasons with the team. David Arkin (110 overall, 2011) never started a game.

In 2012, the Cowboys picked Kyle Wilber (113 overall) and Matt Johnson in the fourth round. Wilber became a starter out of necessity last year but at outside linebacker after playing defensive end in the 4-3. Johnson has yet to play in a game because of an injury.

Last year the Cowboys took cornerback B.W. Webb (114 overall) and he did little to inspire the stopping of what has become a trend.

Successful drafts are determined by the quality of depth a team forms in the later rounds. In 2003, the Cowboys found James and he went on to become the franchise’s sixth all-time leading tackler. Free has been a starter since 2009.

The Cowboys need more of those guys this week in order to have a successful draft in 2014 and less of the Arkins, Butlers and McGees.

Reviewing the Cowboys’ drafts: 2009

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
9:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The NFL draft is about a month away and we'll begin digging more into the Dallas Cowboys' interests in 2014 going forward, but let's review the past five drafts.

The 2009 draft was one of the worst in team history. With 12 picks, the Cowboys should have been able to capitalize on the number of selections to a roster that was considered deep at the time even if they did not have a first-round pick because of the Roy Williams' trade with the Detroit Lions.

They didn't.

The Cowboys did not have a player they re-signed after their rookie contract expired. The draft quickly earned the "special teams draft" nickname, which should never happen. And they did not get much special teams' help from the picks either.

First-round pick: None

Number of picks: 12

How they did: Terribly. Six of the picks did not make the 53-man roster, which might have been a sign of the depth the Cowboys had then, but those players did not go on to make any significant contributions to another club either. It was not a good sign in training camp when the kicker they drafted in the fifth round, David Buehler, beat the safety they drafted in the same round, DeAngelo Smith, in a 40-yard dash in training camp.

Pivotal pick: Their first pick, Jason Williams (No. 69 overall), could never find a role. He played a hybrid role at Western Illinois and his athleticism made up for the lack of football wisdom at that level. He could not make the transition to inside linebacker in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme. He even had trouble with the special teams' part of the game. The lasting image is of linebackers coach Reggie Herring coaching Williams for every second of every play in training camp and it never really sticking.

Butler
Best pick: Linebacker Victor Butler (No. 110 overall) was picked in the fourth round as a situational pass-rusher. He contributed 11 sacks in four seasons before signing as a free agent last year with the New Orleans Saints. He could not win a full-time role playing behind Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware, but when he did get some snaps in the base defense he struggled against the run. That he is the best pick shows you how poor this draft turned out for the Cowboys.

Worst pick: Robert Brewster (No. 75 overall). The Cowboys gave up their second rounder to the Buffalo Bills and got the Bills' third- and fourth-round picks in return. Brewster tore a pectoral muscle working out in the offseason and missed his rookie year. He dressed for one game in 2010. He was a project when he was picked, in part because of his conditioning. The Bills used the second-round pick on guard Andy Levitre with the 51st pick. Had the Cowboys chose Levitre, they would not have had to spend money in free agency on Nate Livings.

Compensatory picks could mean a lot

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
10:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- As easy as it has been to rail on the Dallas Cowboys' drafting over the years, the one area where the Cowboys have consistently excelled is in finding undrafted free agents.

That is why this week’s news that the Cowboys received three seventh-round compensatory picks should not be overlooked.

With the free-agent losses of Mike Jenkins, Victor Butler, Kenyon Coleman and John Phillips, the Cowboys gained picks Nos. 248, 251 and 254 in the seventh round. Those picks cannot be traded, so in effect the Cowboys can guarantee landing their top targets in college free agency.

Last year, the Cowboys targeted Brandon Magee and Jakar Hamilton as undrafted free agents. Magee was guaranteed $70,000. Hamilton received a $10,000 signing bonus. Magee didn’t make the final roster, but Hamilton spent time on the active roster after opening on the practice squad.

The Cowboys also had Jeff Heath and Cameron Lawrence contribute as undrafted free agents. In 2012, they signed Ronald Leary and Cole Beasley. Leary started at left guard, and Beasley has developed into a valuable slot player. In 2011, they signed Dan Bailey and they signed him to a seven-year, $22.5 million extension this offseason. In 2010 they signed safeties Barry Church and Danny McCray. Church led the Cowboys in tackles last season.

Oh, by the way, Tony Romo was an undrafted free agent in 2003.

Former Cowboys still playing this weekend

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
10:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys did not make the playoffs, but they could have as many as 11 former players taking part in the postseason this weekend.

Kansas City Chiefs

Anthony Fasano caught 23 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns in nine games for the Chiefs. He was the first of three second-round picks the Cowboys have used on tight ends since 2006. The lack of creativity at times with “12 personnel” has hurt him, Martellus Bennett and Gavin Escobar.

Indianapolis Colts

Running back Tashard Choice had 11 carries for 44 yards in three games for the Colts after he was cut by the Buffalo Bills. He had some moments with the Cowboys but could not get in the running back rotation with Marion Barber and/or Felix Jones.

Defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton was signed in June and released by the Cowboys on Aug. 26.

Erik Walden was a sixth-round pick in 2008, just like Choice, but he never showed the pass-rush ability the Cowboys hoped for. He won a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers and has 45 tackles and three sacks in 15 games for the Colts.

New Orleans Saints

Shayne Graham was with the Cowboys in training camp in 2011 when they had five kickers on the roster at one point. At one point it looked like the job was his, but the Cowboys went with undrafted rookie Dan Bailey, who has been one of their best players the past three seasons. Graham was a late-season addition to the Saints' roster.

Kenyon Coleman is on injured reserve and Victor Butler is on the reserve/physically unable to perform list.

Philadelphia Eagles

If there was a player to make the all-airport team it would be Clifton Geathers. He had the look of the prototype defensive end in a 3-4 but he just didn’t make enough plays. He had 26 tackles in 16 games for the Eagles this season with one in last week’s win against the Cowboys.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cornerback Adam Jones had an eventful one season with the Cowboys in 2008. He has found a home in Cincinnati. He has 56 tackles and three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, in 16 games.

Terence Newman had a second straight solid season with the Bengals but missed the final three games with a knee injury. He should play Saturday against the San Diego Chargers. In 13 games he had 52 tackles, two interceptions and 14 pass deflections.

Who is Kevin Brock? A tight end. He did a short stint in training camp with the Cowboys in 2010.

Dennis Roland was an undrafted offensive tackle with the Cowboys in 2006. He has had a decent career, mostly with the Bengals and is a backup now.

San Diego Chargers

The Cowboys traded Sean Lissemore to the Chargers on Sept. 1 for a seventh-round pick in 2015. Given the injuries they had on the line, they would have been better served to keep Lissemore, who might not have been the best fit in a 4-3. In 15 games (two starts), Lissemore had 24 tackles and two sacks for the Chargers.

Tight end John Phillips was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. He had four catches in 15 games.

The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers do not have any former Cowboys on their rosters.
Since Victor Butler agreed to a two-year deal with the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, it means the end of the Dallas Cowboys' 2009 draft class.

PODCAST
Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss what the Cowboys are getting with Justin Durant and Will Allen, the state of the possible contract extensions for Tony Romo and Anthony Spencer and the team's draft strategy.

Listen Listen
The Cowboys drafted 12 players in 2009 in what was billed as a special-teams draft. What it became was one of the worst drafts in the last 10 years.

No starters were developed from the class and only six made the 53-man roster. Things started off on the wrong foot when the Cowboys began the draft without a first-round pick, handed to the Detroit Lions as part of the Roy Williams deal. The Cowboys traded their second-round choice to Buffalo for third- and fourth-round picks.

What did the Bills do with the pick?

Center Andy Levitre was selected at No. 53.

A review of the 2009 class:

Jason Williams. He was a third-round pick, 69th overall from Western Illinois. He did make the team but had little impact. Williams was supposed to be an outside linebacker with pass-rushing ability. He struggled to learn Wade Phillips' defense and didn't earn a single start. He played a career-high 14 games with the Carolina Panthers in 2011.

Robert Brewster. The tackle was a third-round pick (75th overall) from Ball State. Let's just say Brewster's body wasn't in shape from the moment he arrived at Valley Ranch. He was on the practice squad and that's about it. He never developed the strength necessary to be counted on to play in the NFL.

Stephen McGee. He was a backup who didn't develop. McGee struggled to convert from a quarterback who played out of the shotgun to someone who needed to take snaps under center. The fourth-round pick from Texas A&M stayed way too long before getting released last summer.

Victor Butler. The Cowboys had hopes their fourth-round pick (110th overall) would contribute on special teams and provide solid pass-rush skills. Butler was inconsistent with the Cowboys, and after visiting at least four NFL teams this offseason, he found a home with the Saints. Butler has potential but needs to solve the inconsistency problems.

Brandon Williams. The linebacker from Texas Tech was another fourth-round pick. The Fort Worth native played six games in 2010 and that was it. He didn't show much ability. He did battle some injuries but was inconsistent when healthy.

DeAngelo Smith. Smith was a fifth-round pick who didn't make the 53-man roster. The Cowboys thought he could be a solid cover guy, but he just didn't provide the club with enough confidence to make the team, let alone sustain a long-term career. Smith's claim to fame was getting beat by David Buehler in the 40 during training camp.

Michael Hamlin. The safety from Clemson was a fifth-round choice who did make the team but had little impact. He didn't contribute much on special teams. He played in four games with Jacksonville in 2010 and is out of the league.

David Buehler. The kicker from USC displayed a strong leg on kickoffs, but a groin injury in 2011 ended his time with the Cowboys. A fifth-round pick, Buehler converted 75 percent of his field goals, including a career-long 53-yarder. Consistency was an issue, and he didn't kick for anybody last season as he recovered from surgery on his groin. He signed with the New York Giants and could make the roster.

Stephen Hodge. The linebacker/safety from TCU just couldn't recover from his knee injuries. Hodge was projected as a special-teams ace, but his health prevented him from becoming one. This sixth-round pick just didn't work out.

John Phillips. The sixth-round tight end played well at times. He wasn't better than Martellus Bennett, a second-round pick from 2008. Phillips tore his ACL in the 2010 preseason opener and it slowed his progress. He was surpassed by James Hanna, a sixth-round pick in 2012, late last season. Phillips signed a free-agent deal with San Diego.

Mike Mickens. He was a seventh-round selection who is out of the league and didn't play any NFL games.

Manuel Johnson. Johnson was an East Texas favorite who made some plays in the preseason but never did enough to make the 53-man roster.

Victor Butler drawing interest

March, 21, 2013
3/21/13
12:21
PM ET
PODCAST
Former NFL wide receiver Tim Brown joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to talk about the elimination of the tuck rule and his thoughts on the Cowboys.

Listen Listen
Cowboys free agent linebacker Victor Butler is drawing interest from several teams.

There are reports that he is visiting the New Orleans Saints on Thursday. Butler has also visited the Pittsburgh Steelers and has the New York Jets interested in his services.

Butler was a backup for the Cowboys, but former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan loved the impact he made on the field. The problem with Butler was consistency, or lack thereof.

A look at the Cowboys' coaches stats from the 2012 season reveals Butler did make plays. He was fourth on the team in sacks (three), had seven quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and one forced fumble.

Butler is one of those players who could excel with a new team in the 3-4 scheme, which is what the Saints are moving toward with Ryan as their defensive coordinator.
The first day of free agency is over and things will probably slow down a little on Day 2. With that, we review what we heard, saw and talked about Tuesday night and preview what could happen down the line.

PODCAST
Randy Galloway and Matt Mosley discuss the latest free-agency moves going on around the NFL.

Listen Listen
The loss of John Phillips: The Cowboys lost their backup tight end to the San Diego Chargers on Tuesday. Phillips was part of that dreadful 2009 class that produced very little for the Cowboys. Only free agent linebacker Victor Butler remains, and he's drawn interest from the New York Jets. Losing Phillips isn't a big deal because James Hanna has more upside as a solid pass-catching tight end. The Cowboys are in need of a blocking tight end, and this is where drafting someone in the late rounds could be important.

Chase Blackburn vs. Kevin Burnett: The Cowboys released backup inside linebacker Dan Connor because he refused to take a pay cut. The Cowboys are in the market for another one and like middle linebacker Blackburn, who started 15 games last season for the New York Giants at middle linebacker. He finished second on the Giants with 97 tackles and had eight tackles for loss and seven quarterback hits. He also had three sacks and six pass breakups. If signed, Blackburn, an eight-year pro, would be a nice backup for Sean Lee at the inside linebacker spot. But what about Burnett? The former Cowboys linebacker was released by the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday and might be a nice pickup to start at that vacant outside linebacker position. Burnett, who started 16 games for the Dolphins last season at one of the outside linebacker positions in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme, would like a return to Dallas. He was credited with 109 total tackles (second on the team), picked up 2 1/2 sacks, five tackles for loss and five quarterback hits. Who would you rather have, Blackburn or Burnett?

Martellus Bennett goes to Chicago: The tight end signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Chicago Bears. He's come a long way since his days in Dallas, when he fumed at times for not getting enough passes thrown his way. Bennett had an excellent season for the Giants and, while they wanted him to return, the Bears had a need at the position. One of the biggest problems with Bennett in Dallas was his lack of maturity and the Cowboys' inability to know how to use him. Bennett's career is summed up this way in Dallas: He caught four touchdown passes his rookie season (2008) and none the next three seasons. He caught five TD passes during his one year with the Giants. He's a good blocking tight end, something the Cowboys need, and he's athletic enough to make plays on the field. We'll see how Bennett does with Jay Cutler.

Jenkins and Jones drawing interest: Free agent cornerback Mike Jenkins and running back Felix Jones didn't have any visits the first day of free agency. But with the biggest day of this period over with, both are starting to draw interest. The former first-round picks, especially Jones, need to prove to NFL teams that they can stay healthy for an entire season and are willing to accept backup roles. It will be interesting to see if Jenkins, a former Pro Bowler, gets a two- or three-year contract to become a starter or maybe gets his role changed to possibly get snaps at safety, where he played some in 2012.

The good news: The Cowboys couldn't participate Tuesday because they have just $175,000 in cap space. Anthony Spencer signed his franchise tender, and the team can continue having talks with their defensive end about a long-term deal. Also, if the team can finalize a new long-term deal with Tony Romo, it'll lower his salary cap number from $16.8 million and open the door for the Cowboys to sign some second-tier free agents.
John Phillips’ departure to San Diego isn’t a major loss for the Cowboys.

James Hanna, a sixth-round pick last season, offers more potential as the Cowboys’ No. 2 tight end. Hanna has elite speed for the position, making him an intriguing complement to Jason Witten.

PODCAST
Todd Archer joins Galloway & Company to discuss the Cowboys' latest moves, if the team should extend Tony Romo's contract and much more.

Listen Listen
The role of Phillips, whom ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports agreed to a three-year deal with the Chargers, likely would have been significantly reduced if he had returned to Valley Ranch. The Cowboys could use a good blocking tight end, but Phillips was only adequate in that department anyway.

Perhaps the most significant thing about Phillips’ departure: The Cowboys now have absolutely nothing to show for the 2009 draft. A dozen picks, not one remaining on the Cowboys’ roster, barring a change of heart regarding their lack of interest in keeping unrestricted free agent Victor Butler.

The Cowboys’ biggest mistake in that draft arguably occurred before the trade deadline the previous season, when they shipped their first-, third- and sixth-round picks to Detroit for perennially underachieving receiver Roy Williams and a seventh-rounder. Williams set the unofficial Cowboys record for the highest dollars-to-impact ratio before being released two and a half seasons later.

The Cowboys ended up trading out of the second round as well after the Seahawks swooped in a couple of picks ahead of them to take their target, center/guard Max Unger. The Cowboys picked up third- and fourth-rounders from the Bills, who used the No. 51 overall to take guard Andy Levitre, who agreed to a five-year, $39 million deal with the Tennessee Titans today after starting every game the last four seasons for Buffalo.

The top-rated player on the Cowboys’ board at the time, by far: running back LeSean McCoy. Dallas had a first-round grade on McCoy, but they were all set at running back with the trio of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.

The Cowboys instead turned that pick into offensive lineman Robert Brewster and Butler. Brewster, like most of the Cowboys’ draft class that year, is out of the league and didn’t do anything to help the Cowboys. At least Butler hung around for four years, contributing as a reserve outside linebacker.

Phillips and Butler, a couple of decent backups, were the success stories from the draft. With them leaving in free agency, it’d be nice just to forget about that draft, but the lack of depth on the Cowboys’ roster is a constant reminder of the Dreadful Dozen.

Jets interested in Victor Butler

March, 10, 2013
3/10/13
7:36
PM ET
A report in the New York Daily News says the New York Jets are interested in Cowboys free-agent linebacker Victor Butler.

PODCAST
Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss Tony Romo's potential contract extension, the Cowboys' plans for Anthony Spencer and how Joe Flacco's final month of the season impacted the Cowboys' offseason.

Listen Listen
A source said the Cowboys have no interest in Butler's return at this time. Of course, things change in the NFL, and the Cowboys are trying to find fresh faces at the linebacker spots.

Butler is credited by the Cowboys coaches with 23 tackles, but he also had three sacks, one tackle for loss, seven quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and one forced fumble.

Those aren't bad stats for a backup player. However, Butler's inconsistent play was the reason why he finished seven different games without a tackle.

If Butler does return to the Cowboys, and it appears doubtful he will at this point, he might play defensive end or maybe outside linebacker. However, it seems Butler is better suited to play in a 3-4 defense.

2009 draft hurt Cowboys in 2012

February, 18, 2013
2/18/13
2:00
PM ET
Former Dallas Cowboys scout Bryan Broaddus, who is now working for the team's website as an analyst, made a great point the other day on KRLD-FM about how the Cowboys screwed up a trade from the 2009 draft.

If you don't remember, the Cowboys traded their second-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for a third and fourth rounder. So that's the 51st overall selection gone.

The Cowboys made the move when guard Max Unger was taken 49th overall by the Seattle Seahawks. According to Broaddus, the Cowboys had a first-round grade on Unger and wanted to get him. When Unger was off the board, the Cowboys made the trade. However, the team had a first-round grade on running back LeSean McCoy, according to Broaddus. McCoy went to Philadelphia at the 53rd overall pick. So who did the Bills select at 51? Guard Andy Levitre.

Bypassing McCoy wasn't the end of the world because at that time the Cowboys had Marion Barber and Felix Jones as their main running backs, but leaving talented players such as Levitre, tackle Phil Loadholt, defensive end Paul Kruger and tackle Will Beatty on the board hurt. Flozell Adams was past his prime and upgrading the tackle position should have been a priority if the team lost out on Unger. McCoy is an outstanding player and he would have made an impact as well by challenging Jones and Barber at running back.

So when the Cowboys finally drafted in 2009, they selected Western Illinois' linebacker Jason Williams who never made an impact. So, what did the Cowboys do with the two picks from the Bills? Tackle Robert Brewster (75th overall) and Victor Butler (110 overall) were drafted. Brewster never played and Butler was inconsistent during his time with the Cowboys and is now a unrestricted free agent.

When the Cowboys dealt with health issues at linebacker and defensive back in 2012, the backups were street free agents instead of draft picks who could have produced.

The Cowboys selected four linebackers in 2009, including TCU's Stephen Hodge, who was coming off major knee surgery and never played a game. There were three defensive backs selected as well and only safety Michael Hamlin made the team after he was drafted.

But the core special teams players from that 2009 draft didn't make an impact and weren't around to play a reserve role on defense.

The Cowboys improved from that terrible draft class with solid picks in 2010 (Dez Bryant, Sean Lee), 2011 (Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter, DeMarco Murray and Dwayne Harris) and 2012 (Morris Claiborne, James Hanna and Tyrone Crawford).

When it's time for the Cowboys to pick up the phone and call New York with their draft selection, they can't mess up like they did in 2009 because that draft haunted them in 2012.

Cowboys searching for strongside linebacker

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
11:30
AM ET
Monday was the first day that the entire Cowboys coaching staff had a chance to discuss who plays where, who stays and who goes.

DeMarcus Ware, Brandon Carr, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne and Gerald Sensabaugh have spot secured. But there are still plenty of vacancies.

A big hole to fill is one of the outside linebacker spots in the new 4-3 defense. There are issues along the defensive line too, but the Cowboys have the personnel to fill some of those spots.

The strongside linebacker might not be on the roster right now.

Here are some candidates:

* Alex Albright. He played two linebacker spots in the 3-4 defense last season. Is Albright (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) big and strong enough to take on guards that outweigh him by 40 pounds? He looked overmatched at times during the 2012 season, but he has a bright future.

* Victor Butler. Butler is more of a weakside linebacker and probably doesn't get enough credit for his pass-rushing ability, outside of Valley Ranch. He might need to add more weight (he's 245 pounds) to take the pounding that comes with playing the position. Butler is an unrestricted free agent.

* Kyle Wilber. At some point you need to play your draft picks. Last year's fourth-round pick had an uneven 2012 season. There has been discussion about moving Wilber to defensive end to backup Ware. But Wilber seems to be the in-house leader, at least in February, to take over at strongside linebacker.

Of course, all three of these players might not be paired with Lee and Carter come September and the Cowboys might venture into free agency for a player. Given the money the team wants to spend on Tony Romo and possibly Anthony Spencer, it could be difficult.

Cowboys free agents: Victor Butler

January, 28, 2013
1/28/13
9:45
AM ET
Victor Butler
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesLinebacker Victor Butler shows signs of being a good player, finishing with three sacks, three pass breakups and 21 tackles. But he was also plagued by inconsistency.

Victor Butler


Type: Unrestricted.

Summary: Butler finished with 21 solo tackles, three sacks and three pass breakups in the 2012 season. He played a backup role at outside linebacker and displayed an ability to make plays.

Why keep: There were eight Cowboys' players with at least one sack in 2012 and Butler was one of them. He had three sacks on the year and showed the defensive coaches he's good at rushing the passer. He's athletic enough to handle swift quarterbacks who try to run off the edge such as Robert Griffin III. Butler made plays on the ball as evident by forcing three fumbles during the season.

Why let go: He was so inconsistent. Yes, it's hard to play behind Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware, but with the Cowboys moving to a 4-3 defense, Butler isn't big enough to play defensive end, but might have a chance to play strong side linebacker in a backup role. Butler's inconsistencies give you pause to bringing him back for 2013.

Best guess: It might be time to let Butler find somewhere else to play. He's made some nice plays as an outside linebacker but is too inconsistent. As far as depth goes, the Cowboys have struggled with that over the years with some poor drafts in the middle to late rounds. Butler shows signs of being a good player, but then again he disappears at times. It's time to let him test the market.

Depth one of biggest problems

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
10:05
AM ET
When you hear what Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones has said since the season ended there seems to be a missing link here: Depth.

PODCAST
ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's Ian Fitzsimmons talks about the firing of Rob Ryan in Dallas, says Ryan didn't deserve to take the fall, discusses the possibility that Jason Garrett might not be the Cowboys' coach next season and talks about who would replace Garrett if he were to leave.

Listen Listen
Jones talked about how injuries shouldn't be used as an excuse for why the Cowboys defense struggled at times in the 2012 season. While that's an accurate statement, it's also misleading.

You're only as good as your depth.

In the 2012 season, the Cowboys signed 17 players as free agents either as injury replacements such as Charlie Peprah, Eric Frmapton and Brian Moorman, or re-signed players who had been in training camp like Ben Bass.

But the draft is a pivotal way to build depth in case starters get hurt.

The Cowboys had 11 drafted players as backups in the 2012 season including two former first round picks in Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins.

As the season progressed, Josh Brent (a 2010 seventh round supplemental pick) and Sean Lissemore (2010 seventh rounder) earned starting gigs. Eventually Brent was lost for the season after his arrest and Lissemore missed six games with an ankle injury. With those players out, the Cowboys turned to players like Bass (undrafted free agent), Tyrone Crawford (2012 third round pick) and Brian Schaefering (undrafted free agent) to fill-in along the defensive line.

Inconsistency among many of the backups hurt the Cowboys more than anything else.

The Cowboys needed more plays out of Victor Butler, a fourth-round pick in 2009 and John Phillips, a sixth rounder in the same year. Jones, the franchise's first pick in 2008, battled injuries and was below average as a running back.

There were some good things from some backups.

Dwayne Harris, a sixth-round pick in 2011, emerged as a solid returner and made some plays in the passing game to earn a look as the No. 3 receiver in 2013. The Cowboys extended Lissemore's contract to 2016, Crawford and rookie draft picks Kyle Wilber and James Hanna have a future.

And while Jones talks about not using injuries as an excuse, we agree with him there, he needs to make sure he has better players to choose from when it's time to use his reserves.

A look at the Cowboys' free agents

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
9:30
AM ET

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Cowboys will have 18 free agents, but the biggest decision will be with outside linebacker Anthony Spencer.

The Cowboys could place the franchise tag on him for a second straight year, but that will cost them $10.6 million. Spencer has played so well in 2012 that another team could be willing to overpay him to pry him away from Dallas.

The Cowboys are not in the best of salary-cap positions and will likely have to restructure a number of contracts and cut players just to reach the expected $121 million cap.

Here’s a look at the free agents to be:

Kyle Wilber active in place of Phillip Tanner

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
6:11
PM ET
LANDOVER, Md. – The Cowboys de-activated running back Phillip Tanner in favor of linebacker Kyle Wilber for Sunday’s season finale against Washington.

Tanner was active last week vs. New Orleans in favor of Wilber, but with injuries to DeMarcus Ware (elbow, shoulder) and Victor Butler (groin), the Cowboys went with the extra outside linebacker.

Offensive linemen Ronald Leary, Darrion Weems, Kevin Kowalski and David Arkin are also inactive along with defensive lineman Robert Callaway and nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who is recovering from sports hernia surgery.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider