- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.
This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players who will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys' season.
Best-case: The reunion works
When Melton had Rod Marinelli as his defensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears, he was in Pro Bowl form. The Cowboys are banking on it happening, literally. They signed Melton to a one-year deal with a three-year option as a free agent. If Melton performs the way he did in his final two years -- 13 sacks in a two-year run as a starter -- then the Cowboys will gladly pick up the option, which would guarantee Melton $9 million in 2015. Melton is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and went through individual drills in the offseason program as he continued his rehab. The Cowboys know how important he is to their defensive line. He has the best resume but played in only three games last year before getting hurt and did not have a sack. He could draw the double teams that would free up other pass rushers. Marinelli has a way of speaking a defensive lineman's language. He makes sure they are relentless and attack up the field. Marinelli helped make Jason Hatcher a Pro Bowl player last year. He never had more than 4.5 sacks in a season but put up 11 in 2012 under Marinelli. Similar production from Melton would go a long way in helping a defense with low expectations.
Worst-case: He needs more time
Adrian Peterson ruined it for everybody coming back from a torn ACL by being otherworldly in 2012 when he ran for 2,097 yards. He raised the expectations that everybody can come back that fast and that well. Robert Griffin III offered up the other side of the recovery. He was OK last year but not as dynamic as he was a rookie. The general thought is that a player is better the second year after the torn ACL. Players have to make physical and mental recoveries from the injury. Sometimes the mental recovery can be erased quickly with the first few hits. Other times, it takes a while for instincts to return. For the Cowboys, that would not be good because Melton is looked at as one of the kingpins of a re-made defensive line. He cannot be a question up front if the Cowboys want to be better in 2014 than they were in 2013. The Cowboys don't need him to be Warren Sapp, but he can't be average either. For Melton, that would not be good because if he needs another year, he will not cash in on that $9 million guarantee and would be a free agent in 2015 coming off two potentially so-so seasons.