- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- The season has ended but 5 Wonders has not. Today we bring you the final weekly installment after an 8-8 season that should have us wondering more than just five things.
Hey, it’s a long offseason and we’ll get to all of them at some point.
But here goes:
** More than ever I believe teams have windows of opportunity and I wonder if the Cowboys missed theirs in 2007. It has not been as good as it was that year when they finished 13-3 and clinched homefield advantage in the NFC. They lost to the New York Giants, 21-17, and you can rehash all of the reasons why if you want. In 2008, the Cowboys showed up on Hard Knocks and too many players assumed they would just be crowned champs. In 2009, they showed backbone late in the year and won a playoff game. In 2010, Wade Phillips was fired after a 1-7 start. In 2011, they let a 7-4 record and first place in the NFC East slip away with an 8-8 finish. Their best players are getting older and the drafts of 2007-10 have contributed seven starting-type players and four other quality backups out of 32 selections.
**I wonder how Jason Garrett approaches some hard decisions that could be made on his coaching staff. He was able to do it with players once the lockout ended when he decided to part ways with Leonard Davis, Marc Colombo, Marion Barber and Roy Williams. He did it before the season started when he wanted to move on from Andre Gurode. He would not get into the future look of his staff on Monday, but some changes have to be made. He has known Dave Campo and Hudson Houck for nearly 20 years and they share Super Bowl memories. Last year, Garrett tried to woo Pittsburgh’s Ray Horton but Horton became Arizona’s coordinator instead, which kept Campo as the secondary coach. Tony Sparano is available and he and Garret worked well together in 2007. Houck is not under contract in 2012 but has said he will coach as long as he is wanted. The Cowboys need to improve in the secondary and along the offensive line. Garrett gets paid to make tough decisions. These two could be his toughest.
** The chance of the Cowboys re-signing outside linebacker Anthony Spencer appears slim, so it had me wondering two things: Can Victor Butler be an every down player and who was the last first-round pick the Cowboys let walk on their rookie contract? Bobby Carpenter doesn’t count because he was traded before his rookie deal ended. First Butler: I don’t know and I don’t know how the Cowboys could know. He’s been a niche player in his first three years and has a knack for getting to the passer, but in that strong-side outside backer role you have to be stout against the run and not a run-around guy. Maybe Butler can do it, but I’d look for a guy in the draft if they don’t bring Spencer back. (And I realize many of you can’t believe there would be an “if” after the way the season ended). This brings us to the second question. And the answer is: Ebenezer Ekuban, the first rounder from 1999. After the 2003 season he left for Denver.
** I wonder how the Cowboys will attack free agency in March. Contrary to popular opinion, Jerry Jones does not throw around money here, there and everywhere at unrestricted free agents. He has done it from time to time with Deion Sanders and Leonard Davis. You can count Terrell Owens, too. Before the 2005 season he signed Anthony Henry, Marco Rivera and Jason Ferguson to sizeable contracts. The only reason the Cowboys got involved in the Nnamdi Asomugha battle was because the price was lower than they expected. It was how they got La’Roi Glover. Free agency is not the cure-all people believe it is. The best way to approach free agency is with prudence. You don’t have to bargain shop, but the newest toy is not always the best buy. So as you put together your free agent lists, keep that in mind.
** The Cowboys will travel to Cincinnati next year and I wonder if the NFL would consider making that the London game in 2012. Here’s why: the Bengals sold out two games in 2011 and needed a two-for-one special to do it for the Week 17 game vs. Baltimore. The other sellout came against Pittsburgh with the Steelers’ fans filling Paul Brown Stadium. It could be a good sell overseas, too. The Bengals will be coming off a playoff appearance and the Cowboys are the Cowboys. At least in name anyway. Here’s why it won’t happen: The Bengals would not want to give up a sure sellout at home because this is Dallas’ only guaranteed trip in an eight-year run. The Cowboys have played in front of 158 straight sellout crowds, including 79 on the road. Will it happen? Probably not but it’s something to think about.