- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas – Back by popular demand (or not) is our weekly in-season feature, 5 Wonders, for its first offseason installment. After five days at the NFL scouting combine I’m wondering about things other than Jerry Jones’ comment that the Cowboys have the talent to compete for the Super Bowl.
** When the Cowboys hired Bill Callahan as offensive line coach, I wondered if that would help them in terms landing free agent guard Carl Nicks, whom Callahan coached at Nebraska. I don’t wonder that anymore. From reading between lines on comments made by Jerry Jones, I don’t see the Cowboys making a huge play on Nicks when free agency begins March 13. Maybe more of that factor is that I don’t believe the Saints will let Nicks hit the market but the word around the combine was that the Cowboys weren’t as heavy on Nicks as many would think. We’ll see how that plays out and it could all be a smokescreen but if you’re wondering where the Cowboys will spend money in free agency I’d say on the secondary.
** I wondered back in October whether the Cowboys would use the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer and wavered when the season was over, but now I’m more than wondering about it. I’d put a wager down that the Cowboys will put the $8.8 million tag on the outside linebacker. We’ve debated the topic for awhile but after talking to several scouts and coaches from other teams Spencer has a more positive view league-wide than he does locally. Yes, you want more sacks, but if you look at tackles and forced fumbles then he is near the top of the list on the outside backer board. Remember when the New York Giants paid defensive end Chris Canty $7 million a year as a free agent? I believe Spencer would get about that same average if not more from another team in free agency. One thing to keep in mind about the tag is that it can be rescinded at any time as long as Spencer does not sign. I wonder if the Cowboys believe “overpaying” Spencer for one year is better than doing it as part of a multi-year deal.
** Speaking of outside linebackers for a 3-4, I wonder if the top two candidates in the draft, Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw and South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, look the part. When you think about those types of players, you’re thinking guys 6-4, 255-260 pounds. DeMarcus Ware types. Upshaw came in at 6-1, 272 pounds. Ingram came in at 6-1, 264 pounds. Pittsburgh’s James Harrison isn’t the prototype either, but these guys just looked thicker in the middle than what you’re used to regarding 3-4 outside linebackers. That being said, they produced on the field and I’m not quibbling with that. I’m just wondering if they fit the mold you’re used to.
** When Jason Garrett broke into the coaching business after his playing career he worked for Nick Saban in Miami. Garrett has said he learned a ton from Saban. I wonder if Garrett’s connection to Saban will help during the draft process. The Tide has at least three first-round defensive players, in my opinion, in Upshaw, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Mark Barron. Garrett should be able to get the inside skinny from Saban about what makes these guys tick. And remember this too: one of the players the Cowboys attempted to trade back into the first round last year to get was Alabama running back Mark Ingram.
** One thing Jerry Jones said Friday on his bus to reporters was to not lump Bradie James and Keith Brooking together as far as their potential futures with the Cowboys. Both will be free agents, and I wonder if Brooking could return. Is it a lot to ask Bruce Carter to come in and be the starter from opening day of the offseason program alongside Sean Lee? Could be. Carter had about seven padded practices last year after coming off the physically unable to perform list because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He missed all of camp and the lockout prevented him from being around the team after the draft. Some will make the comparison to how Lee made the jump from his rookie to second year. It’s not the same. Lee was on the field from Day One even if he dealt with nagging issues as a rookie. Here’s why I said Brooking, who turns 37 in October: he was still fifth on the defense in tackles last year with 72, according to the coaches’ breakdown. He also had a tackle for loss and three QB pressures and two pass deflections. I’m not saying it will happen, but I’m just wondering if it could happen.