Dallas Cowboys: 2013 free agency needs

Free-agency series: Tight ends

March, 11, 2013
3/11/13
1:00
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The finale of a 10-part series breaking down the Cowboys' free-agency needs, position by position:

Tight ends


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How many touchdowns will Jason Witten score next season?

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Who’s on the roster: Colin Cochart, James Hanna, Andre Smith and Jason Witten

Analysis: Witten, after a slow start in 2012, proved once again that he's an elite tight end. It's still a mystery as to why he doesn't get enough touches in the red zone. But Witten continues to be a prime target and safety net for quarterback Tony Romo. There were times last season where Witten seemed unstoppable. Hanna is a solid pass-catching tight end who moves up the depth chart in 2013. Hanna has impressed the coaches with his route running and catching ability. It won't happen for a few years, but Hanna appears to be the future at this position.

PODCAST
John Clayton joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the offseason happenings around the NFL and what they mean for the Dallas Cowboys.

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NFL free agents of interest: John Phillips, Anthony Fasano, Dustin Keller and Travis Beckum.

Need meter: 6. The Cowboys miss Martellus Bennett, who was a solid blocking tight end. And while Bennett is a free agent this spring, he won't be looking to return to Dallas. The team should get a veteran who can block well and isn't worried about getting touches on a regular basis. Fasano possibly? He was a Cowboys draft pick who was traded to Miami. If the Cowboys decide to address the position in the draft, that's fine too, but finding someone who can block well on a consistent basis is very important.

Free-agency series: Wide receivers

March, 10, 2013
3/10/13
11:30
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Ninth in a 10-part series breaking down the Cowboys' free-agency needs, position by position:

Wide receivers


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Who will lead the Cowboys in receptions next season?

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Who’s on the roster: Anthony Armstrong, Miles Austin, Cole Beasley, Tim Benford, Dez Bryant, Danny Coale, Jared Green, Dwayne Harris and Carlton Mitchell.

Analysis: Bryant emerged last season as one of the top weapons on offense. It will be interesting to see how his relationship with new receivers coach Derek Dooley develops. Bryant had solid relationships with previous receivers coaches Ray Sherman and Jimmy Robinson. Austin continues to frustrate the Cowboys with his nagging leg injuries, but he's a force when healthy. Austin coming up with zero catches in both Washington Redskins games last season is puzzling and can't happen again against an NFC East rival. Harris gained more playing time late in the season when Kevin Ogletree dealt with injuries and inconsistent play. Beasley has a solid chance to become a slot receiver who makes plays.

NFL free agents of interest: Ogletree, Lee Evans and Kassim Osgood.

Need meter: 3. The Cowboys don't need a veteran receiver to stunt the growth of their younger players. If the team wants a veteran, maybe Ogletree returns and perhaps Osgood can be picked up and contribute on special teams. But with talented players like Bryant, Austin and Harris improving, there shouldn't be a big need at this position. But it wouldn't be a bad idea to draft a receiver as a safety net in case Harris doesn't develop as hoped or Austin's injury issues crop up again.

Free-agency series: Linebackers

March, 8, 2013
3/08/13
1:00
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Eighth in a 10-part series breaking down the Cowboys' free-agency needs, position by position:

Linebackers


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Who will be the Cowboys' best linebacker next season?

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Who’s on the roster: Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Caleb McSurdy, Dan Connor, Kyle Wilber, Alex Albright, Orie Lemon

Analysis: In Lee and Carter, the Cowboys appear set at the Mike (middle) and Will (weakside) linebacker spots. However, both players are coming off injuries and must prove they can stay healthy. The Sam (strong side) is in question, but Albright looks to be the best in-house candidate. Wilber didn’t play much as a rookie but has athletic ability. Connor could be a cap casualty soon and Lemon might not be tendered as an exclusive-rights free agent. McSurdy is coming off an Achilles injury but could be an OK fit as a backup. Just based on numbers, the Cowboys will need to add some players here.

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.

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NFL free agents of interest: Ernie Sims, Chase Blackburn, Keith Rivers, Will Witherspoon, Geno Hayes

Need meter: 7. When the Cowboys ran the 3-4, they generally needed bigger linebackers to withstand more direct play with the offensive linemen. With the 4-3 that changes to a degree, with speed being a top priority. But, as with every position in free agency, don’t look for the Cowboys to spend a lot of money. Not with Lee entering the final year of his deal and Carter up the year after him. Sims played well after joining the Cowboys following Lee’s toe injury. Sims is a better fit for a 4-3 and would be a solid backup. The Cowboys had mild interest in Blackburn last year, and he did some nice things for the Giants.

Free-agency series: Running backs

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
11:30
PM ET
This is seventh in a 10-part series breaking down the Cowboys' free-agency needs, position by position:

Running backs


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What running back would you want as DeMarco Murray's backup?

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Who’s on the roster: DeMarco Murray, Phillip Tanner, Lance Dunbar, Lawrence Vickers

Analysis: If Murray can stay healthy, the Cowboys have a legitimate lead horse. But that’s a huge if after injuries marred his first two NFL seasons. The Cowboys must acquire a backup capable of carrying the load if Murray goes down. Team executive vice president Stephen Jones is on record with the opinion that Tanner and Dunbar, a couple of undrafted backs with local roots, are No. 3 RB types. The Cowboys could also make a change at fullback if they can find a cheaper and/or more effective alternative than Vickers, who was a disappointment after signing as a free agent last offseason.

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.

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NFL free agents of interest: Steven Jackson, Reggie Bush, Rashard Mendenhall, Ahmad Bradshaw, Cedric Benson, Michael Turner, Felix Jones.

Need meter: 6. It’d be ironic if Jackson or Mendenhall came to the Cowboys in free agency, considering the controversy when the Cowboys passed on them to pick other backs in the draft. That, however, is extremely unlikely. The return of Jones, the Cowboys’ first-round bust from 2008, as a stopgap backup is more likely if he can’t find an attractive offer in the free-agency market. But there are plenty of recent examples of mid- to late-round backs playing major roles as rookies. It makes sense for the Cowboys to go that route to address their need.

Free-agency series: Offensive tackles

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
1:00
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This is sixth in a 10-part series breaking down the Cowboys' free-agency needs, position by position:

Offensive tackles


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What should the Cowboys do with Doug Free?

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Who’s on the roster: Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Jermey Parnell, Darrion Weems, Aderious Simmons

Analysis: This is a problem spot because Free has been so poor since signing a four-year, $32 million deal to play left tackle. He was moved to the right side last season, becoming the NFL’s highest-paid right tackle, and was so bad that he split time with Parnell late in the season. There have been internal discussions about moving Free to guard, but it’s more likely that he’ll be designated as a post-June 1 cut. Parnell performed relatively well in spot duty, but the Cowboys would be wise to at least acquire a tackle to compete with him if Free is released or moved. Smith, the Cowboys' 2011 first-round pick, should be a fixture at left tackle for years.

NFL free agents of interest: Jake Long, Andre Smith, Sebastian Vollmer, Phil Loadholt, Jermon Bushrod, Sam Baker

Need meter: 8. Offensive tackles don’t come cheap in free agency, and the Cowboys certainly aren’t in position to make high-dollar bids for the top names on the market. Perhaps the Cowboys could try to sign a less expensive tackle, much like they did at guard last offseason with Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, but this is a spot Dallas will likely address in the draft.

Free-agency series: Defensive ends

March, 6, 2013
3/06/13
11:30
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Fifth in a a 10-part series breaking down the Cowboys' free-agency needs, position-by-position:

Defensive ends


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How will the move to defensive end affect DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer?

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Who’s on the roster: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer (franchise tag), Tyrone Crawford, Ben Bass.

Analysis: Ware and Spencer will be moving from outside linebacker to defensive end in Monte Kiffin’s new scheme, but they are not completely unfamiliar spots since they had their hands on the ground as pass rushers in the nickel defenses. The difference will be the play-to-play grind of lining up against tackles, which could wear them down. Crawford showed some promise as a rookie in the 3-4 and plays with an energy that should help him get to the quarterback. The Cowboys have some flexibility with the players on their roster. Jason Hatcher, Sean Lissemore, Crawford and Bass could play tackle and end if needed.

NFL free agents of interest: Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Osi Umenyiora, Dwight Freeney, Israel Idonije, Amobi Okoye.

Need meter: 7. In the 3-4 scheme, a defense can never have enough linebackers. In the 4-3 scheme, you can never have enough pass rushers. New defensive line coach Rod Marinelli worked with Idonije and Okoye in Chicago and might want to bring them to the Cowboys. Neither will be break-the-bank free agents, which makes them a better fit, and they have the ability to get to the passer. Idonije had 7.5 sacks last year for the Bears and also has some position flexibility. Umenyiora and Freeney are situational pass rushers at this point in their careers. If they understand that, then they could be a fit. However, the price tag could be too steep.

Free-agency series: Defensive tackles

March, 6, 2013
3/06/13
1:00
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Fourth in a 10-part series breaking down the Cowboys' free-agency needs, position-by-position:

Defensive tackles


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What is the Cowboys' biggest problem along the defensive line?

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Who’s on the roster: Ben Bass, Josh Brent, Rob Callaway, Jason Hatcher, Ike Igbinosun, Brian Price, Jay Ratliff, Marcus Spears and Monte Taylor.

Analysis: Ratliff and Hatcher are the starters and there is a hope Ratliff will emerge as an impact player with the move from nose tackle to defensive tackle. There is some concern about Spears' role with the team. Is he a tackle in this scheme? What about Tyrone Crawford, who was drafted as a 3-4 defensive end. Does he move to tackle? Bass showed some signs in training camp he can play a little bit and will be given a chance to prove himself again. Callaway was called up late in the season and, like Bass, will get an opportunity to receive significant playing time.

NFL free agents of interest: Brian Schaefering, Chris Canty, Amobi Okoye.

Need meter: 4. Schaefering will return because he's a exclusive rights free agent. Canty is a former Cowboy who has played in a 4-3 scheme. Canty moved from end to tackle with the New York Giants. Okoye, 25, is a young talent who might be worth looking at. He could have an immediate impact. Of course, the draft will dictate what the Cowboys do in free agency. One thing new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said he wants is speed, speed and more speed. His scheme wants solid pass rushers up front who push the pocket. If you can't do that, don't expect to play for him.

Free-agency series: Centers and guards

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
11:30
PM ET
This is third in a 10-part series breaking down the Cowboys' free-agency needs, position by position:

Centers/Guards


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What should the Cowboys do to improve the interior of their offensive line?

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Who’s on the roster: G-David Arkin, G-Mackenzy Bernadeau, G-Ray Dominguez, G-Kevin Kowalski, G-Ronald Leary, G-Nate Livings, C-Ryan Cook, C-Phil Costa.

Analysis: The Cowboys signed Costa to a two-year deal and, at least for right now, he's the projected starter for 2013. Kowalski and Bernadeau can also play center, which gives the Cowboys position flexibility. The guard position has veterans Bernadeau and Livings, but Leary impressed the coaches as the season progressed, and he'll push to make the active roster this season. It's probably time to see if Arkin and Kowalski can prove to the coaches and scouts that they can play in this league. Both won't replace Livings or Bernadeau, however, and the Cowboys do need quality backups in the interior.

NFL free agents of interest: G-Derrick Dockery, G-Brandon Moore, G-Donald Thomas, G-Kevin Boothe, C-Jeff Faine.

Need meter: 4. The Cowboys might get a guard in the draft, which could push Arkin or Kowalski off the roster. What's left of the roster in the interior needs to improve badly. The Cowboys will most likely pass on Dockery, who filled in when needed last year. Thomas is an interesting pickup and should challenge for a starting job if given an opportunity. Faine had some injury problems last season, but he is a veteran who could provide security if there are problems with Costa and Cook.

Free-agency series: Defensive backs

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
1:00
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We continue our 10-part series breaking down the Cowboys' free-agency needs, position-by-position:

Defensive backs


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How should the Cowboys replace Gerald Sensabaugh?

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Who's on the roster: CB-Brandon Carr, S-Barry Church, CB-Morris Claiborne, S-Matt Johnson, CB-Sterling Moore, S-Micah Pellerin, CB-Orlando Scandrick, CB-Brandon Underwood.

Analysis: The cornerback spot is secure with Carr, Claiborne and Scandrick manning the top spots. The safety position got thin with the release of Gerald Sensabaugh. However, the Cowboys return Church, but he's coming off a torn Achilles injury. Johnson missed the entire 2012 season with a hamstring injury and there are high hopes for his ability to play in 2013.

Cowboys free agents: RFA: S-Danny McCray; UFA: CB-Michael Coe, S-Eric Frampton, CB-Mike Jenkins and S-Charlie Peprah.

NFL free agents of interest: CB-Stanford Routt, S-Ronde Barber, S-William Moore and S-O.J. Atogwe.

PODCAST
ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the Cowboys cutting Gerald Sensabaugh in a salary cap move.

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Need meter: 3. The Cowboys don't have much money to play with in free agency. And with the money and draft picks invested at corner in the last two seasons, they won't go after a highly-regarded corner such as Quentin Jammer. However, safety could be a different story. Barber has played in the Tampa 2 system before and might be an interesting pickup. There was interest in Atogwe a few years ago; might the Cowboys offer him a two-year deal to play strong safety? The Cowboys will bring McCray back as a backup safety/special teams ace. Peprah and Frampton, both in-season pickups in 2012, are two valued players whom the Cowboys should discuss keeping. If that happens, it's doubtful the Cowboys go outside to sign a safety.

Free-agency series: Quarterbacks

March, 4, 2013
3/04/13
11:30
PM ET
We start a 10-part series breaking down the Cowboys' free-agency needs, position-by-position:

Quarterbacks


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What should the Cowboys do with the quarterback position?

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Who's on the roster: Tony Romo, Kyle Orton and Nick Stephens.

Analysis: This is one position the Cowboys are not trying to upgrade in free agency or the draft. Romo will be signed to a long-term deal at some point this offseason, and the team values Orton's ability to play if there is an injury. It would be nice if the Cowboys tried to get a younger quarterback to develop for the future.

Cowboys free agents: None

NFL free agents of interest: Matt Moore, Jason Campbell, Chase Daniel, Jordan Palmer and John Beck.

Need Meter: 2. It will be interesting to see how Stephens, a dropback passer, fits during the organized team activities this spring. Moore was cut by the Cowboys years ago and probably isn't interested in returning as a backup now. If the Cowboys add to this position, it'll be through the draft. Unless Orton wants to be a starter again in this league, he might be Romo's backup for a few more years until a younger quarterback emerges as a better No. 2 option.

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