Dallas Cowboys: Brian Waters

IRVING, Texas -- Don’t buy that Brian Urlacher, Jonathan Vilma or insert-veteran-linebacker-here jersey just yet.

Before the Dallas Cowboys look outside the building for MLB Sean Lee’s replacement, they want to see what Justin Durant, DeVonte Holloman and Anthony Hitchens can do.

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Which Cowboy has the best chance at replacing Sean Lee?

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“We have some young guys we feel good about, so we want to give those guys every opportunity,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We have some veteran players who weren't completely healthy all last year, so we want to make sure they have an opportunity to work at some of those spots inside and just see who on our football team right now rises to the occasion. We've got to make sure we give them every opportunity. We’re always looking at the landscape of players -- free agents on the street, trade opportunities, anybody who we think can help our football team at any position. We’re always doing that. But we like the guys we have right now and the competition we have going.”

Durant took the first-team snaps at middle linebacker during Monday's organized team activities. He started one game at middle linebacker last year when Lee was out with a hamstring issue. Holloman started two games last year after Lee suffered a neck injury.

Garrett has yet to rule Lee out for the season, saying only that Lee has a “serious knee injury.” Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on May 27 in the first OTA. Garrett said the team is still developing a plan for Lee. The team generally waits a few weeks to perform a surgery so the swelling goes down.

In the offseason, the Cowboys cut veteran DE DeMarcus Ware and veteran WR Miles Austin and opted to not re-sign veteran DT Jason Hatcher. The Cowboys passed on free-agent DEs Jared Allen and Julius Peppers and did not look at veteran safeties.

Last year, the Cowboys signed offensive lineman Brian Waters the week before the season started. He had not played in 2012, but in 2013 he played in seven games for Dallas (with five starts) before he tore his triceps.

“If you look at our team, we have a really young roster,” Garrett said. “If you go position by position on both sides of the ball, there aren't many guys who have played that long in the National Football League, and we think that’s good. Some of our best players are guys that have been around a little bit, and we think that’s good, too. We’re always looking for a combination of veteran guys who have been around a little bit and younger guys who are developing into their prime, and then you have to have some role players, as well. You start with 90 and then you try to make the best decisions you can with the players you have. And then if there’s a reason to go outside at some point, you go ahead and do that.”

Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

May, 30, 2014
May 30
10:00
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IRVING, Texas – Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss life without Sean Lee, life without Brian Waters, life almost with Ryan Shazier, life in a zone defense and life with Scott Linehan.

Away we go:

 

Lee replacement plan in-house for now

May, 29, 2014
May 29
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video

IRVING, Texas -- While the Dallas Cowboys have not officially said so, Sean Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Tuesday, according to sources, and the defense will be without its best player.

The Cowboys have yet to use the bat signal to call all unemployed middle linebackers.

The current plan is to go with what is on the roster.

They have DeVonte Holloman, who started the final two games of last season at middle linebacker after Lee suffered a neck injury. They have Justin Durant, who started one game in Lee's absence last season. They have rookie Anthony Hitchens, their fourth-round pick.

With eight more organized team activities, followed by six practices during a three-day minicamp next month, the Cowboys will soon have a better idea about where they stand regarding a replacement for Lee.

After that, perhaps they will look off campus for help.

Veterans like Jonathan Vilma, Erin Henderson and Pat Angerer have been mentioned. Even Brian Urlacher's name has come up.

Urlacher's connection to Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli makes it interesting, but would it be appetizing? Urlacher did not play last year. He turned 36 this week. His knee gave him issues in his final seasons with the Bears.

Last year the Cowboys signed guard Brian Waters before the season started. He did not play in 2012 but managed to play in seven games and start five before a torn biceps ended his season. He was 36 then.

Often, past success outweighs present ability when fans yearn for a player to be signed. Urlacher is not the same player who dominated the NFL for years, just as Waters was not the same player last year that he was earlier in his career. He was solid and he helped Dallas, but he was not the same Pro Bowl player.

Vilma and Angerer have health issues. The Minnesota Vikings released Henderson in January after a DUI arrest.

At the end of May, there are no magic solutions to replace Lee.

The Cowboys will see if they can get by with Holloman, Hitchens or Durant, who did not take part in Tuesday’s practice because of an undisclosed injury. They will study the rosters of the other teams hard over the course of the summer to see if they can find (or need) an upgrade.

The players mentioned today -- Urlacher, Angerer, Henderson and Vilma -- are likely to be available when training camp begins or even later.

If the Cowboys need them in July or August or September, they can make the call.

Cowboys done with OL rebuild

May, 14, 2014
May 14
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IRVING, Texas -- Pam Martin asked her son to do some research on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, so the team’s first-round pick dutifully did what his mother told him.

Zack Martin quickly realized he was older than Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, the other two first-round picks Martin will join on the line in 2014. Smith, the 2011 first rounder, was born Dec. 12, 1990. Frederick, the 2013 first rounder, was born march 18, 1991.

Martin was born Nov. 20, 1990.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's Zack Martin is the latest first-round pick Dallas has added to its young offensive line.
“That’s a little weird,” Martin said.

Weird and potentially terrific for the Cowboys. Before Smith, Jerry Jones never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt also kept their distance from the offensive line. Before Smith, Howard Richards was the most recent first-round offensive lineman, coming in 1981 with the 26th overall pick.

Now the Cowboys are like the San Francisco 49ers with three first-round starters on the offensive line. In 2007, the Niners took Joe Staley. In 2010, they added Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.

“We believe games in the National Football League are won up front,” coach Jason Garrett said. “If you look at the best teams in the league now and for a lot of years, they are able to control the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. We did that for years here when we won championships here in the ‘90s. You need to build the infrastructure of your team.”

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San Francisco went 6-10 in 2010, but has gone 36-11-1 in the past three seasons. They have played in three straight NFC Championship Games, making it to the Super Bowl in 2012.

“We’ve been pretty lucky getting (Andre) Gurode, getting the Flozell Adamses and Larry Allens (in the second round), but those days are over apparently,” Jones said. “So we want to get some of that quality in the future offensive line. These guys are long-term players that are good, and all of that is about franchise.”

The Cowboys have an offensive line that can grow together.

Smith made his first Pro Bowl last season and is the best young tackle in the NFL. Frederick started every game as a rookie and cemented the interior of the Cowboys’ line. Martin will be a Day 1 starter and was considered the safest pick in the draft.

Right tackle Doug Free is the oldest up front and is just 30. Ronald Leary recently turned 25. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who could still compete for a starting job, is just 28.

Having Smith, Frederick and Martin grow together should make everyone associated with the Cowboys’ offense happier, from Garrett to passing game coordinator Scott Linehan to assistant head coach Bill Callahan to quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray.

The selection of Martin ends the rebuilding of an offensive line that started in 2011 when the Cowboys parted ways with Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo. A year later they said goodbye to Kyle Kosier.

It took time.

In 2011, the Cowboys started a seventh-round pick, Bill Nagy, at left guard and a second-year undrafted center in Phil Costa. When Nagy got hurt, they looked to journeymen Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery.

Smith played as a rookie at right tackle and needed 2012 to be seasoned as a left tackle. Nate Livings was signed as a free agent in 2012, but injuries led the team away from him last season. Bernadeau’s play improved last year after he re-took the right guard spot following Brian Waters' season-ending triceps’ injury.

“We are going to be a better offensive line, a better offense, and we will probably play better defense the better we play on the offensive line,” Garrett said. “We will be able to run the ball better and control the football a little more.”

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
12:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • What I would do with the 16th pick in the draft if I was the general manager.
  • What about a quarterback in the second round?
  • What about Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne?
  • What about the salary-cap implications of letting Kyle Orton go?

Away we go:
 

Dallas Cowboys worked out Davin Joseph

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
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IRVING, Texas -- With the NFL draft at the forefront of their minds, the Dallas Cowboys are not ignoring free agency.

Two-time Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph visited with the club earlier in the week, and wide receiver LaRon Byrd will work out for the team on Thursday, according to sources.

Joseph was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before free agency began, saving the team $6 million in cap space. A first-round pick in 2006 out of Oklahoma, Joseph started 89 games for the Buccaneers and made the Pro Bowl in 2008 and ’11. He missed the 2012 season with a knee injury and struggled last season.

The Cowboys have little depth behind starters Travis Frederick, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary. Joseph, 30, could push for a starting spot or serve as a backup at both guard spots. If the Cowboys sign Joseph, then it would seem to end the chances of Brian Waters returning. Waters has not decided whether he wants to play or have surgery on a torn triceps injury that ended his 2013 season.

Byrd, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, spent last year on injured reserve with the Arizona Cardinals because of a concussion. He was released earlier in the month and worked out recently for the New York Giants.

The Cowboys will host local draft prospects at Valley Ranch on Thursday as part of their Dallas Day workouts. Texas wide receiver Mike Davis (Skyline), SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert and TCU quarterback Casey Pachall are among the players scheduled to work out. Texas outside linebacker/defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat is not among the group despite attending Plano West. Because his family moved to Colorado with his dad, Jim, coaching in Boulder, he is not allowed, per league rules.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready. We touch on a number of subjects ranging from: Chris Johnson, Miles Austin, Tony Romo's successor and cap hell.

If you want to see Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

Cowboys injuries part of 8-8 seasons

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
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It’s been four seasons since the Cowboys made the playoffs.

In Jason Garrett’s first three seasons as coach, the team has finished 8-8, missing the playoffs after losing in the regular-season finale.

Injuries have played a part in some of those losses.

Last year, Tony Romo and Sean Lee missed the regular-season finales.

The year before, the Cowboys didn’t have Lee, and Dez Bryant suffered a back injury in the loss at Washington.

Would things have been different if the Cowboys were healthy, at least with some of their key players available?

“You have to be careful when you talk about injuries to make it not feel like excuses,” Garrett said. “Injuries are a part of the game. There are no excuses. They have been a factor on our football team. But they have been a factor for a lot of teams.”

Lee missed the regular-season finale with ligament damage in his neck, Romo underwent back surgery, then there was starting linebacker Justin Durant out with a hamstring injury. Starting guard Brian Waters was also missing with a torn triceps. Miles Austin, the starting wide receiver, was available for the regular-season finale, but he battled hamstring issues for the bulk of the season.

Nickel corner Morris Claiborne was coming back from a hamstring injury. The Cowboys were a mess physically in the late stages of the season.

It’s something that can’t happen again in 2014.

“We just got to make sure we do everything we can as organization, as a coaching staff as players on our team to minimize the injuries to the best of our abilities going forward,” Garrett said. “It is better to have your starting players in: That’s why they are starters. Throughout the season and certainly at the end of the season when you are playing some of these big games that determine whether or not you make the playoffs.”

Checking in on Cowboys' free agents

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
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IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys have lost two players in free agency – Jason Hatcher and Danny McCray – with eight players still available on the market.

DeMarcus Ware does not count as an unrestricted free-agent signing because he was released, and the Cowboys will not receive a compensatory pick in 2015.

Here is a look at the status of their remaining free agents:

RB Phillip Tanner – The Cowboys did not tender him a deal as a restricted free agent, thus allowing him to sign elsewhere. It is possible he'll return on a one-year deal at the minimum, but it is unlikely.

DE Edgar Jones – Has some value because he can play special teams. Another one-year deal at the veteran minimum or possibly a minimum-salary benefit player.

OL Ryan Cook – Did not play last year because of a back injury. His ability to play center and guard helps, but the Cowboys want to get better and younger with their reserve interior linemen.

QB Jon Kitna – He will go back to coaching high school football and teaching math.

LB Ernie Sims – Has some fans on the coaching staff, but he becomes something of a progress-stopper given the development of Kyle Wilber and DeVonte Holloman.

DE Anthony Spencer – He is the Cowboys' most attractive remaining free agent, but where is he in his rehab from microfracture surgery? He has visited the Washington Redskins and New York Giants, but it seems that the longer he is available, the better chance he returns to the Cowboys on a short-term deal.

OL Brian Waters – The same question asked after the season remains now: Does he want to play? In order to play, he needs surgery on his triceps. He could be an emergency option later in the summer.

DE Jarius Wynn – With the signing of Jeremy Mincey, Wynn's return does not seem likely, but he has some position flexibility that the Cowboys like.

Free-agency primer: Cowboys

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer, Brian Waters, Danny McCray, Ernie Sims, Jarius Wynn

Where they stand: After finishing with the worst-ranked defense in the NFL in 2013, the Cowboys need help everywhere, but mostly on the defensive line. The need could be even greater if the Cowboys are unable to come up with a new deal for DeMarcus Ware, who is set to make $12.25 million in 2014 and count $16.003 million against the cap. Coming off an 11-sack season, Hatcher is likely to command more money from another team that will make it unlikely for the Cowboys to match, but they will not close the door on keeping him. Spencer is rehabbing from knee surgery and could be had on a short-term deal that will not involve a lot of money. The rest of their free agents are more fill-in types who will be allowed to test the market if not allowed to leave altogether.

What to expect: Not much. Last year the Cowboys added safety Will Allen and linebacker Justin Durant in free agency on short-term, low-money deals. The approach will be more that way than setting the market on a player as they did in 2012 for cornerback Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million). Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys can be "efficient" spenders in free agency. The Cowboys will have to create space under the cap to sign players to modest deals. The best bet is for them to look for low-cost help on players on the line looking to rebound from down years or injuries. They also could look at safety, though Jerry Jones said at the NFL scouting combine that they liked their young safeties such as J.J. Wilcox. Whatever money the Cowboys do have is more likely to be set aside for Tyron Smith and/or Dez Bryant.

Putting value on Cowboys' free agents

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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IRVING, Texas -- On Thursday, Bill Polian offered up his do's and don'ts when it came to free agency.

Spencer
Hatcher
Hatcher
Today we bring you the free-agent tracker designed by Polian and fellow ESPN Insiders Gary Horton, Matt Williamson and Field Yates, and the grades assigned to the Dallas Cowboys' unrestricted free agents.

The grades also have a monetary value. An "A" player should get $6 million on average per year with guaranteed money in the first three or more years. A "B" player should get $2-$6 million on average per year with guaranteed money in the first two years or less. A "C" player should get $2 million or less on average per year with guaranteed money in the first two years or less. A "D" player should get a one-year deal at the veteran minimum.

Not surprisingly Jason Hatcher gets the highest grade with an A-minus. In the scouting report, Hatcher is "a good fit for the Tampa 2 defense. He's quick off the ball, explosive and disruptive. Hatcher shows good strength versus the run and solid power as a pass-rusher."

The A-minus grade would put Hatcher in the $4-$6 million annually range. Do the Cowboys have that kind of money to spend?

Anthony Spencer came in with a B grade, which I thought was a little surprising. The scouting reported cited his ability to play in the 3-4 as well and acknowledged his knee injury. I would doubt the Cowboys do more than a one-year deal with Spencer, but that is a big window in the $2-$6 million range.

The only other free agents with grades better than D are defensive end Edgar Jones and linebacker Ernie Sims. Jones could be back at the right price, but there will not be a rush to sign him. Sims would appear to have played in his final game as a Cowboy with the club wanting younger, cheaper depth players.

Ryan Cook, Brian Waters, Danny McCray and Jarius Wynn all carried D grades among the remaining free agents.

2014 Cowboys free agents: Brian Waters

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
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Brian Waters
Position: Guard
Type: Unrestricted
2013 salary: $1.5 million

Waters
Summary: He was signed Sept. 4 after he and the Cowboys flirted for most of training camp. By Week 3 he was the starting right guard, but he suffered a torn triceps against the Detroit Lions and was done for the season.

Why keep him: While he was not the All-Pro performer he was in his days with the Kansas City Chiefs, Waters brought stability to the middle of the line. His strength helped with the attitude of the running game, and he remained a solid pass protector. He showed he can still play and be more than a functional piece of an offensive line.

Why let him go: He turned 37 on Feb. 18, and at the end of the season had yet to decide whether to have triceps surgery or not. He cannot play again if he doesn’t have the surgery. Mackenzy Bernadeau raised his level of play after Waters went down for the season, and the Cowboys could look to select a top guard early in the draft. Waters has made it known he is not a fan of the offseason or training camp, so he would not have time to get accustomed to the players around him. He has played only five games in the past two seasons, having sat out the 2012 season.

Best guess: The Cowboys keep Waters’ name in their Rolodex, and if they need to make a call in the summer to gauge his interest, they will make it. He has kept himself in good shape and has shown he does not need a ton of time to get ready. But this option exists only if he has the surgery.

Dallas roster not stripped, but retooled

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
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IRVING, Texas -- On Sunday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said stripping down the team and going through a complete overhaul is impossible in large part because of the salary cap.

If you look at the roster, however, the Cowboys have undergone a slow-rebuild -- if not a one-year overhaul -- the past few years with the idea that they can still make the playoffs, which would fall into Jones’ “compete for a Super Bowl,” credo by definition.

Ware
Spencer
The 8-8 finishes the past three seasons have prevented the Cowboys from making the playoffs, but the roster overhaul has happened and the cleaning up of the cap, as Stephen Jones likes to call it, is in midstream.

The offensive line has been remade since 2011 with only Doug Free remaining. They have invested in three younger cornerbacks, although they have yet to see the payoff in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. They have two younger receivers to build around in Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams.

The rebuilding of the defensive line has to start this offseason, especially if DeMarcus Ware does not return.

The Cowboys have gotten younger. They have seven players under contract for 2014 that will be 30 or older by the time the season starts. Only Tony Romo, Free, Jason Witten and L.P. Ladouceur are guaranteed to be around this season. There are cap questions around Ware and receiver Miles Austin, and quarterback Kyle Orton has to decide whether he wants to continue to play.

Free agent defensive linemen Jason Hatcher (32) and Anthony Spencer (30), and guard Brian Waters (37) will be allowed to test the market and sign elsewhere.

The Cowboys have 27 players signed past 2014 who finished the year on the 53-man roster in 2013. Only 10 have significant financial commitments, including Austin and Ware, who could be gone before this coming season. Players such as Carr and Mackenzy Bernadeau could be part of a recycle in 2015.

Bryant and Tyron Smith stand to see steep pay increases over the next 12-18 months, with their contracts expiring over the next two seasons. Perhaps the same could happen with running back DeMarco Murray, who is in the final year of his deal.

Rebuilding is not a word Jones will use. Reloading does not apply to a team that has one playoff win since 1996.

Maybe retooling is the more apt description.

But will that guarantee anything more than 8-8?

Should Cowboys try to keep Brian Waters?

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
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IRVING, Texas -- Brian Waters, who is set to hit free agency after a seven-game run at right guard for the Dallas Cowboys in 2013, turns 37 years old Tuesday.

Waters
Will he play in 2014?

If he wants to, then he will. That is the question Waters has not answered and likely will not answer until well into the offseason.

He has yet to have surgery on a torn triceps that knocked him out for the season, but even if he does have the operation he said in December that would not mean he will play in 2014. He talked the day after the season about needing the surgery just for quality of life.

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Should the Cowboys try to keep Brian Waters?

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Waters started five games for the Cowboys and played in seven at right guard. Jason Garrett talked about Waters’ presence changing the offensive line. He brought a toughness and diligence to the group.

At this stage in his career, Waters does not want to go through the rigors of an offseason program and training camp. He and the Cowboys went back and forth last summer and the Cowboys were ready to move on to Brandon Moore until he opted not to get on a plane to Oxnard, Calif.

Waters eventually signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million and more from incentives, joining the Cowboys on Sept. 4, 2013. He was active for the second week of the season. He moved into the starting role Sept. 29 against the San Diego Chargers and held it until he tore his triceps against the Detroit Lions.

Waters did enough in 2013 to show he can still play. Maybe not at the All-Pro level he once played, but certainly good enough for a team to win games with him. But he is 37.

Should the Cowboys re-sign him if he wants to play?

Age not a factor for Cowboys

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
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Dallas CowboysAP Photo/Tim SharpThe Cowboys have a good core of veterans such as Jason Witten, Tony Romo and Doug Free, but they lack quality backups.


After a third consecutive 8-8 season, you have to say age isn't a factor with the Dallas Cowboys.

The average age for the Cowboys in 2013 was 26.1, and that two veterans who didn't finish the season in Will Allen (31) and Brian Waters (36). In 2012, the Cowboys' average age was 25.9.

Coaching and a lack of quality depth hurt the Cowboys in most cases the last two seasons. You can blame Tony Romo's late interception against Washington in the 2012 regular-season finale or Kyle Orton's pick in the 2013 finale against Philadelphia as other issues.

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But don't say the Cowboys were an old team.

If anything, the Cowboys should rebuild around some young pieces which include Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Dan Bailey and Barry Church.

Core veterans in their 30s such as Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten, and other quality vets in their late 20s like Brandon Carr and Doug Free, are worth keeping around.

Finding quality backups is the key for 2014. When you have guys such as Corvey Irvin, Frank Kearse, Jarius Wynn and Everette Brown as backups along the defensive line, it doesn't bode well for success.

The Cowboys have to fix their issues with finding undrafted players who can't play consistently, which was the case with safety Jeff Heath, at key backup positions.

Drafting quality players in the middle rounds should also help the Cowboys. It was something Todd Archer pointed out but the reality is age isn't and shouldn't be a factor for this team.

You can worry about Romo and his age -- 34 when 2014 regular season starts -- and health, recovering from back surgery, but the quarterback has young players to help him move the offense.

Coaching is a problem at Valley Ranch. The Cowboys currently have three -- head coach Jason Garrett, offensive line coach Bill Callahan, and new play caller Scott Linehan -- who have been head coaches and play callers.

Too many cooks in the kitchen? Team officials will say no.

But can these coaches, offense and defense, get the young core of this team to the next level?

If they can't, the numbers of not reaching the postseason will move to five years and counting.

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