Dallas Cowboys: Cedric Benson

The Dallas Cowboys have $9.7 million in salary-cap space to sign their remaining draft picks without contracts and potential free agents.

ESPN NFL Insider John Clayton joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the Cowboys and Tony Romo missing OTAs.

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Here are five free agents with the potential to join the Cowboys in case of injury:

Laurent Robinson. He's on the market because of health issues. He didn't recover from a concussion last season while in Jacksonville, but Cowboys officials are more concerned about an ankle injury. When Robinson played with the Cowboys in 2011, he caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Cowboys couldn't afford him when he hit the free-agent market, but if something happens to one of their receivers, they can pick him up for the veteran minimum now.

Winston Justice. The Cowboys expressed interest in the right tackle but were able to get Doug Free to accept a pay cut to stay with the team. If the Cowboys want a veteran tackle, Justice is available. His salary demands were a little high a few weeks ago, but he could lower them as the season nears.

Cedric Benson. The Cowboys drafted Joseph Randle in the fifth round to complement DeMarco Murray, who has battled injuries the past two seasons, and serve as an insurance policy if Murray is injured again. Benson has endured some off-field issues, but he could be a nice pickup in case of injury.

Sedrick Ellis. Health and age are concerns with the projected starters on the Cowboys' defensive line. Ellis would be a nice signing in case one of the tackles, Jay Ratliff or Jason Hatcher, goes down. Ellis has drawn interest from several teams, so his availability is a question mark. Anthony Hargrove is also on the roster, is somebody who can play defensive end and tackle, and provides the team with veteran depth.

Ronde Barber. He's retired and headed to television, but with inexperience at the Cowboys' safety position, maybe he'll return. Barber knows the Tampa 2 defense and is a veteran whom defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin trusts. It would be for only one season, and pairing him with Barry Church could be seen as a positive.
Thanks to the Tony Romo deal, the Cowboys gained $5 million in salary cap space.

Todd Archer joins Galloway & Company to discuss the latest on the Cowboys giving Tony Romo a six-year, $108 million contract extension.

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Before the Romo deal was completed, the team picked up veterans at safety (Will Allen) and linebacker (Justin Durant), solving some of their offseason goals.

What about running back?

Yes, the Cowboys have the emerging DeMarco Murray, but his foot injury last season and the recent history of health problems among their running backs has raised concerns at Valley Ranch about the position.

The Cowboys love how Murray competes.

However, the lifespan of a running back is short.

Season to season, game to game, moment to moment.

With a little more than $5 million in cap space that will increase to $7 million in June due to the release of Marcus Spears, should the Cowboys sign a veteran running back?

Ahmad Bradshaw, who was released by the New York Giants, is available but most likely isn't looking to become someone's backup.

More realistic names are Felix Jones, Cedric Benson, Kevin Smith and LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said he's open to bringing Jones back into the fold, but the running back's health was an issue in his time with Dallas. With salary-cap space and a need for a backup running back to compete with Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner, the Cowboys might invest in a veteran running back to provide depth for 2013.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 25, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

Redskins will have to (gulp) throw. The Seattle Seahawks are allowing 100 rushing yards a game (the eighth-lowest figure in the league) and only 3.5 yards a carry (the fourth-best figure in the league). Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins, for whom the running game was such a big key in their early-season success, have become one of the worst rushing teams in the league. Their 83 rushing yards a game ranks better than only two teams -- the New York Giants and the Tennessee Titans -- and their 3.7 yards a carry ranks 27th. They're also not committing to the run the way they intended to, as only two teams in the league -- the Colts and the Buccaneers -- have had fewer rushing attempts. This is clearly not the week for the Redskins to get their run game back on track, which means the passing game and Rex Grossman. The good news there is that, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Redskins are averaging 10.6 more pass yards per game and 8.1 more points per game with Grossman as the quarterback than they were when John Beck was the quarterback.

Weird, likely irrelevant historical note. The game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots is the 13th matchup this season between teams that have played each other in the Super Bowl. That bodes ill for the Eagles, who lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, because only three of the previous 12 rematches have gone to the team that lost the Super Bowl matchup. The Packers beat the Broncos this year, and the Bills and Dolphins both beat the Redskins, though the Dolphins-Redskins game gets an asterisk because they met in two Super Bowls and split them. Either way, if you're the Eagles, Terrell Owens isn't walking through that door. And Tom Brady is.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Dale Zanine/US PresswireLeSean McCoy's 3.61 rush yards per attempt before contact is the third-best figure in the league this season among runners with at least 50 attempts.
Eagles should get some push. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is thriving with the help of one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the league this season. ESPN Stats & Info says McCoy's 3.61 rush yards per attempt before contact is the third-best figure in the league this season among runners with at least 50 attempts. The good news this week is that the Patriots give up 2.74 yards per contact to opposing runners, which is the sixth-highest number in the league. So if the Eagles commit to the run, they have a chance against Brady and the Pats. Of course, that's a fairly big "if"...

Jacobs not toughing it out. I've said many times here, and still believe, that the Giants' run-game problems are thanks to the poor performance of their offensive line and that people have been too hard on Brandon Jacobs and the running backs. However, there is some proof, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info, that Jacobs could be doing more to help his own cause. Jacobs is averaging just 1.61 rushing yards per carry after contact, which is the fourth-lowest figure in the league among running backs with at least 90 carries. Each of the three backs behind him on that list -- Cedric Benson, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson -- weighs at least 37 pounds less than Jacobs, whose size used to be among his greatest assets as a running back. It's possible he has slowed down as he's gotten older. It's possible that he is so discouraged by the lack of running room that he doesn't push through first contact the way he used to. It'd be understandable, given that no one likes to get hit. But it also would feed into the perceptions about him that the booing home fans have developed.

Eli against the blitz. The Saints love to blitz, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning surely will face extra pass-rushers on Monday night. But in spite of the injury to running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who's one of the best backs in the league at picking up the blitz, Manning has fared well this season against five or more rushers. In fact, over the past two years, Manning ranks among the best quarterbacks in the league when teams send five or more pass-rushers. His 74.6 Total QBR in those situations is fifth-best; his 8.4 yards per attempt and his touchdown-to-interception ratio of plus-16 are third-best; and only Aaron Rodgers has thrown more touchdown passes than the 26 Manning has thrown over the past two years when teams send five or more.

Position Series: Running backs

February, 15, 2011
Players: Felix Jones (signed through 2012), Marion Barber (signed through 2014), Tashard Choice (signed through 2011), Lonyae Miller (signed through 2011)

[+] EnlargeBarber
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireWith no guaranteed money left on his contract, it makes sense for the Cowboys to release running back Marion Barber, who butted heads with coach Jason Garrett last season.
Top free agents: DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers; Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants; Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals; Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts; Darren Sproles, San Diego Chargers

Top draft prospects: Mark Ingram, Alabama; Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech; Mikel Leshoure, Illinois; Daniel Thomas, Kansas State; Demarco Murray, Oklahoma

2010 review: Felix Jones failed to wow after becoming the lead horse in September. He finished the season with a respectable 1,250 total yards (800 rushing and 450 receiving), but he wasn’t the gamebreaker he had been in a lesser role. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry – down from 5.9 as a change-of-pace back the previous season – and scored only two touchdowns. Marion Barber had the worst year of his career while cashing $7.8 million of Jerry Jones’ checks. He had career lows in every major rushing and receiving category. His average of 3.3 yards per carry ranked 45th of 47 backs who had enough carries to qualify. Tashard Choice didn’t make much of an impact other than his terrific performance in the road win over the Colts, when he rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Lonyae Miller did a solid job on special teams when promoted from the practice squad late in the season.

Offseason preview: It’s time to bid farewell to Barber. His production hasn’t come close to justifying his seven-year, $45 million contract and continues to trend down. He has butted heads with head coach Jason Garrett, most notably by his defiant refusal to adhere to the travel dress code before Garrett’s interim coaching debut. And there’s no more guaranteed money left on his deal. It would make no sense to pay him his $4.25 million salary next season. Even with Barber’s departure, running back isn’t a pressing need. Jones and Choice should be able to form a respectable tandem, especially if the Cowboys can address the issues on the offensive line. Maybe the Cowboys use a mid- to late-round pick on a back to challenge Miller for the No. 3 role, but it’d be surprising if they invested heavily in this position this offseason.

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