In the wake of the Tony Romo contract extension, Calvin Watkins has a list of five players next in line to get big contracts from the Dallas Cowboys. He lists defensive end, Anthony Spencer, linbacker Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, wide receiver Dez Bryant and left tackle Tyron Smith in that order.
Spencer is the obvious one, as the Cowboys could create 2013 cap relief by extending him long-term and reducing his $10.6 million franchise-tag salary. They seem to believe in him as their long-term solution at defensive end in their 4-3 defensive alignment, so I imagine they'll find a way to get this done.
But the rest of the list, and a list of honorable mentions that includes running back DeMarco Murray and defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, underscores a key point about this Cowboys roster and the need they had to lock up Romo long-term. All this talk about the closing of windows makes no sense when you look at the young core of players the Cowboys have put together. They have a well-earned reputation as a poor drafting team, but their 2010 and 2011 drafts have actually borne fruit and delivered them some players around whom they can reasonably build a successful future.
The issue with guys like Lee, Carter and Murray is health. I wouldn't rush to lock up any of those guys just yet until I see that they've found ways to get themselves through full NFL seasons free of injury. When they're on the field, they're difference-making players, and the 4-3 alignment should allow Lee and Carter in particular to flourish as playmakers. But they have to stay healthy in order to show that, and until they do extending their contracts would feel rash and unwise. Smith as the long-term answer at left tackle would seem to merit a deal sooner rather than later. And you guys know how I feel about Bryant, who could be the best wide receiver in the entire league before too long. A talent like his is worth at least a conversation right now about what it would cost to sign him long-term. If he's offering a deal, it might be wise for the Cowboys to take it before he has another monster year and his price goes through the roof.
There are enough good players on this Cowboys team to merit optimism, though the offensive line still needs to be fixed or it will sink the offense again as it did in 2012. The issue on defense last year was health, and if the pieces fit the 4-3 as well as it appears they should, this continues to look to me like a Cowboys team headed in the right direction -- if a bit more slowly than the fans would like to head.