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Friday, January 28, 2011
Mailbag: Determining all the right moves

By Calvin Watkins
ESPNDallas.com

With Miles Austin becoming a late replacement for injured Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, the Dallas Cowboys now have six Pro Bowlers.

You read right: Six ... for a team that went 6-10 last season ... for a team that started 1-7 and had its coach fired.

What does that say for the people who select the players for the Pro Bowl?

For that matter, what does that say about the type of talent the Cowboys have?

One NFC East assistant coach told me this week when his team ranks the players within the division, Cowboys players rank very high.

A Cowboys official told me the organization ranked the team against the division and determined it has not only some of the best talent in the NFC East, but in the league as well.

So were the Cowboys overrated, or just major underachievers?

"When you're a 6-10 football team, there are errors all over your football team that you have to improve on," coach Jason Garrett said. "Nobody was satisfied with a 6-10 season.

"One of the things we were encouraged by is how we finished the season. We were 1-7 at the halfway point. We played better, and I think it's a sign of the coaches that we have and a sign of the makeup of the players that we have."

Now to this week's questions:

Q: Why doesn't Jerry Jones go out and get good cornerbacks in free agency like the Oakland Raiders. [They got] cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha when Charles Woodson was a free agent. -- Johnnie Jones (Jarratt, Va.)

Nnamdi Asomugha
Despite their struggles in the secondary during the 2010 season, don't look for the Cowboys to make a play for Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

A:
Jerry Jones said this week at the Senior Bowl that he believes in the cornerbacks. Now, he didn't think they played well. But he's confident Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman can return to their 2009 Pro Bowl form.

I doubt if the Cowboys will go after Asomugha. It appears he'll command an average salary of $9 million, and that's almost what the team is paying Newman. If the team releases Newman, it will save about $4 million against the salary cap, assuming there is one when the next collective bargaining agreement is set.

If anything, the Cowboys might draft a corner. The two best ones could be gone by the time they pick at No. 9. The biggest problem with the cornerbacks was the pass rush, and they played too much man-to-man defense. I suspect fewer man-to-man coverages from the Cowboys in 2011. If the pass rush improves, you might see the cornerback play get better.

Q: Will the Cowboys keep wide receiver Roy Williams? I think that they need to let him go because he has way too many drops and Dez Bryant is the future of the team. So I think he should be put in for Williams. -- John (Castlewood, South Dakota)

A:
Austin led the team with 10 drops this season. Williams started the season well but wasn't productive in the last two months. A variety of reasons led to a lack of production: the game plan, opposing defenses, and a lack of production when he got the ball.

Bryant is a wonderful talent, and I thought he would have surpassed Williams on the depth chart in 2010. He didn't because of his inability to master the playbook. He will be a starter in 2011 and Williams will be gone. But it'll be a $12.9 million cap hit.

Q: Do you think the head coach should have final say on all matters surrounding the team? Why can't Jerry Jones just act like an owner instead of a glory hound? I personally can't see this team winning the Super Bowl as long as he's involved. Just an opinion. -- Joe W (Belmont, N.H.)

Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones
The decision-making process at Valley Ranch will likely remain at the level it's been. While Jason Garrett will make decisions on coaching staff and personnel, it doesn't mean Jerry Jones won't have any input. He will.

A:
Joe, you're one of my favorites here on the mailbag. Let's talk about what power Garrett has with this team. He has final say on the coaching staff and personnel. He gets advice from Jones and the personnel department when it comes to the players and how to use them. Jones said no player will be on this roster without Garrett's final approval. Jones said that's the way it's always been.

However, Jones makes the final call on draft picks. As the general manager, Jones has the right to veto decisions, which most GMs do. In the past, Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips had gotten their way when it came to selecting players. If you think Jones is just running around Valley Ranch doing whatever he wants, he's not. Believe me.

Q: Do you think the Cowboys should try to draft Casey Matthews in the second round if he's available? Seeing that Bradie James and Keith Brooking are getting up there in age, I would think the combo of Sean Lee and Matthews would give the Cowboys a strong duo of middle linebackers. -- Rogerio Riley (Columbia, South Carolina).

A:
He comes from a famous football family, and he certainly has the genes. But the 6-foot-1, 241-pounder from Oregon is projected as a fifth-round pick. I think you can find somebody better at inside linebacker. Brooking and James most likely will be the starters at inside linebacker, and you can expect Lee to get more playing time in 2011. Finding an inside linebacker in the draft isn't a high priority. Getting a safety, defensive end and a cornerback are.

Q: Why shouldn't (wouldn't) the Cowboys draft RB Mark Ingram at No. 9? He reminds me of Emmitt Smith. -- Darrell Simien (Port Arthur, Texas)

A:
Darrell, I do like Ingram, but the team is sticking with Felix Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice as its running backs -- for now. I'm not sure if Barber will be around. I talked to Barber's agent this week and he didn't want to discuss the running back's future. One would suspect Jones and Choice are the top backs in 2011 with Barber playing somewhere else.

Q: Hi, I enjoy reading your posts, and most recently the Future Focus series. I was wondering, how will the draft order be determined in 2012 if there is no season this year? Thanks. -- Bryan (Mexico City)

A:
That's a very good question. I don't have an answer and I don't believe the league has one either. Let's try to remain positive and say there will be a season.

Q: While I think the Cowboys did the right thing with Doug Free, how would you assess the coaching our offensive line gets? -- Mike (White Rock, B.C.)

A:
I would say Hudson Houck gets the credit for Free emerging as a solid left tackle in 2010. Injuries and ineffective play hurt the offensive line this season. Marc Colombo played with a series of ailments, including a turf toe toward the end of the season. Andre Gurode is headed to the Pro Bowl, though he could have played better. Kyle Kosier was solid, and I thought Leonard Davis had a positive season after some struggles. It would have been nice to see Sam Young out there at right tackle, so it's hard to say just how good he can be.

Q: Do you think Dallas will release Colombo and maybe go after a rookie tackle like Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin in the second round? And if the CBA gets settled, maybe go after a guy like Logan Mankins to make the offensive line stronger? -- Raymond (San Antonio)

A:
Mankins wants to remain in New England, so I doubt if that will happen. Colombo is a possible candidate to get released. The kid from Wisconsin is pretty good, but I don't believe the Cowboys want him at No. 9. He might be a second-round selection if he's available.

Q: Now that Rob Ryan is the new defensive coordinator, any chance they can bring Shawn Rogers in to play nose tackle and slide Jay Ratliff over to defensive end? -- Declan McCarthy (Holtsville, New York)

A:
I doubt Rogers is coming here. In fact, Ratliff will remain at nose tackle and could have more success if the coaches move him around a little bit. He should line up between the guard and center more often instead of over center. That might give him more opportunities to make plays. Ratliff didn't have his best season (zero tackles for loss), but he's still quick enough to make plays. If anything, get a younger defensive end to back up Stephen Bowen or replace Igor Olshansky.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can leave a question for his weekly mailbag.