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Thursday, February 2, 2012
Offensive line help is likely target

By Calvin Watkins
ESPNDallas.com

The Dallas Cowboys need to upgrade their roster after finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

Fixing the interior of the offensive line is important to this franchise. New Orleans Saints guard Carl Nicks has been mentioned as a possible free-agent pickup. The Saints value Nicks, but they may not be able to re-sign him.

Quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Marques Colston will command big money from the Saints in free agency, as well.

Can the Saints sign all three?

In 2010, fellow teammate and interior guard Jahri Evans signed a seven-year, $56.7 million contract, the highest for an interior lineman in league history.

Nicks, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, is seeking a contract with an average of $8 million per season.

"It's been what, two years?" Nicks told the Times-Picayune. "You've got to add inflation. I'm not a businessman, but I know what inflation means."

Is Nicks worth signing to a big-money deal? I'm sure it's a question being asked at Valley Ranch.

In 2007, the Cowboys signed Leonard Davis to a seven-year, $49.6 million contract with $18.7 million guaranteed. It's probably the highest contract ever, in total money, given to an interior lineman in franchise history.

Davis was released prior to the start of the 2011 season after some productive seasons, which included three Pro Bowl appearances.

The Cowboys have several young interior linemen in Bill Nagy, Kevin Kowalski and David Arkin. Veteran Kyle Kosier remains at the right guard spot, but Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery become free agents this spring.

Owner Jerry Jones said the team needed to do a better job of evaluating the meat of the offensive line.

Do you attempt to sign Nicks, draft a guard or develop the young talent already on the roster?

On March 13, the start of free agency, we get to find out just what the plan is.

Now, on to the mailbag.

Carl Nicks
Saints offensive guard Carl Nicks has been mentioned as a possible free agent pickup if New Orleans is unable to keep him.
Q: When the Cowboys were winning Super Bowls with the Triplets, we had a big, aggressive offensive line and a defense that was full of aggressive ball hawks. Either we don't have those types of players now or they are underperforming. How do we get back to the aggressive, ball-hawk style that won so many games back in the '90s? -- Kyle Spencer (Paola, Kan.)

A: To quote -- well, paraphrase -- former Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino, forget about how the Cowboys did things in the 1990s because those days are not coming back. Michael Irvin, Darren Woodson, Troy Aikman, Charles Haley and Emmitt Smith are not walking through the doors of Valley Ranch. The Cowboys have two stud defensive players in DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff, and I would agree the team needs more corners and safeties that make plays on the ball. Offensively, the Cowboys can challenge most defenses in the passing and running games, though I'm concerned about the offensive line. The Cowboys have a good core of players on the roster; Jerry Jones said it two weeks ago at the Senior Bowl. Now, finding small pieces to contribute is key for the future.

Q: Calvin, I have been a Cowboys fan all my life. I'm 42 years old and after watching the conference championship games, I have to admit, there is no Cowboys player on this roster that could play at that high of a level. I can't see the Cowboys winning anything anytime soon. We just can't get right, from top to bottom. What is your opinion on the Cowboys' future? You have to admit it doesn't look bright. Settle for mediocrity, Cowboys nation. -- James (Richmond, Va.)

A: Yes, James, 8-8 is mediocre, but I do like what Jason Garrett is trying to do. He wants younger players, and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is seeking playmakers for the defense. It's not something that will happen overnight, but you must like the direction the team is headed. There are elite players on the roster in Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Ware and Ratliff, and some talented young players in Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins.

Q: How active will the Cowboys be in free agency? -- Eric Love (Monroe, La.)

A: The Cowboys are about $12.5 million under the salary cap, and that number will increase with the restructuring of contracts and the release of some veteran players, such as cornerback Terence Newman, whose release might save the team as much as $4 million. Jerry Jones said the team will be active players in free agency. We looked at Carl Nicks as one possibility, but his price tag is pretty high.

Q: How many players will be returning on defense next year and what positions do you believe is our biggest hole? -- Matthew Parr (Mesquite, Texas)

A: Matthew, what's going on? Despite the fans' objections, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins will return. Of course, Ware, Ratliff, Marcus Spears and Jason Hatcher are expected back. Kenyon Coleman has a year left on his deal. Bradie James and Keith Brooking will be looking for new places to work. Abram Elam and Anthony Spencer are free agents and their returns depend on what the Cowboys are willing to spend on them based on the offers they get from other teams. There will be changes to the defense; expect a new pass rusher. I don't believe the Cowboys will bring Spencer back, and Ratliff should move to defensive end. Changes are coming, but not many.

Q: Calvin, what are the odds the 'Boys take an O-linemen like DeCastro or an OLB/DE in first round? I know DB is huge concern but don't see the value at 14 for a corner, especially with the Dre Kirpatrick arrest? Who is the top center prospect and where should he be drafted? -- Rob (Texas)

A: I've seen mock drafts with the Cowboys taking either a guard or cornerback. Dre Kirkpatrick's off-field issues might lower his stock but I doubt the Cowboys want to go there with that pick. Alfonzo Dennard from Nebraska seems to be the safe pick at corner if the Cowboys go that route. David DeCastro is the best interior guard available and Mel Kiper Jr. has the Cowboys taking him in his first mock draft. Pass rusher is where this team should go. Check out Courtney Upshaw, the outside linebacker from Alabama. Another player to look at is USC defensive end Nick Perry. He can play in a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme. The Cowboys won't draft a center; they like Phil Costa and Kevin Kowalski at those spots.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.