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Sunday, December 30, 2012
Updated: December 31, 2:20 PM ET
Dallas Cowboys need big changes

By Calvin Watkins
ESPNDallas.com

LANDOVER, Md. -- The scoreboard read that the Washington Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys 28-18 to clinch the NFC Eastern Division title and the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs.

The loss ended the Cowboys' dreams of making the playoffs and shed some light on where this franchise is headed.

Romo/RG III
The Cowboys need to make drastic changes if they are going to keep with the Redskins, Giants and Eagles in the NFC East.

As of today, the Cowboys are not better than the Washington Redskins. The New York Giants, despite not making the postseason, are still mentally tougher than the Cowboys.

The Philadelphia Eagles, who will be looking for a new coach, have a talented group of players.

The Cowboys have a young and talented bunch, but this offseason will force owner/general manager Jerry Jones to decide whether he needs to make drastic changes. He needs to.

"I am impressed with the way that the Redskins are put together across the board," Jones said. "They're going to be formidable as the Cowboys look to the future. We have to look where we are within our division. We'll look and see just exactly how to approach a team that has some of the players they've got and good coaching they've got. We have a big challenge ahead of us."

One of the first decisions for the Cowboys is whether to rid themselves of nose tackle Jay Ratliff. The surly player was hampered by foot and ankle injuries and finally a sports hernia this year. He got into a confrontation with Jones late in the season, and his play has declined the past few years. Did the Cowboys need him against a Washington team that rushed for 274 yards? Of course. But long term, the Cowboys need to get younger, and saving $1 million on a player on the decline is important.

Sunday night the Cowboys continued their rotation at right tackle with Doug Free and Jermey Parnell. Free struggled this season, and offensive line coach Bill Callahan challenged him to improve. The Cowboys promoted Parnell to the first team and were impressed. When the Cowboys have their offseason meetings this week, looking ahead to roster cutdowns on June 1 becomes vital. If Free is cut on June 1, the Cowboys will save $7 million.

It's a good chunk of money to save for a franchise that's roughly $20 million over the 2013 salary cap. But Free and Ratliff are not the only players who need to move on.

Upgrades to the offensive line, again, are a must. Quarterback Tony Romo was hurried five times and sacked twice. The Cowboys' interior failed to stop London Fletcher on a regular basis with his blitzes up the middle.

Safety blitzes also messed up Romo's ability to become comfortable in the pocket. During the game, Romo yelled at his offensive linemen and best friend/tight end Jason Witten. The Cowboys used Witten more in pass protection than we've seen in recent weeks.

When Romo threw an interception on a swing pass to DeMarco Murray, it was because of pressure from Fletcher.

"I think they sent a rusher inside that was going to break our protection," Romo said. "I thought the safe throw was to throw it to DeMarco under the swing, right to the sidelines, and [Rob Jackson] made a play, peeling off as a defensive end. I wish I had made a better decision at that time. It was disappointing."

The biggest decision facing Jones is in regard to Romo. He enters the final year of his contract ranking high on the Cowboys' passing lists statistically.  He's a good quarterback, who will turn 33 in April. However, Romo is 1-6 in win-or-go-home games.

The best move is to let Romo play his contract out. Why not? He hasn't given you any reason to believe he can lead a team to a championship.

If Romo plays well in 2013, take care of him. But if not, you'd better have a replacement ready, and we don't mean Kyle Orton. It's a tricky deal for the Cowboys because they don't want to get caught without a quarterback for the future.

A logical solution would be to give Romo a two-year extension, if he'll take it.

"You have to know that if you weren't good enough this year, we have to come back better next year," Romo said. "I know I will be working my butt off this year to be a better player next year."

Jones will be working hard, too, with the rest of his front office. They'd better be willing to make changes. If not, 8-8 and missing the playoffs will continue to be a common theme.