Coming off one of the most disappointing seasons in recent history, it was widely assumed that the Cowboys would be extremely active in free agency. While the apple of their eye was CB Nnamdi Asomugha, they had several holes to fill including at OT, both S positions, and DL. They kicked off free agency by re-signing their top free agent LT Doug Free to a multi-year contract. Free filled in admirably last season after Flozell Adams’ release and looks to be their LT of the future. They also re-signed Kyle Kosier to a 3-year deal to continue to man the slot at RG. After Asomugha signed with the Eagles, the Cowboys began to overhaul their roster by cutting Marion Barber, Roy Williams, and Leonard Davis. Ultimately they would re-sign Gerald Sensabaugh, last year’s starter at strong safety, and then sign Abe Elam to a one year contract to start opposite him at FS. After losing DT/DE Stephen Bowen to the Washington Redskins, they solidified their defensive line by bringing back DE Kenyon Coleman, DE Marcus Spears, and DT/DE Jason Hatcher.
After what could best be described as a disappointing 2010 NFL Draft, it appears as though the Cowboys landed some future stars in the 2011 Draft. With their first round pick, they took University of Southern California RT Tyron Smith at 9th overall. Smith’s selection allowed the Cowboys to release Marc Colombo and it appears he will be the starter from Day 1. They landed two of the draft’s better steals in the 2nd and 3rd rounds when they selected former UNC LB Bruce Carter at #40 overall (2nd rd) and DeMarco Murray at #71 (3rd rd). Carter was a top 20 talent most expected to be gone in the first round, but between a knee injury and the NCAA investigation, his stock plummeted. Regardless, he is a perfect fit from a physical perspective and can be either MLB or OLB with his ability to get to thr quarterback. Most draft pundits were shocked when Murray was available in round 3 and while that is likely because of durability issues, the Oklahoma product actually owns most of the rushing records at the same school that produced All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson. The Cowboys draft was solid from top to bottom and it wouldn’t be a shock if all of their final five picks not only made the team, but also saw significant playing tome. Missouri State G David Arkin could challenge for the opening created by Leonard Davis’ release, Josh Thomas (CB, Buffalo) could see time in nickel and dime packages, East Carolina WR/KR Dwayne Harris played a huge role in the Boys’ release of Roy Williams and could see time returning kicks and in the slot immediately, Georgia FB Shaun Chapas should push Chris Gronkowski for playing time in the backfield as well on special teams, and Wisconsin C Bill Nagy should be a capable back up to Andre Gurode.
There is no mistaking that this is Tony Romo’s team and while Jon Kitna performed admirably in Romo’s absence, Dallas Super Bowl aspirations lie squarely on Romo’s right shoulder. The skill players for Dallas will have a different look this year as former starting RB Marion Barber has since been released, which means former #1 draft Felix Jones is now the man in the backfield. He will be spelled by Tashard Choice, who could start on most NFL teams, while DeMarco will also see time. Chapas and Gronkowski will battle for playing time at fullback, although the Cowboys will likely use more two tight end sets that will feature All-Pro Jason Witten, last year’s leading receiver, and Martellus Bennet, an athletic 6’8” former basketball player. At wide receiver the Cowboys are in very good shape with All-Pro Miles Austin and last year’s first round pick Dez Bryant, who really shined at times last year. Kevin Ogletree will have the opportunity to nail down the slot receiver position, but don’t be surprised if Dallas brings in a veteran for competition. The offensive line likely will require a bit of shuffling at Doug Free will start at LT, Montrae Holland at LG, Andre Gurode at C, Kosier at RG, and rookie Tyron Smith at RT. Smith is a physical freak of nature who could be a bookend tackle for years to come once he adjusts to the speed of the game.
After last season’s debacle, the Cowboys fired Head Coach Wade Phillips and consequently brought in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, New York Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan’s brother. Ryan utilizes a similar 3-4 defense to that of Phillips, however it is much more aggressive. In this scheme, the 3 down lineman are responsible for taking on block and holding up lineman, rather than penetrating and getting to the quarterback (although that’s always a plus). Returning at NT is perhaps the 2nd best player at the position in the NFL, Jay Ratliff. Behind Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata, Ratliff occupies blockers and collapses the pocket, no small feat when battling 300+lb centers and guards at the same time. Marcus Spears returns at one DE slot, while returning starter Igor Olshansky starts opposite him; Jason Hatcher and Kenyon Coleman will provide depth. The linebackers are solid but aging with Keith Brooking and Bradie James on the inside, and All-Pro DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer on the outside. Rookie Bruce Carter and second year man Sean Lee should provide depth, and while Ware is always good for 10-15 sacks, this could be the year Spencer breaks out in a big way. If there is one area of concern on the Dallas defense it is their secondary. Effective but aging Terrence Newman starts at one corner, while Mike Jenkins holds down the other spot. Both had down years last season, but were Pro Bowlers the year before. Orlando Scandrick provides an All-Pro type nickel back. Sensabaugh and Elam could stand to be upgraded at safety, but they will have to do the trick for now.
The team returns kicker David Buehler as a kickoff specialist and long field goal kicker. His accuracy on shorter kicks has been inconsistent, so don’t be surprised if they bring in a veteran for competition. They also return the game’s best punter in Mat McBriar. Dez Bryant will be the primary punt returner this year after he had a PR TD last season, while Felix Jones and Bryan McCann, among others will battle for the kick returner position.