The Dallas Cowboys were a Super Bowl contender with few draft needs who may have had the luxury of selecting some instant impact players before making roster changes in early April that are sure to guide the team’s draft strategy.
On April 2, Dallas released longtime left tackle Flozell Adams, creating further need at an already thin position. Adams, a second-round draft choice in 1998, had spent his entire 12-year career with the Cowboys and was one of their most effective linemen. The only offensive tackle in team history to earn more Pro Bowl honors than Adams’ five selections is Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright, who participated in the all-star game on six occasions.
Adams signed a six-year, $43 million deal before the 2008 season, but saw a drop in effectiveness as he allowed a career-high eight sacks in 2009. He’s also been one of the league’s most highly penalized players over the last three seasons, drawing 39 flags.
On the same day, the team parted ways with starting free safety Ken Hamlin. Like Adams, Hamlin signed a six-year contract worth $39 million prior to the 2008 season. The safety was coming off his first Pro Bowl selection in 2007, but has disappointed the last two seasons and was always a liability in coverage.
Dallas offered one-year tenders to 11 of its restricted free agents, including wide receiver Miles Austin, who earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2009 and was offered the highest tender possible.
The Cowboys have picks in every round of the draft except the fifth. They hold picks at 27, 59, 90, 125, 196 and 234.
Offensive line should be the top draft priority for the Cowboys, specifically filling the void at left tackle. Even before releasing Adams, the team wanted to add youth to a group that features three starters who will be 32 years old at some point in the 2010 season and another who is already at that age. The only exception is at left tackle, where 27-year old Pat McQuistan is the immediate replacement. McQuistan spent his first four seasons as a reserve and has never started an NFL game. Reserve right tackle Doug Free played well last season and should be in the mix for the left tackle job. The team has met with Vladimir Ducasse of Massachusetts, John Jerry of Ole Miss, who is strictly a right tackle or guard, and Maurkice Pouncey of Florida, who can play any of the interior line positions.
Dallas should also be looking to fill the free safety spot vacated by Hamlin early. Reports are that they are very interested in Texas’ Earl Thomas and have already met with him. The Cowboys reportedly have also met with Morgan Burnett of Georgia Tech, Chad Jones of LSU and Nate Allen of South Florida. They would likely have to use a first- or second-round selection to secure any of the above safeties.
Miles Austin had a breakout season at receiver, but Roy Williams has been a disappointment. Dallas gave Detroit multiple draft picks to acquire Williams and signed him to a five-year, $45 million deal to serve as the replacement for Terrell Owens. But Williams has failed to live up to expectations, catching just 38 passes for 596 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Jerry Jones had dinner with Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State, the top-rated wide receiver in this year’s class. The team has also met with Arrelious Benn of Illinois, Brandon LaFell of LSU and Taylor Price of Ohio.
Another area of concern on defense is inside linebacker. Bradie James led the team in tackles for the fifth straight season and is locked in at one spot, but Keith Brooking will be 35 in October and isn’t the future. Bobby Carpenter hasn’t developed into the player they thought he would when they picked him in the first round of the 2006 draft, and is nothing more than a nickel package player. Dallas has met with Penn State’s Sean Lee and Arizona State’s Travis Goethel, a college strong-side linebacker who projects inside in the Cowboys’ 3-4 scheme.
Other players Dallas is said to have met with include Kentucky fullback John Conner, Missouri State tight end Clay Harbor, Penn State defensive end Jard Odrick, Cal defensive end Tyson Alualu, Indiana (Pa.) cornerback Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty, Wake Forest cornerback Brandon Ghee and Penn State outside linebacker Navarro Bowman.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: G Montrae Holland (was not re-signed)
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Miles Austin (received a first- and third-round tender at $3.168 million), S Gerald Sensabaugh (received a second-round tender at $1.815 million), DE Marcus Spears (received original draft choice tender at $1.226 million and signed offer sheet), DE Stephen Bown (received second-round tender at $1.759 million), DE Jason Hatcher (received second-round tender at $1.759 million), WR Sam Hurd (received second-round at $1.759 million), S Pat Watkins (received original draft choice tender at $1.176 million), C Cory Procter (received second-round tender at $1.759 million and signed offer sheet), DT Junior Siavii (received original draft choice tender at $1.101 million), K Shaun Suisham (not tendered), OT Pat McQuistan (received original draft choice tender at $1.176 million), C Duke Preston (received original draft choice tender at $1.226 million and signed offer sheet), CB Cletis Gordon (not tendered but re-signed to a one-year contract)
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: LB Steve Octavien (received one-year tender and signed), CB/S Alan Ball (received one-year tender)
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: DE Marcus Spears, C Cory Proctor, C Duke Preston, CB Cletis Gordon, LB Steve Octavien
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Leon Williams, K Connor Hughes, RB Herb Donaldson, LB Donovan Woods, G Travis Bright, CB Marquis Floyd, WR Manuel Johnson, WR Jesse Holley, WR Titus Ryan, DE Marcus Dixon
PLAYERS LOST: G Montrae Holland, K Shaun Suisham, T Flozell Adams, FS Ken Hamlin
OFFENSIVE LINE — After releasing five-time Pro Bowler Flozell Adams, the Cowboys’ No. 1 priority is finding a blindside protector for Tony Romo. Pat McQuistan and Doug Free are potential replacements on the roster. Free played well in seven starts at right tackle last season, but McQuistan has no starting experience. Tackles often get reached for and this is a deep class, so Dallas could be targeting a replacement with the 27th pick. The other four starters along the offensive line will all be 32 at some point during the 2010 season, and an infusion of youth is going to be needed in the near future.
INSIDE LINEBACKER — Bradie James is a mainstay at one inside linebacker spot and Keith Brooking should be solid for another season at the other, but Brooking will be 35 years old in October and isn’t a long-term solution. Bobby Carpenter, a first-round pick in 2006, has been a bust and mostly plays in the nickel package. The team drafted Jason Williams from Western Illinois with its first pick, a third rounder, last season, but Williams struggled making the transition from small school to the NFL. They should look to find a replacement at some point in the draft, and have already met with at least two potential candidates.
WIDE RECEIVER — Miles Austin had a breakout season catching 81 passes for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns to earn his first Pro Bowl nod. But on the other side of Austin, Roy Williams hasn’t lived up to expectations. Last season he caught just 38 passes, two short of his previous career low of 36 in 2008, for 596 yards and seven touchdowns. Patrick Crayton is 31 years old, and Kevin Ogletree was a nice find, but is unproven. Dallas has already met with several receivers including Dez Bryant, the cream of this year’s crop.
KICKER — Dallas should be in the market for a new kicker. Nick Folk was released before season’s end and his replacement, Shaun Suisham, wasn’t much better. Connor Hughes was signed to compete for the job. David Buehler is the kickoff specialist.