The Cowboys have made a couple of necessary changes to the coaching staff, but that won’t be enough to turn this team into a legitimate contender.
There also needs to be a significant personnel overhaul, starting with the players that staff newcomers Bill Callahan (offensive line) and Jerome Henderson (secondary) will be coaching.
Here’s a look at the starters the Cowboys need to seriously consider replacing:
CB Terence Newman: He had a good career here, but there’s no sensible reason to keep the 33-year-old Newman as he continues to decline. Opponents picked on him mercilessly in the second half of the season the last two years. He’s due to count $8 million against the salary cap, a figure the Cowboys can cut in half by cutting Newman. The problem is Orlando Scandrick hasn’t proven he’s capable of stepping into the starting role. The Cowboys would love Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to fall to them in the draft, but that’s not likely to happen.
SS Abram Elam: With his experience in Rob Ryan’s system, Elam was supposed to be the secondary’s traffic cop, but confusion reigned way too often. The Cowboys need more playmaking out of their safeties, so it makes sense to move on from Elam after his one-year contract expired. Ideally, they could find a rangy free safety, which would allow Gerald Sensabaugh to move back to strong safety, although they like young strong safety Barry Church. This isn’t a position the Cowboys want to address in the first round of the draft.
ILB Bradie James: The writing was on the wall for the nine-year veteran as soon as he became a part-time player early in the final season of his contract. The Cowboys need to get Bruce Carter, the second-round pick who played sparingly as a rookie after recovering from a college knee injury, ready to step into the starting lineup. The same scouts who were high on Sean Lee sold Jerry Jones on Carter, an explosive athlete with the ability to be a three-down linebacker who excels in coverage.
OLB Anthony Spencer: This might depend on the money. The Cowboys can’t pay too much to keep a former first-round pick who has never had more than six sacks in a season. Can Victor Butler be a starter after playing less than 25 percent of the snaps last season? Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw could be an immediate upgrade with the 14th overall pick.
DE Kenyon Coleman: He’s another one-year rental with experience in Ryan’s system who made minimal impact. There will be talk about moving Jay Ratliff from nose tackle to defensive end, as there is every season. Sean Lissemore could also be ready for a starting role after playing well in limited action, especially if they don’t acquire a defensive lineman in the early rounds or free agency.
C Phil Costa: Costa throughout his first season as a starter, ranking 30th in ProFootballFocus.com’s grades of centers. It’s too much of a gamble to go into camp with Costa, undrafted Kevin Kowalksi and seventh-round pick Bill Nagy competing for the starting job. The free agency market will be flooded with quality centers, including five or ProFootballFocus.com’s top six from 2011 (Houston’s Chris Myers, Minnesota’s John Sullivan, Green Bay’s Scott Wells, Indianapolis’ Jeff Saturday and Atlanta’s Todd McClure) as well as Baltimore’s Matt Birk and San Diego’s Nick Hardwick. Wisconsin’s Peter Konz is expected to be the top center drafted and could be a fit for the Cowboys in the second or third round.
LG Montrae Holland: Holland was a stopgap. The Cowboys need to upgrade at guard. Todd Archer presented the idea of making a big splash by signing New Orleans’ Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, who played for Callahan at Nebraska. Stanford’s David DeCastro could be the best value on the board when the Cowboys go on the clock at No. 14, and he’d probably form a phenomenal tandem with tackle Tyron Smith for a decade or so.
OG Kyle Kosier: The three-year deal Kosier signed last summer isn’t rich enough to give him any job security. He struggled, especially in the running game, while playing through a painful foot injury this season. His injury history is a concern at his age (33), but the Cowboys need to make sure they have an upgrade in place before deciding whether to move on from Kosier.