This is the third installment of Fixing the Cowboys:
When the final whistle blew on that chilly night at MetLife Stadium, the season ended for the Dallas Cowboys. The hope of a division title died with a roster that wasn’t good enough to compete with the Giants for the second time in four weeks. If Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett are honest with themselves, they will look at this roster and say that it’s just not good enough to compete with the Giants and the Eagles. We can talk about the Super Bowl all we want, but if you are not playing well in your division, there are going to be problems.
When I worked for the Cowboys, the biggest issues I had during our final meeting of the season was that we were not honest with the makeup of our squad. When you go 5-11 for three straight seasons and the coaches talk about the players like we were 11-5, there are going to be problems. Garrett and these coaches can't keep Jerry from believing his roster is better than it really is. I'm not going to say that there isn't talent on this team, but I will say there were players on this roster that Jones and Garrett were counting on that just weren't good enough.
Here is what I would try and do to help it:
1. As much as I want to overhaul this secondary, I am going to try and fix the left cornerback spot first. Terence Newman needs to be replaced immediately. His level of play has clearly slipped and he no longer plays with any confidence. When a corner lacks confidence you might as well be playing with a speed bump out there. There are two ways that Jones can attack this area. The first is to trust his pro scouting staff, which brought him Laurent Robinson and Tony Fiammetta. The big name corners on the market this spring will be Cortland Finnegan of the Titans and Brent Grimes of the Falcons. Both of these players are similar in age and will command top dollar. If I had to lean one way, I would probably go toward Finnegan because of his aggressive style and the nastiness in his play, which this team lacks. If there might be a hitch, it'd be that Jones and Garrett would like to have a corner with more size -- Finnegan and Grimes are both in the 5-9, 185-pound range.
The second way this area could be addressed is through the draft, which can either be feast or famine. Sitting in the 14th spot, Jones is still in decent shape because you usually have between 15 to 18 players that have first-round grades on your board. The second-best corner on the board will be Dre Kirkpatrick from Alabama. There is no questioning Kirkpatrick's ability or size (6-2, 192 pounds), but now character issues have been raised -- he was charged with possession of marijuana Tuesday and was released after paying a $120 fine.
When I worked for Bill Parcells, he put players with character flaws into "The Box" -- an area where you put players that you did not want to draft, period. I guarantee there will be teams that will take Kirkpatrick off their boards and into "The Box." The question for the Cowboys: Will Kirkpatrick be able to explain what happened, and will other examples of questionable behavior be uncovered? I would still consider Kirkpatrick an option for the Cowboys, but he really has to convince me that it'd be in my best interest to select him. I promise the Cowboys will turn over every rock to get to the bottom of this. He's that good of a player.
2. As much as I want to fix the interior of this offensive line with the addition of a free-agent guard like the Saints' Carl Nicks, I have to think about the amount of funds I wound have to allow for this to work. Don't get me wrong, it'd be money well spent, but there's also an opportunity to select the best guard in the draft -- Stanford's David DeCastro.
Jones and Garrett have to ask themselves if finding a replacement for OLB Anthony Spencer is more important than filling a position where you seem to have better options. Does Kyle Kosier, Montrae Holland, Derrick Dockery, Kevin Kowalski, Bill Nagy and David Arkin make you feel comfortable enough with the guard spot as is, whereas you just have Victor Butler and Alex Albright at outside linebacker? There is no doubt the Cowboys lacked a pass rusher that could help DeMarcus Ware on the other side. The Cowboys like Butler -- and he very well could be the starter going into 2012 -- but why not use the 14th pick to upgrade that spot with Alabama's Courtney Upshaw or South Carolina's Melvin Ingram? The Cowboys must do a better job of pressuring the quarterback because Ware can't do it alone. I have been critical of Ware, but a player on the other side could take pressure off him and help this defense tremendously.
3. Sticking with the defense, I'm also taking a hard look at three spots -- defensive end, inside linebacker and safety. At defensive end, I'd move on from Kenyon Coleman, who wasn't nearly as good at the end of the season as he was at the beginning. I like Jason Hatcher, and I also think there is a role for Marcus Spears. Sean Lissemore proved to be a nice swing guy, but he looked better at nose tackle, so I'm tempted to keep him there. The scouts have hope for Clifton Geathers, but I don't share that. I would look to draft a productive player like Boise State's Billy Winn, who played tackle but should be suited more for play on the outside.
4. I'm also looking for help at inside linebacker, because there's really no depth. It's time to move on from Bradie James and Keith Brooking. Bruce Carter will be ready to play in 2012 and will be productive playing next to Sean Lee. However, behind those two, there's nothing. I'd try to add player in the fourth round that could be a quality backup but also help in the nickel, like Kevin Burnett did several years ago. Texas' Emmanuel Acho could be an interesting choice. Acho has a nose for the ball and is super active.
5. At safety, I'm moving on from Abram Elam because I need someone with more range. I have too many safeties on this roster that are forward players, such as Barry Church and Danny McCray. This defense needs someone that gets their hands on the ball and can help off the hash or middle of the field. I don't need safeties that can't adjust to Victor Cruz going down the field or Riley Cooper catching a jump ball from Michael Vick. If the Cowboys have a safety with range, it would be a step in the right direction in helping this secondary.
For all the problems that Garrett has had with game management, I feel he's got a good eye for talent and understands how you go about gathering players. Despite what people want to believe, the head coach does have a great deal of say in what players are signed and drafted. Bill Parcells took advantage of this; Dave Campo didn't. Chan Gailey convinced Jones that he wanted nothing to do with Randy Moss. Jason Garrett went to USC last season to see Tyron Smith work out and talk with members of the staff to get a feel for him.
You might not want to trust Jerry Jones, but you should trust Jason Garrett. I think he gets it.