Cowboys' defense short on money players

IRVING, Texas -- Late in Monday’s organized team activity, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli shouted to Martez Wilson.

“Come on, Martez,” he yelled. “Be a money player.”

It was third down in a two-minute situation. Wilson was able to come up with a would-be sack and a pressure on fourth down.

The Cowboys' defense doesn’t look to have many money players. Troy Aikman alluded to it on a recent appearance on The Afternoon Show with Cowlishaw and Mosley. Despite what many people thought, DeMarcus Ware was a money player. He had 42 sacks on third down. He had 31 sacks in the fourth quarter and 53.5 in the second halves of games. He had 25.5 sacks when the Cowboys were losing by 1-7 points and 27 sacks when they were winning by the same margin.

Who are the Cowboys’ money players now?

Linebacker Sean Lee would have been a money player, but he’s out for the season with a knee injury. Safety Barry Church might be their best bet.

The Cowboys hope defensive tackle Henry Melton can be a money player, but he’s coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. They hope cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can be money players. They hope defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, their second-round pick, can be a money player.

They have to "hope" for a lot.

The guys at Pro Football Focus ranked the rosters across the NFL, and the Cowboys came in at No. 18. Nine of the 12 projected key contributors listed on defense are either below average (Bruce Carter, Claiborne, J.J. Wilcox) or average (George Selvie, Jeremy Mincey, Justin Durant, Carr, Scandrick and Church). The only “good” starter is Melton.

Here is what they said about the Cowboys:

18. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys' defense had its problems before star inside linebacker Sean Lee suffered a torn ACL last week in OTAs. Lee was a high-quality starter, and only his history with injuries prevented him from being a legitimate blue-chipper. Without him, the team looks even more threadbare on that side of the ball.

Henry Melton was a nice addition in free agency, but when you look at what else has departed in the same offseason, it does little to stem the bleeding. There is a lot of money invested in the secondary, but neither Morris Claiborne nor Brandon Carr has come close to justifying it yet. The offense is what keeps this roster afloat, with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant headlining talent that runs deep across the skill positions. The Cowboys look likely to be involved in plenty of shootouts this year.

By the numbers: Tony Romo is among seven projected starters on offense (58.3 percent) who are graded good or better, with only Ronald Leary at left guard ranking below average. On defense, things are a different story entirely, with only Melton grading out as above average. The loss of Lee robs the team of its fifth high-quality starter and the only one on defense.

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If there is something to feel better about, the Cowboys are second in the NFC East, though by a wide margin. The Philadelphia Eagles checked in at No. 5. The New York Giants are No. 19 and Washington Redskins are at No. 26.