How desperate are the Cowboys, really?

So I've been trying to find something to write about the Dallas Cowboys even though they have no cap room and aren't signing anyone, because this is an NFC East blog and should hit on all four of the teams as much as possible. And I found this from Bryan Broaddus on the team's web site about defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and the way he'll fit into Monte Kiffin's 4-3 defensive alignment. Bryan's excited because he thinks Ratliff is the kind of player who will flourish in the 4-3, and that he can play either of its defensive tackle positions well:

In this scheme, the defensive coaches want their guys to play with more speed and quickness, which is right down the alley for Ratliff. There is a reason that Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett never wavered about Ratliff coming back for this 2013 [season] despite the legal problem he faces in the coming months. He was built to play in this scheme.

This got me thinking. Sure, Ratliff's a knucklehead for blowing up at Jerry Jones in the locker room and especially for getting busted for DUI a month and a half after teammate Jerry Brown was killed in a drunk driving accident for which teammate Josh Brent was charged. And sure, he had no more sacks last year than you or I did. But when healthy and on the field, Ratliff is still an excellent player, capable of disrupting an offense from an interior line position.

Then that got me thinking that Ratliff's not exactly alone on the roster. On the defensive side of the ball, DeMarcus Ware is an excellent player. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are very good. Linebacker Sean Lee is outstanding, and fellow linebacker Bruce Carter sure looked headed that way last season before his injury. Jason Hatcher was excellent last season, and so was Anthony Spencer, whether he's worth his $10.6 million franchise tender or not.

On offense, the Cowboys have excellent players at quarterback, tight end and both starting wide receiver spots. They have a very good running back and left tackle. Can you find fault with any or all of these players? Sure. But on balance, I just gave you 14 starting positions at which the Cowboys are at least above average, and in several cases much better.

The point? Well, as Cowboys fans bemoan the lack of cap space and resultant lack of activity in this first week of free agency, it might be worth remembering that there are some really good players on this team, and that it might not be the kind of team that needed to have a big first week of free agency.

Now, of course they need work. I'm not naive. I know they've been 8-8 each of the past two seasons. I know the offensive line is a wreck, that they have question marks at safety, and that depth is an issue in spots. I know they need to find another starting linebacker to go with Lee and Carter. And yes, of course I know about Tony Romo's reputation for playing small in big spots. All of that stuff is true. I just think it's too easy too often for Cowboys fans to get negative about the way they perceive their team, and I don't think it's all doom and gloom there in Dallas.

Each of the past two seasons, they made it to the final game with a chance to win the division. By definition, that's a contending team, and as close to being a playoff team as one can get. They must improve in spots, most notably the offensive line, or it's going to be hard to believe they can make any big leap forward. But I don't agree with the perception that they're in big trouble because they were hamstrung this week in free agency. I think there are a lot of very good players on the Cowboys' roster who, if properly supported by a good draft and some smart free-agent bargain hunting, can make this a competitive team in 2013 just as it was in 2011 and 2012.

I think that's worth keeping in mind, is all.