OXNARD, California -- With Jerry Jones set to author the Dallas Cowboys' version of the State of the Union on Wednesday, let's get to wondering about some topics. Five of them exactly.
ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins has ranked the roster the last few years in terms of a player's importance to the team. It's something I've been thinking about lately and I wonder if we need to put Barry Church in the top five. Remember, this isn't a list of the best players. This is a list of the most important. In other words, if they lose this guy, they're done. The easy answer is to always put the quarterback at No. 1, and if the Cowboys lose Tony Romo for a long period of time, then they'd be done. But I think they could still function to a degree with Brandon Weeden. They did OK in 2010 with Jon Kitna as the quarterback. If they lose Dez Bryant, I think Romo can make the receivers better. Losing Jason Witten would be a major blow, but they can alter their style on offense. Losing DeMarco Murray would hurt, but they've been used to playing without him. If they lose Church, what do they do? Move J.J. Wilcox over? Go with Jakar Hamilton or Jeff Heath or Matt Johnson? There is not a proven performer at safety other than Church. A mini-wonder inside a wonder: I wonder if they'll be looking at safeties hard when teams start making cuts.
I wonder if the Cowboys will continue coming to Oxnard in the future once they move their headquarters to Frisco, Texas. The new facility is scheduled to be open in 2016 and there will be an indoor stadium available to stay out of the Texas heat. Oh, and there would be enough seating to sell a ton of T-shirts, hats, hot dogs and sodas to make it all worthwhile too. The Cowboys are one of a handful of teams that still go away for training camp. The coaches like Oxnard because of the weather and proximity of the practice fields. Everything is self-contained. The Cowboys aren't able to do a lot of marketing because of league rules, but they can still get together with some Los Angeles big wigs and they see a ton of national media show up every year. Could Jerry Jones be happy enough to stay at home in Frisco for an entire summer? Perhaps. Setting up shop for the West Coast for just a two-week run doesn't seem worth it, considering the cost involved to get everything there.
Tyron Smith would also be a tough player to lose. He's one of the best left tackles in the NFL. But my wonder isn't about Smith's value on the field. It's his value off it. He should get a contract extension that would make him one of the highest-paid tackles in the NFL. What I wonder about is how long that deal will be. Smith is only 23. He doesn't turn 24 until December. The Cowboys have locked up his services for 2015 by picking up his fifth-year option. They know they're not going to lose him, but I think they would like to go beyond five or six years on a new deal for Smith. I wonder if they could look at a deal as long as nine years for him. Crazy? Heck, he'll still be 31 by 2022 (how crazy is it to read 2022, by the way?). Locking Smith up to that long of a deal will require creativity and a lot of guaranteed cash, but tackles can play a long time. Smith would have a chance to cash in again at the end of that deal. Flozell Adams was 32 when he signed a six-year deal in 2008 that guaranteed him $15 million.
I've been asked this a few times on chats and on Twitter: Who leads the Cowboys in sacks? I don't have a good answer. I think I've said Henry Melton once and perhaps Jeremy Mincey. Maybe even DeMarcus Lawrence. I've jumped around because I don't know how anybody would know the answer. But I wonder how many sacks the leader will have this year. The last time the Cowboys did not have a defender with at least eight sacks was in 2002 when Greg Ellis had 7.5. The fewest sacks to lead the Cowboys in the Jones era is six, when Shante Carver did it in 1997 and Kavika Pittman followed it up in 1998. The Cowboys have one player on the roster with a double-digit sack season and Anthony Spencer, who had 11 in 2012, is likely to start the year on the physically unable to perform list. I think the over/under is seven and I don't know if I'd take the over.
Every year there are surprise players in training camp. Last year, wide receiver Eric Rogers had a good run, but it was undrafted safety Jeff Heath who made the biggest move in earning a spot on the 53-man roster. A couple of years ago it was Ben Bass, who has become something of a legend for his good work in the summer only to see it end because of an injury in his first two seasons. I wonder if we'll be talking about running back Ben Malena and safety Ryan Smith as the surprise players this summer. Malena is super quick. He's smart. He can play special teams. Lance Dunbar can play special teams, but they'd prefer to limit his work there with the role he'll play on offense, so that could make Malena the only back with special teams' ability. Smith did a nice job in the spring and was under the radar (in other words, we didn't talk much about him) unlike some guys like a Davon Coleman.