Cowboys put it all on the line at center

MINNEAPOLIS -- Leonard Davis is home, waiting for a job offer from anybody, although he did visit with the Detroit Lions not too long ago. Marc Colombo is in Miami, reunited with Tony Sparano as the Dolphins' right tackle.

Whither Andre Gurode?

Nothing that happened in the Dallas Cowboys' 23-17 win Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings was more important than what owner and general manager Jerry Jones revealed prior to kickoff: Gurode's future with the team is in serious doubt after Jones said he would be meeting with the five-time Pro Bowler on Sunday about "cap issues."

Jones would not come out and say it exactly, but Gurode will have to take a cut from his $5.5 million salary to remain with the Cowboys. Gurode, who was replaced by undrafted rookie Kevin Kowalski, declined comment after the game other than to say he was glad the team played well in the victory.

Jones would not get into trade possibilities regarding Gurode, but there is no way the team would submarine those odds by benching Gurode if they had not already made inquiries.

If the meeting between Jones, Gurode and Gurode's agent does not end with a new deal, the Cowboys will enter 2011 with only left tackle Doug Free in the same position this season as last. Kyle Kosier was moved to right guard to help with the transition of first-round pick Tyron Smith.

Without Gurode, the starting offensive line for the Sept. 11 season opener at the New York Jets would be: Free, seventh-round pick Bill Nagy, Phil Costa (who has one career start), Kosier and Smith. That's provided the sprained posterior cruciate ligament Costa suffered last week in practice is healed enough for him to play against the Jets.

The Cowboys will go from one of the oldest offensive lines in football in 2010 -- Free was the only starter younger than 30 -- to one of the youngest with an average age of 25.2 years.

So is this go-young-or-go-home movement a sign the Cowboys are looking at 2011 as a rebuilding year?

Jones, who has never shied away from Super Bowl expectations in the past, would never admit publicly to such a maneuver. Not with a new stadium. Not with Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Dez Bryant, Jay Ratliff, Felix Jones and some other pieces in place who should put the Cowboys in a possible playoff chase.

"Oh, I don't think that's the case at all," Witten said. "That's not the expectations he's relayed to us and obviously that's not our expectations for each other. I don't look at it that way."

When the rebuild theory was brought up to the owner after the game, he laughed.


"You think so?" Jones asked. "No."

Then Jones added: "Jason Garrett's doing an outstanding job of basically looking and evaluating and putting the emphasis on not what you've been awarded, not what your Pro Bowls are but how you're playing right now. And it's working. And I think that's what you're seeing on point in the offensive line."

The Cowboys went 6-10 in 2010 with Davis, Colombo, Roy Williams, Marion Barber and Gurode, so Jones clearly figures he can do the same or better without them in 2011 -- should the center get cut.

It would be risky to cut Gurode, for sure. If Smith and Nagy start the season opener, as it appears will happen, it will be the first time in franchise history that two rookie linemen will open the year with the No. 1 offense.

Only five rookie linemen have started season openers in the past: Rob Petitti (2005), Gurode (2002), Dave Widell (1988), Burton Lawless (1975) and Charlie Granger (1961).

But this is how the NFL works nowadays.

The Green Bay Packers started a rookie right tackle (Bryan Bulaga) and a third-year right guard (Josh Sitton) on their way to winning Super Bowl XLV. Jermon Bushrod was in his first year as a full-timer at left tackle when the New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV. Guard Carl Nicks was in his second year. The Pittsburgh Steelers started a rookie right guard in Darnell Stapleton in Super Bowl XLIII.

"I better be [comfortable] because it's got a good chance of ending up that way," Jones said.

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.