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Addressing Needs At Midway Point Of Free Agency & Draft
IRVING, Texas – Usually, a full week into the month of April meant the NFL Draft was just a few weeks around the corner.
Because the league has pushed it back into May, NFL teams sat Tuesday afternoon with still a full month before the first day of the draft, which kicks off on May 8 for the first round and goes until May 10.
In the rearview mirror, free agency is now exactly four weeks old.
So as the Cowboys sit nestled between about a month of free agency and a month until the draft, just where does this team stand in terms of needs?
Let’s recap the comings and goings of every position and what might be in store for each group in the upcoming weeks:
The Cowboys signed Brandon Weeden as a free-look opportunity to get a player taken in the first round just two years ago. Weeden will likely be the No. 3 QB, a spot the Cowboys haven’t even kept on the roster the last few years. While Kyle Orton expected to return this year – although hints at possible retirement have been thrown around – the Cowboys could still use another arm with some NFL starting experience, even if Weeden’s record is a less than stellar 5-15.
No news to report on this position, other than the Cowboys did not offer a restricted free agent tender to Phillip Tanner, which makes him an unrestricted free agent. He’ll probably sign with some team before camp, but probably not until after the draft. DeMarco Murray enters the final year of his deal and it’s uncertain whether the Cowboys are ready to give him an extension, even after his career season in 2013 ended with a Pro Bowl appearance.
The Cowboys surprised no one by cutting Miles Austin just before the start of free agency. By not signing a veteran, it appears the Cowboys are not only ready for Terrance Williams to take over as the No. 2 receiver, but feel comfortable with Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris in the next group. Another rookie and/or a low-priced veteran could be added down the line.
This position has seen little change this offseason. Jason Witten doesn’t look to be slowing down and Gavin Escobar is expected to return to his backup role, although he could be included more in the offensive game plan. James Hanna was a productive third tight end but should get competition in the draft. Expect one of the 11 picks to be used on a tight end, most likely one that excels as a blocker.
Backup center/guard Phil Costa signed with the Colts, meaning the Cowboys still need to find an adequate replacement in the interior line. But the starters seem to be intact, even with veteran Brian Waters yet to decide on his future. Whether or not Waters decides to have triceps surgery, he didn’t sound sure if he planned to return for a 14th season. Look for the Cowboys to add depth at both guard and tackle, where the backups are Jermey Parnell and Darion Weems.
Here’s a spot that saw quite a bit of change over the last four weeks. DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher are both gone. The Cowboys also lost unrestricted free agent Jarius Wynn, who signed with the Bills on Tuesday. But they’ve added Henry Melton, who made a Pro Bowl in 2012 with the Bears, and they’ve signed Jermey Mincey and Terrell McClain to bolster the depth up front. Jerry Jones went on record predicting that the defensive line will be much improved next year, despite the loss of Hatcher and Ware. The wild card remains unrestricted free agent Anthony Spencer, who is coming off microfracture knee surgery. Spencer has met with the Giants and Redskins but no team knows his rehab like the Cowboys. Wherever he signs, Spencer will probably get a minimum deal with incentives to cash in if he returns close to form.
The Cowboys attempted to get some veteran depth in Will Herring, but the deal fell through not long after the two sides agreed. Herring was more of a special teams player, but could help in nickel packages. There are lots of question marks here, but mainly with players on the roster. Sean Lee has to prove he can stay healthy. Bruce Carter needs to bounce back from a non-impact season. And Kyle Wilber and DeVonte Holloman need to show they can make a full position switch and compete for starting jobs. Any additions here probably come through the draft.
The Cowboys have yet to add a veteran like they have the last three years, getting players such as Will Allen, Brodney Pool and Gerald Sensabaugh, who re-signed a week into camp during the 2011 season. The club lost special teams standout Danny McCray to the Bears, but it didn’t appear the Cowboys were too interested in bringing him back anyway. This could be a draft-day need, but probably either early or late. Middle of the draft safeties could muddy up the waters in terms of evaluating the likes of Matt Johnson, Jeff Heath and J.J. Wilcox.
The offseason saw Morris Claiborne have two more surgeries (shoulder, finger), but he should be 100 percent by the start of camp, if not sooner. Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr both return, as does second-year pro B.W. Webb, whose rookie year saw more growing pains than gains. With the money tied into this position, offseason additions will likely come through the draft, but probably not until the middle rounds.