IRVING, Texas - With so many expected free agents, including two of the best offensive players in football, the Cowboys have plenty of questions to answer here this offseason.
Some of them will be answered here before the start of the free-agent signing period on March 10. Others might take a few more weeks, and perhaps after the draft.
For now, DallasCowboys.com has come up with 10 pressing questions the Cowboys are facing this offseason and writers Bryan Broaddus, David Helman and Nick Eatman will try their best to answer them, giving a forecast of what could happen here in what should be an entertaining offseason.
Today's question focuses on the Cowboys' dilemma at linebacker, a position that has Justin Durant, Rolando McClain and Bruce Carter all as unrestricted free agents come March 10.
Which free-agent linebacker should be the Cowboys' highest priority to re-sign?
David:Each of the three free agent linebackers comes with a certain amount of risk. When I weight it all together, I keep coming to the conclusion that Justin Durant's risk factor is the lowest for this defense. Yes, it's true that he's been unable to stay healthy, as he missed roughly half of the Cowboys' games in the past two years. When he was healthy in 2014, though, he was one of this team's best defenders. He notched 50 tackles in just six games. He's also versatile, as he played well at both Mike and Will linebacker in 2014, and he spent time at Sam in 2013. There is some degree of risk with his injury history, but Durant said on Twitter on Wednesday that he had been cleared for the offseason program after tearing his bicep in October. His age, 29, combined with that injury history, should make him an affordable signing, too. Meanwhile, I expect that Bruce Carter is going to command a high price tag when you factor in his youth, his athleticism and his strong finish to 2014. There's no denying Rolando McClain was a boost to this club last year, but he has injury history of his own – and he comes with off-field risk, as his recently-revealed drug test problems can attest. I think Durant brings the lowest risk for the lowest price, and he can work well alongside Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens – wherever the Cowboys need him to.
Nick:That's a question that probably has a different answer now than last week before any news came out McClain reportedly failed a drug test. Regardless if he is facing a suspension, the Cowboys will have to figure out if they can trust McClain to not only be ready to play, but willing. Who knows, maybe his price tag drops immediately. But to answer the question, I'd say Bruce Carter. While, I'm sure the other guys are more enamored by Durant, I think the emergence of Anthony Hitchens lowers Durant's value. Having a player who can line up at three different spots is important, but Hitchens now can do that and is much cheaper and younger. The return of Sean Lee can stable the middle, unless you want Hitchens there. So to me, I'd try to sign Carter back at a reasonable price, although I think he's likely to go elsewhere considering he made enough plays that will get teams with plenty of cap space excited about the possibilities. By default, I'd say Carter, but wouldn't break the bank on him.
Bryan: For the fan that follows this team, I am sure if you took a poll of who would be the most important linebacker to sign this offseason, I am sure Rolando McClain would get the majority of the votes. As much as McClain meant to the success of this defense in 2014, I have a feeling the players and coaching staff would say that Justin Durant was the best linebacker they had on the squad. As good as McClain and Bruce Carter were at times, there were plenty of inconsistencies in their games and with Durant there were not as many of those issues. It was clear when you watched Durant play that he was in charge of the defense and the other defenders looked in his direction not only for leadership but his playmaking ability. When it came to creating turnovers on this defense, there was none better, because he was always around the ball. You see a player with high football intelligence and that is so important when you are playing defense. Durant gives you the flexibility to play him at all the linebacker positions, but his best position I thought was Will. He is an older player that has been banged up at times during his time in Dallas, but he is as physically and mentally tough as they come, which is why I would resign him.