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Cowboys Mailbag: January 4, 2012

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Michael Bolsar - Lake Mary, FL: Has something about the overall team philosophy changed from the '90s to the present? What's different? Or, if it's the same, why is it not working anymore?

Nick: The NFL has changed from the '90s in that there is a salary cap. You can't just sign anyone you want at whatever price. That's a big reason why it's not working like it did then. And the team hasn't drafted as well as it did to land Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith in consecutive years, coupled with Darren Woodson and Larry Allen. They were drafting so much better back then. Now, poor drafts have caught up to them because they simply don't have the depth when the injuries hit in the season.

Josh: If you recall, the dynasty of the '90s was built from scratch. The Cowboys started at the bottom and reaped the rewards of their poor seasons with high picks in each round of the draft, not to mention the Herschel Walker trade. Since this team really started to rebuild itself – let's say when Bill Parcells came in 2003 – their highest pick was fifth overall, that year. For the most part they've been picking in the lower half of the first round and every subsequent round in each draft. They've also been without No. 1 picks a couple times because of trades that ended up busting, and just haven't consistently hit on enough picks. The philosophy is pretty much the same, but the execution hasn't been as good.

Kyle Saewert - Naperville, IL: Where do the Cowboys stand in terms of available cap money in this free agency season?

Nick: A lot of what the Cowboys did last summer, as soon as the lockout ended, was with 2012 in mind. They were taking a big hit on the cap by releasing players such as Marion Barber, Roy Williams, Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and even Andre Gurode. But the cap hits were spread over a two-year span, meaning some of it rolled over into the 2012 cap. To help out with that, players like Tony Romo, Miles Austin and DeMarcus Ware all restructured their contracts to provide a little bit of relief. With all of that, I think the Cowboys will have some money to do a little bit, but don't expect them to fill every need with the top free-agent player. I would guess they have the money to sign a few players, but they might be from their own roster, in guys like Anthony Spencer and/or Laurent Robinson.

Josh: Don't have a number for you. It could be pretty fluid, anyway. They've got enough to get some help, and re-sign the guys they want to keep, but it's still pretty tight because of all the dead money, and the possibility of more dead money if a guy like Terence Newman gets the axe. I think they can add some moderately priced, useful pieces – a guard, say, or an inside linebacker – but I don't see them going out for any big splash. Except in some rare cases, free agency is not a great place to spend big money.

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