So what do the Cowboys need for next year? Sean Lee filled in nicely this year, but with Leighton Vander Esch having issues with his neck, the front office needs to find a solid linebacker in the draft, along with defensive tackle, safety and quarterback among other needs, don't they? - MARCO ASPAAS / VANCOUVER, WA
Rob: It's a tough question to answer right now because the Cowboys have over 30 players who potentially could hit free agency next year. That's over half the roster. So all the positions you mentioned will have to be addressed in some form of fashion, even at quarterback. Dak Prescott is sure to be back as the face of the franchise, but backup Cooper Rush is set to be restricted free agent. Vander Esch is expected to make a full recovery, but Lee and Joe Thomas have expiring contracts. Tight end is another one with Jason Witten's contract expiring and Blake Jarwin set to be a restricted free agent. You could look just about anywhere on the roster and say they might need help/depth.
David: I'm not worried about linebacker just yet, because Sean could come back for one more ride, and Leighton is supposed to make a full recovery. We'll see how all that plays out in the coming weeks. Defensively, I agree this team needs an upgrade at defensive tackle and at safety. Don't ignore cornerback, because we don't know what the future holds for Byron Jones and Anthony Brown. On offense, I'd love to see them draft a dynamic tight end or a top tier slot receiver.
I think the starting field position average for the Cowboys this season was at their 25-yard line, good for fourth to last in the league. I think that stat best shows the problem for the Cowboys. The defense didn't get many three and outs. The offense had critical three and outs. The punter was third to last in the league in net yardage. On top of that was many missed field goals, until the kicker change. I think that combination of events led to the 8-8 season. Do you see it that way? - ROBIN FULCE / PANHANDLE, TX
Rob: No doubt field position was a major factor in the losses. You left out takeaways. The Cowboys finished with 17, tied for the league's fourth lowest total. When the offense had shorter drives, like the first Philly game and last Sunday's Washington game, their odds of points went up dramatically. But you mentioned all three phases contributing to the season, and you're right. It all goes together. Not enough complementary football in the games they lost.
David: Not enough three and outs and not enough takeaways, absolutely. It's not a coincidence that three of the most lopsided wins over the year came when the defense made life easy on the offense. They couldn't do it often enough.