(Editor's Note: This is the eighth of a 12-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys' roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2013 season. Today we examine the outside linebackers.)
Pressing Matters:With an assumption that the Cowboys are ready to move over into Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme, obviously the outside linebackers on the roster won't be the same guys next year. Players like Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware would be defensive ends, and inside backer Bruce Carter would likely move to the outside in this scheme. So the most pressing of matters is figuring out who plays what – and who's going to be here. For Spencer, an unrestricted free agent, he'll get to test the open market, and will probably entertain offers from 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. The Cowboys certainly want to keep him, but his price tag might be too costly for a team already way over the salary cap. Victor Butler is also an unrestricted free agent, but doesn't seem to be a great fit in the 4-3 scheme.
2012 Evaluation: Since we're talking about last year, we'll keep Ware and Spencer in the discussion with linebackers. This is one of those years where expectations can cloud overall production. Spencer never had more than 6.5 sacks in a season but finished with 11 sacks, nearly twice his career high. Not only that but Spencer came up with clutch sacks, many of which were in the fourth quarter. As for Ware, he finished with 11.5, a big drop from his 19.5 of last season. Down the stretch, Ware played with an assortment of injuries, including a right shoulder that required surgery after the season. In the finale against the Redskins, Ware wasn't even close to 100 percent and also struggled in the open field to keep containment on Robert Griffin III. It wasn't a good reflection of the player Ware has been for most of his career, but obviously injuries slowed him down tremendously. Butler had just three sacks last year, despite playing more late in the season with Ware injured.
Need More From … : While he's been a good role player for the last two years, it might be time we see more from Alex Albright. The coaches love his versatility as he can play every linebacker spot in a 3-4 scheme. Now he'll likely get the chance to play outside linebacker in the 4-3. It'll be interesting to see if the Cowboys sign a veteran in free agency or draft a true outside linebacker. Either way, expect Albright to get plenty of chances to make his mark.
DeMarcus Ware – Will likely move from OLB to DE, his college position at Troy. As long as he's healthy, he could produce in either scheme, but it gets more physical now with his hand on the ground every play.
Anthony Spencer –Spencer picked the right time for a career season with free agency around the corner. Might have priced himself out of the Cowboys' budget.
Victor Butler – Might be viewed as a "tweener" in a 4-3, being too big for OLB and not big enough for DE. As unrestricted free agent, he'll likely test the market.
Bruce Carter (4-3 scheme) – Will move to the outside in this scheme. Should be fully healthy from elbow surgery by the start of OTAs and minicamps. Could be an even better fit than the 3-4.
Alex Albright – Versatile player who could be used at many spots, but OLB in a 4-3 could be the way Albright competes for a starting job.
Kyle Wilber – Played defensive end in college, but it appears he will continue to play linebacker in the 4-3 scheme. Didn't have a big role as a rookie. Needs to stay healthy in the offseason.
Brady Poppinga– Signed in midseason and wasn't a big factor. Whether or not he was in "Batman shape" he didn't have a huge role. But like many others, he had to learn on the run.
Cameron Sheffield – Signed after the season to the futures list. He has three years of NFL experience, but could be more of a pass-rusher.