IRVING, Texas – Plenty of players remain available in free agency as teams gear up for the NFL Draft.
Following Tony Romo's extension, it's possible some of those free agents wear a Cowboys uniform next season, but not all of the potential position battles in Dallas will be answered through free agency or the draft.
Here are some of the most glaring competitions to take a look at for next season, as it stands today.
Strong Side Linebacker – Executive vice president Stephen Jones said he'd hope Kyle Wilber could fill this role next season, but that he'd still be in a competition with Alex Albright and the newly re-signed Ernie Sims. That was all before Justin Durant was signed as a free agent from Detroit, coming off the best campaign, and first 100-combined tackle season, of his career. Durant seems more like a two-down strong side option that could be subbed out on third down and nickel packages, but it's also possible that Wilber can earn the full-time job with a dominant camp. Sims could be a backup at a couple of the linebacker spots, and it's still plausible that Albright also works in as a defensive end option to get more snaps. The Cowboys can go a multitude of ways at this spot.
Right Tackle – If Doug Free doesn't get released and designated a June 1 cut, this is a competition that's already been in the works. Free and Jermey Parnell began a rotation late in the season, which seemed to work for both players. This is a spot that could be answered in the draft, but if nothing is done, it'll be interesting to see how the Cowboys handle playing time. Parnell's career is on the rise and he's still early in terms of his development as a football player. The Cowboys could continue a rotation if they felt that worked best, but it'd be rare to enter a season with a committee system at right tackle. Ideally, they'd like to do whatever possible to get Free back to his old form and the guy they paid him to be.
Guards– The most likely candidates at the guard spots on the current roster would be the starters from last season, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. A restructure to the contract of Bernadeau makes it seem like he'll at least be on the roster going forward, but his position flexibility also makes him an option at center. If the Cowboys keep Livings, it'd be shocking to see him play anything other than guard. But the Cowboys also like what they have in Ronald Leary, who may be the only true candidate currently on the team that's in a position to supplant one of the starters. David Arkin is also on the roster, but unless he can make drastic strides from last season, it's unlikely he assumes a starting role.
Safeties– The addition of Will Allen to the fold may not stop the two youngsters in Barry Church and Matt Johnson from assuming starting roles. Nobody really knows if Johnson can handle a full load at this point, and how Church looks after his Achilles' injury is yet to be seen. Allen's a veteran who can help out at the position, but he isn't accustomed to being a full-time starter despite nine years in the league. However, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin knows what Allen was like from his days in Tampa Bay, so if the Cowboys don't feel comfortable with the offseason progression of either of their young safeties, he could be an option. While it would be surprising to see the Cowboys pass on a safety in the draft, they have three legitimate options if they so choose.
Defensive Tackles – If Jay Ratliff's healthy to start the season, he'll like take up one of those tackle spots, particularly considering the Cowboys chose to hold onto him after a rough 2012 season on and off the field. The player lining up next to him on the interior is more of a mystery. The Cowboys will need to decide which player will be the one-technique and which will play the three-technique, and they also must decide which players will rotate in at defensive end and which will compete at tackle among Sean Lissemore, Jason Hatcher, Tyrone Crawford, Ben Bass and Robert Callaway. These decisions may not be happen until the players get out on the field, but they'll need to prepare their bodies in the offseason to lose or gain weight, depending on their spot.