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Running the Numbers: Four Spots Where Youth Is Needed


One of the things the Cowboys did well in the 2013 NFL Draft was adding youth at positions that could become holes down the line. In tight end Gavin Escobar, the Cowboys found a potential replacement for Jason Witten. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Witten's play has been declining for years; his 110 catches in 2013 were mostly the result of an increased workload and, on a per-route basis, he was the worst he's ever been. In wide receiver Terrance Williams, the 'Boys brought in someone who could take over for Miles Austin and his hefty contract within a year or two.

Nonetheless, the Cowboys still have work to do. Even with the young core pieces head coach Jason Garrett has managed to add, the team is still long in the tooth at a few spots. That's not a knock on the organization – every team is in a constant state of rebuilding – but the Cowboys need to continue to search for long-term replacements at some of the not-so-young positions.

1. Guard, Average Age of Starters: 28

As of now, we'll assume the Cowboys' starting guards will be veterans Mackenzy Bernadeau (27) and Nate Livings (29). Last year, Dallas handed the duo contracts totaling $30.2 million. Interior linemen typically have longer careers than many other positions, but the Cowboys still need to be on the lookout for youth inside.

The good news is they already have Ronald Leary (24) who could surprise some people and start as early as this season. David Arkin (25) looks like a bust, but Phil Costa (25) could potentially move over from center to give the team even more youth. If the Cowboys believe Costa can play guard, that could explain their willingness to draft Travis Frederick; perhaps they think their guards of the future are already on the roster.

2. Defensive End, Average Age of Starters: 30

When the 2013 season begins, All-Pro DeMarcus Ware will be 31 years old. Ware won't be a free agent until 2016 and there's little doubt that he'll be able to play at a high level for a few more seasons, but he can't be expected to produce forever.

More concerning is Anthony Spencer (29). The Cowboys are said to be in talks with Spencer regarding a long-term deal, but they might want to hold off on that move. It's a dangerous proposition to shell out a big contract to an outside linebacker-turned-defensive end coming off of a career year playing opposite one of the league's best pass-rushers, especially one on the brink of 30.

The Cowboys like what they have in Tyrone Crawford (23), but at 285 pounds, he's a different sort of player who's unlikely to bring the same pass-rush ability as Ware and Spencer. Kyle Wilber (24) is young, but we don't really know how he'll fit into the 4-3.

3. Defensive Tackle, Average Age of Starters: 31.5

There's perhaps no position at which the Cowboys need to get younger more than defensive tackle. Jay Ratliff (32) and Jason Hatcher (31) both have birthdays coming up prior to the start of the season. The latter defensive tackle's $6 million deal is cap-friendly, but Ratliff's $48.6 million contract extends through 2017. He'll be 36 years old at that time. Anyone want to put down money that he'll still be in Dallas?

The Cowboys' transition to a 4-3 scheme should help Ratliff, but it's unlikely he's going to ever be a Pro Bowl-caliber player again. Ben Bass (23), Rob Callaway (25), and Sean Lissemore (25) have all shown glimpses, but outside of Lissemore (maybe), would anyone really feel comfortable with those guys starting? The 'Boys need to get younger on the defensive line in a hurry. [embedded_ad]

4. Right Tackle, Average Age of Starters: 28

Since we don't really know who will start at right tackle, I combined the ages for Doug Free (29) and Jermey Parnell (27). Free is lucky to still be in Dallas, so it's pretty unlikely that he'll be starting after 2013. I really liked what Parnell showed in limited action last year, but it might surprise some people to know that he'll be 27 years old when the season begins.

Behind Free and Parnell, the Cowboys don't have much. Darrion Weems (24) is really the only young gun on the roster outside of Tyron Smith. Speaking of Smith, how nice is it to have your left tackle of the future head into his third NFL season at age 22? When searching for young upgrades at the aforementioned positions, Smith should really be the prototype.

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