The way the Dallas Cowboys approach this offseason will dictate their on the field success in 2012. Even though the Cowboys were hit with a $10 million dollar reduction in their salary cap by the NFL, they still need to be aggressive. Free agency kicks off today at 4pm and the front office needs to be players, not spectators this year. Jerry Jones has played his sit back and let the market come to him approach too much the last few years in free agency. If he is serious about the Cowboys contending for their possible sixth Super Bowl title, then he needs to be aggressive.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan didn't exactly live up to the hype in his first season in Big D. His defense started off hot, but fell apart down the stretch run of the season. The Cowboys wisely brought him back for another campaign, but this time around they need to give him the personnel he needs to succeed.
The main reason Ryan's defense fell apart was that it lacked the right type of players. He glued together the best unit he could with what he was given. Remember that he was given just two draft picks in last years draft and was only able to sign Abram Elam and Kenyon Coleman in free agency. During the season he did get journeyman cornerback Frank Walker, but those type of transactions were not going to give Ryan the type of personnel he needed in order to win games.
What does Ryan need in order to succeed? That is up for debate among the Cowboys fan base, but here is part one of my series. We will take a journey to see what needs to happen in order for our defense to play for a championship in 2012.
Cornerback is the position that must be addressed either in free agency or the NFL Draft. Terence Newman led the Cowboys secondary with four interceptions last year, but he was consistently targeted by opposing quarterbacks towards the end of the season. Newman's future in Dallas is in a holding pattern right now, but the team could save money by releasing him and using that money on a younger and more productive player.
After Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick, there are serious question marks. Jenkins will be out at least until training camp recovering from shoulder surgery. In my opinion, he can be one of the top tier corners in the league when he is healthy and has his mind right. Jenkins is a definite starter next season and he is not a problem.
Scandrick received a lucrative contract extension last August, so the team does hold him in high regard. I believe he is better off as the #3 cornerback, making his living in the slot. His game has also improved in off-man coverage, allowing the play to come to him. His bread and butter has been press coverage, but he has really improved in zone coverage. He will get an opportunity to battle for the starting job opposite of Jenkins, but the Cowboys would be wise to add a cornerback whose skill set translates better to the outside.
Frank Walker should not be retained because he has very little speed and he relies on holding the wide receiver and drawing penalties. Alan Ball is a project that never panned out the way the Cowboys had imagined. He is a serviceable corner, but he is nothing better than a #4 cornerback.
UDFA Mario Butler spent the year on the Cowboys practice squad and intrigues the team because of his size and coverage ability. Right now he is still a project and needs to be developed on the 53 man roster. Expecting him to come in and produce immediately wouldn't be fair to the young man. He has talent, but let's bring him along slowly.
Reports around the NFL suggest that the Cowboys are highly interested in two marquee free agent cornerbacks. Kansas City Chief Brandon Carr has been one of the more under the radar corners in the NFL the past few years. The Chiefs were in a difficult position when they had to decide who to franchise this offseason, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe or Carr. They opted to tag their #1 wide receiver and sign the recently released Stanford Routt as insurance in case they lose Carr in free agency.
Carr is going to be one of the hottest players on the market this offseason. He has a combination of size, speed and ball skills that teams desire when looking for cornerbacks. Jonathan Joseph's deal should be a good indicator of what Carr will receive on the open market. If the Cowboys are serious about adding a productive starting cornerback, this would be an excellent place to start.
The second marquee cornerback that the Cowboys are apparently interested in is the controversial Cortland Finnegan. Finnegan will always be remembered for his on the field fight with superstar wide receiver Andre Johnson. His physical style has earned him a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the NFL. Hate him or love him, the man gets under wide receivers skins and wins the mental battle because of it. After gaining the mental edge, he uses his athleticism and coverage ability to lock down some of the best in the game.
Rob Ryan would absolutely love a player like Finnegan on his defense. Frankly, the Cowboys lack a physical force like him on their defense. Bringing in a talented cornerback with a mean streak would bring in a much needed mentality. The Cowboys just lack that killer instinct on the defense and that is why I believe Finnegan would be a excellent fit for the team.
If they strikeout in free agency, then the draft will have to be the method of operation to upgrade the secondary. Fortunately for the Cowboys, this is one of the deepest cornerback drafts in recent memory. Janoris Jenkins and Dre Kirkpatrick would be the obvious choices with the 14th overall pick in the first round, but let's discuss some other options outside of the first round.
Central Florida cornerback Josh Robinson had one of the best combine performances by a cornerback this year. He decided to enter his name early after three productive seasons in college. Robinson is the perfect prospect for the Cowboys because he fits the criteria they are looking for.
- Good size
- Ball skills
Robinson stands in at 5-10, 199 pounds. He has a lean muscular frame and plays with good technique in both man and zone coverage. His fluid hips and natural footwork allow him to shadow wide receivers all over the field. He ran a 4.33 forty yard dash and has the top end speed to trail wide receivers down the field. 10 interceptions in three years show that he has play-making ability. One area that should be noted is that he is a willing tackler. If you aren't a willing and solid tackler, you cannot play for Rob Ryan.
It wouldn't shock me to see a team select him towards the end of the first round, that is how good this kid can be. He is under the radar, but is one of the fast rising prospects in this years draft. If he is available a couple of picks before we go on the clock in the second round, that would be the time for Jerry Jones to get back to his draft day trading ways. Robinson has the skill set to develop into a starting cornerback and he will be one of the biggest bargains in the draft.
Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin is another second-round possibility for the Cowboys. Boykin is the versatile prospect that should intrigue the Cowboys scouts. SEC cornerbacks with starter experience always get bumped up my board. He fits the Cowboys criteria they look for in cornerbacks except that he is undersized. What stands out is his versatility. He had 9 interceptions, 4 kickoff return touchdowns, 1 punt return touchdown, 2 receiving touchdowns and 1 rushing touchdown during his career at Georgia.
- Ball skills
- Experienced starter from the SEC
The one area of concern with Boykin is his size, he stands in at just 5-9 and 182 pounds. The Cowboys usually look for prospects between 5-10 and 6-0. Boykin is very similar to Orlando Scandrick, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. If a prospect is undersized but has elite speed and upside, the Cowboys will take a chance on them. At the very least he could come in and play the nickel, his speed and coverage ability would translate nicely to a slot role early in his NFL career. He does have starter potential and could develop into a starting cornerback down the road.
Editors Note: The Cowboys did not attend Georgia's pro day this week, but I still believe Boykin may interest them.
Part Two: Defensive Line