Commentary

Cowboys should take look at youngsters

With playoffs out of reach, evaluating talent can be balanced with trying to win

Updated: December 13, 2010, 11:22 PM ET
By Todd Archer | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Since 2005, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants are the only NFC teams to not have a losing record.

That streak is over for the Cowboys, who are 4-9 with three games to play.

"It's definitely an unusual position," linebacker Bradie James said. "We haven't been in this position in a long, long time."

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
AP Photo/Waco Tribune-Herald/Jose YauJason Witten doesn't think the Cowboys' approach should change with them being eliminated from playoff contention: "You don't take a week off. You don't take a night off. Three hours once a week for three more games you've got to lay it all out there."

James, Jason Witten, Tony Romo and Terence Newman were in their second seasons when the Cowboys finished 6-10 in 2004. The theme then was the same as now: win as much as possible.

With three games to play in 2004, the Cowboys were 5-8 and then-coach Bill Parcells chose to stick with the ageless Vinny Testaverde as his starting quarterback over Drew Henson and Romo. The Cowboys' only win during that stretch (versus Washington) was sandwiched around NFC East losses to Philadelphia and the Giants.

A year later, the Cowboys entered their final regular-season game against St. Louis knowing a 10th victory would not help their playoff possibilities. Parcells started Drew Bledsoe over Romo, much to the chagrin of some in the front office. They lost, 20-10, in a listless outing.

That's why the current stance is a little puzzling with three games to go in 2010.

"I want to put everybody we can out there to win the game," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said outside the locker room following Sunday's 30-27 loss to the Eagles.

It is a noble quest, but this is the time the general manager has to supercede the owner.

Jones continues to insist Romo will be available to play in at least the final two games at Arizona and Philadelphia. The quarterback still has some pain in his left collarbone and he has not practiced in nearly two months since suffering the injury.

The risk of re-injury makes the decision to sit Romo for the remainder of the season an easy one, especially without the playoffs on the line.

[+] EnlargeSam Young
Kirby Lee/US PresswireRookie tackle Sam Young hasn't seen the field since the preseason.

There is also the matter of interim head coach Jason Garrett's future and the thoughts of prideful veterans, such as James, Witten, Keith Brooking and Jay Ratliff.

"It's hard, obviously, because you play to get in the playoffs and have a chance," Witten said. "You feel like you're disappointed. You're letting down all of us: teammates, coaches. But you've got to play and there's only one way to play the game. You don't take a week off. You don't take a night off. Three hours once a week for three more games you've got to lay it all out there. That's the message, and I think everybody is on the same page there."

Garrett is in a difficult spot. As the interim coach, he is trying to do enough to earn the job on a full-time basis. He needs to win as many games as possible. Playing veterans gives him a better chance.

But winning and developing do not have to be exclusive discussions.

This is not baseball in which the September call-ups are written into the starting lineup with a nod to the future. This is about figuring out what you have, even if it is just with backups.

Alex Barron will be a free agent after this season and will not return. The Cowboys drafted Sam Young in the sixth round in April with a thought he could be their right tackle of the future. What's wrong with activating him, allowing him to serve as the backup tackle and play a series or two?

Marion Barber has a calf injury that has kept him out of the past two games. Unless he is 100 percent there is no need to play him again. Give the carries to Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.

The Cowboys have mixed in Sean Lee more at inside linebacker over the past month. Do more of it. Give Barry Church some playing time at safety. Give Josh Brent more playing time at nose tackle.

This would not be a youth movement, but it would be a prudent movement.

The 2010 season is a loss. At least learn a little more about what you have going into 2011.

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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