- Calvin Watkins, ESPN.com
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Welcome to the offseason. The Dallas Cowboys finished the year 11-5 and won their first playoff game since 1996, but owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the team is not going to rest on its laurels thinking that it has arrived. Several big decisions have to be made this offseason. What do you do with Miles Austin? Should the team trade Marion Barber or Tashard Choice? How can Jason Garrett get Roy Williams to produce?
The fans have spoken, and in our first mailbag of the offseason they want to know about those Randy Moss rumors, whether Barber should be traded and what the Cowboys are looking for in the draft.
Q: Do you think the Cowboys should get rid of Marion Barber? -- J.R. (Dallas)
A: Direct and to the point; that's how we like it. I've gone back and forth on this issue. Barber did not have a good season. He was average with his 932 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He didn't break as many tackles as he did last season, produced only one 100-yard game and went over 90 yards just twice. In his defense, he was battling leg and hand injuries. But still, he averaged over 4 yards per carry just once in the last five weeks of the season.
It will be hard to cut Barber because he's due a $4 million bonus this spring, whether he's on the roster or not. Plus, his base salary is $3.86 million for 2010. If you trade Barber, somebody has to pick up that contract. So expect him to return.
Q: How can an offensive line that looked so dominant most of the season crack so easily against the Minnesota Vikings? The offensive line held up against some really good defensive lines last year but looked so out of place against the Purple People eaters. Would drafting an offensive lineman in the first round really help that much? Or should they maybe bring in a guard to take the place of a tight end on some plays like the New Orleans Saints did a lot with Zach Strief? -- Tyler Maples (Boston)
A: The offensive line was just OK; I wouldn't say great. I just think the Vikings' pass-rushers were just better than the Cowboys' protection in that playoff game. If you remember, it was Marc Colombo's second game back from surgery, and Flozell Adams got hurt in that game. Some would say Adams made a "business decision" by not returning in the second half of that game.
Adams, the left tackle, played better than we expected in 2009, and Doug Free, the right tackle who replaced Colombo, outplayed the veteran. Free has a future, and Jerry Jones said Free practiced at both tackle spots last year. Behind Free, the depth isn't very good.
Pat McQuistan, Duke Preston and Cory Procter were all on the active roster and didn't give the organization high hopes for the future. Expect a draft pick to be used on an offensive lineman, probably a guard, in the first two rounds.
Q: Hey Mr. Watkins, what do you think of trading Marion Barber for a draft pick and then signing Reggie Bush? Bush will give the Cowboys a punt and kick returner that they were missing last year. Not a big fan of Patrick "Fair Catch" Crayton as a punt returner. Would just like your opinion on this. Thank you. -- German Osorio (Corpus Christi, Texas)
A: German, I don't think the Cowboys will trade Barber and sign Reggie Bush. It makes no sense. Now, if you want to get a punt returner -- the team tried Felix Jones at the position, and he struggled to catch a punt -- that's fine. Patrick Crayton and Terence Newman have primarily returned punts, even when the great Pacman Jones was here (that's a joke). Crayton averaged 12.1 yards per punt last year and returned two for touchdowns.
Would you like somebody faster than Crayton returning punts? Sure. But it's all about the blocking scheme, and special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis uses one to create holes for returners. I'm sure that of the safeties, wide receivers and cornerbacks they look at in the draft, if those guys can return punts, I would think it would increase their chances of getting drafted.
Q: Is there any truth to the Randy Moss-to-Cowboys trade rumor? -- Johnie Moreno (Sumter, S.C.)
A: Not to my knowledge.
Q: I have heard rumors that the Cowboys might make a push to get Randy Moss. What would they have to give up, and is that even a possibility? Also, if this does happen, would that give Romo another target that needs the ball, similar to Terrell Owens? -- Jared (Fort Myers, Fla.)
A: Wow, another question about Randy Moss. Look, it's not going to happen. The Cowboys have Roy Williams and his $45 million contract. Miles Austin, coming off a Pro Bowl season, is the No. 1 receiver. He expects a big payday, and I would guess he might get an average salary of $6 million per season. The team likes young wideout Kevin Ogletree and values veteran Patrick Crayton. Say you traded for Moss. What do you give up? A first-rounder? A second-rounder? Then you've got to pay Moss more than Williams because, let's be honest, he's better than Williams. I asked an agent who has several wide receivers as clients about the Moss-to-Cowboys rumor. He said he hasn't heard it.
Q: Please ask Jerry Jones: How can Drew Pearson not be in the Cowboys' Ring of Honor? He made more big catches than any Cowboys receiver (including the other No. 88, Michael Irvin). He made the Pro Bowl five times in the 70s, was named to the all-decade team and was named as one of the 20 best receivers of all time. He really should be in the Hall of Fame -- should at least be in the Ring of Honor. I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter. -- Richard Weaver (Lufkin, Texas)
A: Jerry Jones said he wouldn't put anybody into the Ring of Honor in the first year of the new stadium, but is open to doing so in the second. I'm stunned Pearson isn't in the Ring of Honor; I think there were some personal issues between Pearson and Jones that have since subsided that kept him out. Pearson would be No. 1 on my list of people to put in there.
Q: What are the chances that the Cowboys try to sign a free-agent free safety, like Ryan Clark or whoever else is available? -- Mitchell (Raleigh, N.C.)
A: Ken Hamlin did not have a good season. "Average" is the word one front-office person used when describing him to me. Hamlin produced 74 total tackles, according to the coach's stats, no interceptions and four passes defended. He had the sixth-highest salary-cap number for players at his position last year at $5.8 million.
Hamlin did miss four games with a high ankle sprain. However, he didn't make enough plays on the ball. This season, Hamlin is scheduled to make $5.59 million in base salary. He's one player the Cowboys have to consider cutting, but if you cut somebody, who replaces him? That's the issue.
Alan Ball filled in for Hamlin and wasn't that bad, but can he do it full-time? I don't see the Cowboys getting into free agency to sign Clark or find another unrestricted free agent. If they draft one in the third day of the draft, that might be smart. Nothing wrong with getting younger.
Q: Hey man I'm a big fan of yours and always enjoy reading your work. I'm probably the biggest Cowboys fan up here in Minnesota, and our biggest concern this offseason is probably finding a field goal kicker. Mr. Watkins, how should we address this issue? Should we find a reliable one in free agency? Should we draft someone in the later rounds of the draft? We can't afford to lose close games next year because of bad FG kicking. Thanks! -- Jeff Cook (Pine Island, Minn.)
A: Thanks, Jeff. I've never been to Pine Island, but I had fun the last time I was in Minneapolis. Regarding the kicker issue: It will be addressed, but not in the draft or free agency. The Cowboys are hoping David Buehler wins the field goal job this season. They've brought in Chris Boniol as a consultant to help Buehler get his timing down. Buehler was telling me the other day the reason he struggled to kick was that he stopped doing it in practice because the team had Nick Folk. But when Folk struggled during the middle portion of the season, Buehler had trouble finding a rhythm when he attempted field goals.
Buehler planned on starting to practice field goals this past week and said he will compete for the job with Connor Hughes. The Cowboys like Buehler's leg. I saw him make a 60-yarder in practice last year, and if he gets his timing and technique down -- something Boniol will help him with -- he will be the field goal kicker in 2010, unless Hughes beats him out.
Q: Why can't Jerry Jones let somebody who knows about drafting pick, instead of letting us look like fools? He proved he does not know how to draft players. As long as he's owner-GM-president, the team will not be better and I'm sorry, coach Phillips is just not the answer, nor is Jason Garrett. I can watch the game at home and know what he's going to call. Thanks, CW, for listening. -- Ron (Houston)
A: This is an old argument. Jerry Jones is the owner/general manager and is not going anywhere. The perception is that Jones doesn't listen to anybody and drafts players without input. That's not true. In fact, he had to talk Bill Parcells into drafting DeMarcus Ware, and we all know what type of player Ware is. Was the 2009 draft special? Nope, but how many teams on a consistent basis have great drafts every year? As far as Wade Phillips is concerned, I think the defense was solid. Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman each went to Pro Bowls, inside linebacker Keith Brooking and defensive end Igor Olshansky had strong seasons, Jay Ratliff went to another Pro Bowl, Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen, two backup defensive linemen, produced. And how could we forget Anthony Spencer's breakout year in 2009? Spencer had six sacks, 36 quarterback pressures and nine tackles for loss. All these things occurred under Phillips.
Now, Jason Garrett that's another story. His play-calling is questionable at times, and he still doesn't know how to get Roy Williams the ball on a consistent basis. Garrett did help quarterback Tony Romo improve. Overall the offense was OK, but could have been better.
Q: What are the chances of releasing Roy Williams for a more productive WR? -- Henry (Fredericksburg, Va.)
A: They will not cut Williams. Let me say this again, so everybody understands: They will not release Williams. Has he produced the way the Cowboys would hope? No. But Jerry Jones said he thinks the coaches -- mainly offensive coordinator Jason Garrett -- and Williams himself had to get this fixed. Also, Williams told me he would be shocked if he was cut after the 2009 season. If Williams has another bad year, he expects to be cut.
Financially, it's a bad move for the Cowboys. Williams' contract calls for him to get a guaranteed $9.5 million bonus and a $3.4 million base salary for 2010. Both figures are guaranteed whether Williams is on the roster or not. It will be difficult, almost impossible, to get another team to trade for that contract. The best you can hope for is for Williams to produce better numbers than he's had in the past and for Miles Austin, Patrick Crayton and Kevin Ogletree to pick up their production.
Q: Mr Watkins, what would possess you to compare Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith (both undeniably great) to the Chicago Bears' Walter Payton and Neal Anderson? Clearly, Gayle Sayers is the other Chicago halfback to include. The rushing yards may not be there, but I doubt that many people outside Dallas would agree that your duo is equal to either of Chicago's two elite, and clearly the Bears' combo is vastly superior to Dallas'. Sayers and Payton are the greatest RB duo of any franchise that I can think of. Smith and Dorsett fall somewhere far behind. -- Graham Englund (Louisville, Ky.)
A: I wrote a story about Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett being the greatest running back combo in league history. They have the numbers, but is Smith better than Gayle Sayers? Nope. The reason I didn't include Sayers and Walter Payton is because Sayers' career was shortened by injury. In seven NFL seasons, Sayers rushed for 4,956 yards and 39 touchdowns. He was great; that's why he's in the Hall of Fame. I probably should have mentioned that in my story from the Hall of Fame selection show.
Q: What do you think the outcome of next season will be? -- Luis Villanueva (San Antonio)
A: That's a tough one to answer. I would think the Cowboys will be the favorites to win the NFC East again. I do believe Dallas is better than the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. You could project the Cowboys to win 10-11 games in 2010. How they handle the last half of their season will again be an issue, as they went 3-2 in the final five weeks of the regular season in 2009.
Mailbag: Barber's future, Moss rumors and Pearson's Ring value are hot topics.