- Calvin Watkins, ESPN.com
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Welcome to free agency.
Today it all gets going, but don't expect the Cowboys to be major players. Sure they like Julius Peppers. Who doesn't? Sure, they'd like to grab one of those free agent safeties, but not at the expense of breaking the bank.
Q: What is your take on the possibility of the Boys landing Antrel Rolle? -- Edwin (Monrovia)
A: I talked to someone about this Thursday night. Tthe thinking is: Yes, the Cowboys like Mr. Rolle, but not if they have to give him a five-year deal worth about $25-30 million. The Cowboys are not players here at that price. The team will probably draft a safety or hope Michael Hamlin or Alan Ball emerges this summer. If the Cowboys can get safety O.J. Atogwe (84 tackles, seven QB pressures, three forced fumbles and two interceptions in 12 games for the Rams last year) at an affordable price, he might be it. One thing the Cowboys need at the safety position is more plays on the ball and forced turnovers.
Q: Being released by San Diego, does Jamaal Williams become a prime target to spell/split time with Ratliff? With Williams playing on obvious running downs allowing Jay Ratliff to stay fresh and apply more pressure in passing situations? -- Andrew (Beaver Falls, Pa.)
A: Andrew, I doubt it. Dallas liked what backup Junior Siavii provided the team last season, though his play count decreased as the season drew to a close. The only way I see the team getting Jamaal Williams is if they move Ratliff to defensive end. Two years ago, Ratliff practiced some at end during training camp and didn't like it. For right now, expect Ratliff and Siavii to maintain the nose tackle spot. Expect the Cowboys to push Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher to challenge Marcus Spears for the starting end spot this year.
Q: How hard is it for Jason Garrett to realize Tashard Choice needs to get on the field more!? The rare occasions in which he touches the ball he always finds the hole, makes positive plays and energizes the team. I think it's essential to get him involved more, especially on screens. It's clear that Garrett is clueless when it comes to anything regarding player delegation and situational playcalling. -- Sanjay (Tucson, Ariz.)
A: The Cowboys are not giving up any of their three running backs -- Marion Barber, Tashard Choice or Felix Jones. The rotation isn't going to change, either. Barber will be the starter, and Jones is the backup. Jones is an excellent player, with speed and the ability to make people miss. Barber is a bruiser who has slowed down somewhat. So what is Choice? He's well-rounded, but he can't get on the field because Jones is a first-round pick and Barber is the starter. Choice would like more playing time, and he could get it, especially if the Cowboys use the Razorback Formation more often this year. For right now, Choice has to be patient. He is basically an insurance policy if Barber or Jones get hurt, which has happened the last two seasons. Garrett likes Choice, but feels Barber and Jones gives the team the best chance to win.
Q: Mr. Watkins, I've been arguing with my friend and maybe you can clear it up for us. How long does another team have to offer Miles Austin a deal after he has been tendered? -- Mike Moreno (El Paso, Texas)
A: I've enjoyed my trips to El Paso in the past. Covered a Fernando Vargas fight there a few years ago and some SMU basketball and football. Good town. Now, here are the rules of the tenders from the NFL: For restricted free agents, from March 5 to April 15. For unrestricted free agents who have received the June 1 tender from their prior club, from March 5 to July 22 (or the first scheduled day of NFL training camp, whichever is later).
Q: What kind of year do you think Martellus Bennett will have next year? Do you think they will utilize his talents or just shove him aside as a blocker like last year? Seems to me like they would have been better off sending him to Cincinnati and they didn't seem to want to score points and utilize him in the red zone where he is a threat. -- Mike (Dallas)
A: Mike, in training camp, Martellus seemingly caught everything thrown his way. But then 2009 came and went, and the second-year tight end had just 15 catches for 159 yards and no touchdowns. He had the same amount of catches as backup running back Tashard Choice and had four fewer receptions than Felix Jones. Bennett didn't run the right routes all the time. Sometimes he just didn't get open and other times Tony Romo didn't trust him. If a quarterback doesn't trust you, a receiver or tight end has problems. This will be an interesting year for Bennett because John Phillips grew on the coaching staff and showed a little maturity on the field. The type of reps Bennett and Phillips get in training camp will be something to watch this summer.
Q: With Roy Williams not producing, why don't we use him and a first-round pick to acquire Brandon Marshall? Also, why are we not looking at Rolle and Darren Sharper to shore up our secondary? And without a salary cap, why is Jerry not opening up his wallet for Julius Peppers? These three additions would truly put the pieces in place for a run over the next 2 years. -- Ali (Ashburn, Va.)
A: It sounds like you're in Redskins Country. Good luck there. The Cowboys can't trade Williams: His contract is too huge, and he's expected to get close to $13 million this year from the Cowboys, fully guaranteed. I doubt any team wants that contract. Marshall wants out of Denver, and with the Broncos giving him just a first-round tender, it seems they might have given him an easier out. Rolleis too expensive, and I believe Sharper will stay in New Orleans. Yes, there is no salary cap, but it doesn't mean the Cowboys will spend a lot of money on free agents. Peppers wants too much money, probably something close to what DeMarcus Ware got (six years, $78 million). Dallas isn't willing to go there with Peppers.
Q: Why doesn't Dallas get a good backup quarterback to challenge Tony Romo? When he is not playing up to par put him on the bench. I think he will get the message. -- Rose Guillory (Stowell, Texas)
A: Tony Romo had a good season, becoming the first quarterback to win a playoff game for the Cowboys in more than a decade. He threw a career-low nine interceptions, a career-high 4,483 yards and he compiled his highest quarterback rating at 97.6. To say Romo needs to get benched for a bad game is kind of silly. Romo is fine. Jon Kitna is an experienced quarterback with a much better arm than former backup Brad Johnson.
Q: Jerry Jones stated that he might have up to 13 roster additions. Do you think there are any big names out there that have a chance at coming to Dallas? -- Bobby W. (Tucson, Ariz.)
A: If they're any big names on the market, I doubt if the Cowboys will go after them. Money isn't an issue for them, according to Jerry Jones, but they don't want to overspend for talent. Now, in terms of all these new players, I think Jones knows he's got a few draft picks coming in and there were several from 2009 that didn't get a chance to play either because of injury or development.
Q: Hey Calvin, the Dallas Cowboys better not sleep on WR Jesse Holley, the multi-talented player from Michael Irvin's reality show. He played at the University of North Carolina, has vision and very good hands. Kevin Ogletree and Holley will take the Cowboys to the next level. -- Oliver Henry Jr. (Washington, D.C.)
A: Talked to Jesse as the season ended and he was encouraged by his progress in 2009. He was the scout team wide receiver and said he played the role of the opponents' bigger receiver -- such as Tampa's Antonio Bryant and Carolina's Muhsin Muhammad. Holley knows he needs to work on his route running and reading defenses, but he felt going up against Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins in practice helped his development. As far as taking it to the next level, I don't know. Ogletree is ahead of Holley on the depth chart (I don't even know if Holley is on the depth chart). Holley said he feels to make the active roster, he might have to do it on special teams.
Q: Being from New York, are you a Cowboys or Giants fan? Go Giants. -- Rod (Arlington)
A: Rod, I'm going to disappoint you here. Neither one. When I was growing up, the Giants and Jets weren't very good. So I did what any normal American teenager would do growing up in Manhattan in the 1970s: I rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mailbag: Tempering expectations for free agency, Tashard Choice and Marty B.