- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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The lockout is wearing on a few people, but that doesn't stop the talk of what will happen when -- and if -- free agency starts. Several of you have questions about what the Cowboys would do. In our latest installment of the Cowboys mailbag, we answer some of those questions.
Q: What do you think the chances are of the Cowboys going after a NG like Aubrayo Franklin? I love [Jay] Ratliff but feel that he is a better fit at defensive end and better there than any potential free agent defensive ends. Is [Rob] Ryan going to push for a bigger, more traditional nose tackle? -- Jamie (Omaha, Neb.)
A: Jamie, Jay Ratliff is staying at nose tackle. Ryan said he likes where Ratliff is on the defensive line, and the goal is to get either Jason Hatcher or Stephen Bowen ready to start at end. Ratliff, while undersized, is quick off the ball and able to make plays behind the line of scrimmage on a regular basis. One of the best moves Ratliff made was against the Indianapolis Colts last year. He beat the center on two plays and almost tackled Peyton Manning before he handed the ball off. Ratliff draws a lot of double-coverage, and when that happens, it should open the way for the inside linebackers or the defensive ends to make some plays. It doesn't always happen, but Ratliff is better suited to play nose, for now.
A: This wasn't a deep safety draft class, and the Cowboys were content to look in free agency for one. Manning is a possibility, as is Michael Huff, but when it comes to corner, I'm thinking the Cowboys stay put. Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins will remain the starters, and Orlando Scandrick is the slot corner. The team has some young backups who will play special teams. If the Cowboys go after Asomugha, it's only because there won't be a salary cap, and then I could see the team purging highly priced vets.
Q: Will Tyron Smith make huge changes on the offensive line? -- Jesse (Potomac, Md.)
A: Yes, he will. Smith is the projected starter at right tackle, and there's a chance he could see some time on the left side during training camp. With Smith coming to the roster, Marc Colombo could be sent packing. Colombo said he wants to fight for his gig, and that's good to hear. But health and age should tell the Cowboys it's time to move on. Sam Young is a possibility to play the swing tackle spot Alex Barron had but failed at last year.
Q: Will the Cowboys improve next season? If so, who will be the X-factor in improving the team? -- Alexa P. (Dallas)
A: That's hard to say. The Cowboys open the season with their first two games on the road. Whenever the season starts, opening at the New York Jets and then going to San Francisco will be difficult. The Cowboys can't afford to go 0-2 to start a season in consecutive years. If you look at the schedule and the talent level obtained in the draft -- of course we're not sure what they will do in free agency until it starts -- this is a much better team talent-wise. Dallas got younger on the offensive line by adding Tyron Smith, but what it will do at left guard (Kyle Kosier is a free agent) is uncertain. The team should be better from a head-coach standpoint. It seems Jason Garrett will command the troops better than Wade Phillips did, but how many more wins that will translate to is undetermined.
Q: Is Tony Romo 100 percent going into this next season, assuming we have a season to go into? If so, any updates on Romo's thoughts on the Cowboys draft? Excitement? Anything on Romo at all. We need him to have a phenomenal year for the Cowboys to even have a chance. -- Michael Russo (Manahawkin, N.J.)
A: Tony Romo is 100 percent healthy. He's throwing footballs and moving around. It was hard to evaluate Romo last season because his campaign was cut short. His best game was against the Houston Texans in Week 3. Romo is still a good quarterback, one of the top 10 in the NFL, but this is a major year for him in his development. He's won a playoff game, and now it's time to see whether he can move his team to another level -- and that's the NFC title game or Super Bowl.
Q: Dear Calvin, do you think they drafted another receiver to take the place of Patrick Crayton? Also, do you think that since they have DeMarco Murray now, that is the exit for Marion Barber? -- Daniel W. Ciccarone (Eagleville, Pa.)
A: The Cowboys replaced Crayton when they drafted Dez Bryant last year. With Miles Austin, Roy Williams and Bryant, the Cowboys have a pretty good group of receivers. Going forward, Sam Hurd might not be in the fold, and it seems as if Kevin Ogletree will be given every chance to get more playing time along with the new draft pick.
Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.
5mEric D. Williams