- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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Now that the lockout is over, we can stop speculating about what the Cowboys might do and instead focus on what they are doing.
This is an organization trying to regroup from a 6-10 season, during which coach Wade Phillips was fired and Jason Garrett took over the reins.
Let's look at five things the Cowboys will immediately start trying to do:
1. Sign Doug Free
We're not saying starting left tackle Doug Free is the next Larry Allen, but Free was the Cowboys' most productive lineman last season. He'll become an unrestricted free agent and the Cowboys will attempt to sign him and keep him off the open market. What's he worth? If the Cowboys had franchised him, it would have cost roughly $10.1 million. So expect Free and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, to command at least $20 million in guaranteed money.
2. Settle the safety position
Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh said he's going to test the market. Alan Ball is moving back to cornerback from free safety, and not a moment too soon, after allowing a league-tying seven touchdowns in 2010. There are numerous safeties on the market -- including two with Texas ties, Michael Huff (Irving Nimitz/UT) and Danieal Manning (Corsicana) -- who could step in and make an impact. Abram Elam, who played in Rob Ryan's system in Cleveland, also would be a nice signing. Committing one of the safety spots to a younger player, such as second-year player Barry Church, is another possibility.
3. Fix the salary cap
As it stands now, the Cowboys are $18 million over the salary cap. The team gets a $3 million credit as part of the new CBA. In order to get under the cap, the Cowboys would have to restructure the contracts of several high-priced vets such as Tony Romo, Miles Austin and DeMarcus Ware. Releasing underachieving vets like Marion Barber or Leonard Davis could provide some savings. Cutting right tackle Marc Colombo to make room for rookie Tyron Smith takes a burden off the cap as well. Once the team is able to open cap space, the Cowboys will be able to attempt to upgrade the roster through free agency -- taking care of their own and making offers to others on the open market.
4. Have a productive training camp
It'll be a quick turnaround to the start of camp. Last year, the Cowboys had a long camp -- almost a month -- and the team was tired. The team practiced in three states and played in five different cities. That took a toll, as the Cowboys got off to an 0-2 start and lost seven of their first eight games. Under the new CBA, teams will have fewer two-a-day practices, reducing the amount of hitting more than Jason Garrett would prefer. Garrett will have two weeks to get in as much work as possible and make sure his team is fresh after finishing the last two preseason games on the road. The first two games of the regular season are at the New York Jets and at San Francisco.
5. Get Rob Ryan to fix the defense
As soon as the players are allowed to come to Valley Ranch, make it mandatory for the defensive players to meet with Ryan. The defense allowed a franchise-worst 436 points last season, and there might be major changes coming. The team might lose a starting defensive end, two starting safeties and -- for cap reasons -- a cornerback. If that's the case, Ryan has plenty of work to do. The lockout prevented him from teaching his new players how to run his version of the 3-4 defense. Ryan is considered one of the best coordinators in the league, and he wants to become a head coach like his brother Rex, so success is important.
Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.
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