Draft Nuggets 2013: Entry #6
By Jeff Bowers of www.thesportsnarrative.com
Addressing the Cowboys Needs:
With the season over and a champion crowned, the business of the NFL offseason has officially begun. With just short of 3 weeks to the NFL Combine and 5 weeks until the start of free agency, the Cowboys have a number of needs to address before the start of next season. These needs surely include:
2. Defensive Tackle
3. Defensive End
5. Offensive Tackle
Going in order, we will examine all of the options available for Dallas and try to find the best course of action going forward.
The Need at Guard:
Instead of drafting the #1 guard (David DeCastro) and the #1 center (Peter Konz) in the 2012 NFL draft, Jerry opted to trade his first 2 picks to get CB Morris Claiborne of LSU. To address the need at guard, Dallas signed 30 year old Nate Livings from the Bengals to a 5yr $19 million dollar deal and 26 year old Mackenzy Bernadeau from the Panthers to a 4yr $11 million dollar deal. While Livings proved to be a serviceable player at left guard, Bernadeau could only be classified as a major disappointment. Credited for allowing 24 QB pressures and 6 sacks, the right guard and emergency center kept Romo consistently running for his life and failed to open holes in the running game. Between him and the under-performing and often penalized right tackle Doug Free, the Cowboys right side of the offensive line was one of worst in the entire NFL. In addition to all the pass protection issues, the Cowboys’ offensive line rated dead last in yards per rushing attempt to the right side, greatly contributing to the statistically worst season for running the football in Cowboys history. So an upgrade at right guard is an imperative this offseason.
The Cowboys will almost assuredly be limited under the salary cap in this free agency period. Between the $5 million dollar penalty imposed for the Miles Austin contract and the decisions on big pieces like Tony Romo and Anthony Spencer, Dallas needs to carry a laser-like focus where they spend their money on free agents. Guard could very well be a great area to address in this way, as there are several quality free agent guards under the age of 30 available. The only uncertainty in dabbling in this market is the increasing cost of interior linemen (see Carl Nicks and Ben Grubbs last year) and whether or not any of these players even reach the open market. Here is what may be available on March 12th
1. Andy Levitre, Buffalo Bills, Age 27 – Levitre has been the model of consistency since being drafted in 2009. (Note: Buffalo traded up with your Dallas Cowboys to take Levitre in the 2nd round. Ouch!) Andy has played and started in all 64 games of his four year career and even filled in at tackle in 2011. The only question around Levitre is how much will it cost and will Buffalo let him get away.
2. Louis Vasquez, San Diego Chargers, Age 26 – This former Texas Tech Red Raider and Corsicana native was one of the few bright spots on a pedestrian O-line out in San Diego. Vasquez is going to be due a nice contract this off-season. Can the pull of coming back to Texas draw him to Dallas? Jerry can only hope so.
3. Kevin Boothe, New York Giants, Age 30 – Boothe’s best strengths are his run-blocking and versatility to play both guard and center. His only determent is being on the wrong side of 30. Could be a nice Plan C if Dallas gets outbid for the previous two names.
4. Brandon Moore, New York Jets, Age 33 – Moore has been a warrior on the Jets line for many years, but his age is a real downer.
5. Ramon Foster, Pittsburgh Steelers, Age 27 – Foster does have youth and is good in pass protection, but isn’t exactly a road grader in the run game.
6. Donald Thomas, New England Patriots, Age 27 – Thomas has been a reserve behind Mankins and Connolly, but has played well in his limited chances. Has a chance to be a starter on a number of teams.
7. Tyronne Green, San Diego Chargers, Age 27 – If Vasquez is retained by SD, Green might be a casualty as a result. Green was dreadful in 2011, but played better last year. Marginal starter
8. Matt Slauson, New York Jets, Age 27 – Slauson is solid in pass-protection but was a rotational player on running downs. Probably not an option at right guard.
9. Chad Rinehart, Buffalo Bills, Age 28 – Rinehart was a solid guard in 2011, but missed most of 2012 with an ankle problem. Could be a cheaper option to compete against Bernadeau.
10. Kory Lichtenstriger, Washington Redskins, Age 28 – While great in run-blocking this season, his 10 penalties in 2012 is not something Dallas needs to add to the #1 most penalized O-Line.
If the Cowboys only major free agent addition this year was Levitre or Vasquez that would be alright by me. Getting one of those two guys would free up Dallas to focus on the conversion to the 4-3 with their draft and sure up the offensive line for years to come. While a few of the other options could also be appealing and cheaper, none really possess that ability to ensure a fix up front. After just going through a season with a marginal free agent ineffectively filling the right guard spot, going through that again would be insanity. But if money is needed elsewhere, perhaps the draft can provide the answer.
This year’s draft class contains quite a few options at guard. But just as we asked last year, would Jerry draft the “steak” over the “sizzle” with an early Day 1 or Day 2 pick? With so many other needs involved in switching defenses, the focus on fixing the offensive line will be an interesting topic of conversation throughout the off-season. Here’s an early assessment of the available guard class in this year’s draft:
1. Chance Warmack, Alabama, 6’3´320lbs– An impressive combination of size and speed, Warmack has a chance to be one of the highest drafted guards in a number of years. In fact, there is some question of whether he even makes it to the Cowboys at pick #18. Regardless, Warmack will be a fixture in someone’s O-Line for many, many years. Projected Top 20
2. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina, 6’3” 295lbs – Cooper’s stock has been on a steady rise though out the year and has this athletic guard projected as a mid to late 1st rounder. The only question will be if he has the size to play in the NFL, weighing only 295 lbs at UNC. That size could be very effective in a zone-blocking scheme or could see Cooper switching to Center in his pro career. Projected 1st Round
3. Dallas Thomas, Tennessee, 6’5” 310lbs – The Vols tackle was moved to left guard his senior year and thrived in that role. Could probably use a little more bulk at the next level, but looks like a plug-in starter from Day 1. Projected Late 1st- Early 2nd
4. Barrett Jones, Alabama, 6’5” 311lbs – Jones started at guard, tackle and center in his outstanding career at Alabama. While projected as a center, he could easily be put a guard as a rookie and start immediately in the NFL, much like Atlanta did with Peter Konz last year. Projected Early 2nd round
5. Larry Warford, Kentucky, 6’3” 340lbs – Warford is a big ol dude and moves other men against their will in the run game. Has some weaknesses in pass protection, but should be a solid contributor early in his career. Projected Late 2nd-Early 3rd
6. Justin Pugh, Syracuse, 6’5” 301lbs – Pugh showed at the Senior Bowl that he is not a tackle prospect in the NFL. But with a little more bulk, he has the makings of a solid guard in the NFL. A shoulder injury in 2012 and short arms could push his draft stock down. Projected 3rd – 4th Round
7. Brian Winters, Kent State, 6’4” 310lbs – Winters biggest asset is his durability and toughness, playing in all 49 games of his collegiate career. Fighting through a dislocated shoulder that has to be checked out by teams, Winters proved his is a warrior and should be a serviceable pro. Projected 4th rounder
8. Alvin Bailey, Arkansas, 6’5” 319lbs – Bailey was the anchor of the Razorback line this season, often switching from right and left guard to always be at the point of attack. Though he struggles in space, Bailey shows nice quickness inside and a solid anchor in both pass and run blocking. Could use a little more seasoning, but projects to a starter. Projected 4th round
Dallas could easily spend two of their first four draft choices on the offensive line and be well served. But given Jerry’s history of drafting, the chances of that happening seem slim. Warmack and Cooper are definite options in the 1st round and Jones and Warford are options in the 2nd round. But, as some of the other needs may take precedent, the Cowboys may not address their offensive line in the draft until the 3rd or 4th round, if they do at all.
Should Dallas decide to go after Levitre they may not draft a guard at all, preferring to spend draft picks on the defensive line, safety and other spots on the offensive line like center and/or tackle. But somehow or some way this massive hole must be plugged NOW! And it must be plugged by a quality player rather than some cheap spare part.