But sometimes of equal importance is the list of players each team loses from its roster.
Some exit by the team's choice, because of retirement, trades or when the team decides to cut the player, but sometimes a player can break a team's heart by seeking employment elsewhere despite offers to stay put.
Five players who filled significant roles in recent seasons are gone from the 2011 roster — a couple who chose to sign elsewhere, and three who were released by the team. The question is, should the Cowboys have done more to keep them?
• Wide receiver Laurent Robinson left the Cowboys when he agreed to a five-year contract (worth more than $32 million) with the Jacksonville Jaguars. In an offseason in which the Cowboys badly need to shore up their defense, its offense just took a significant hit. Robinson's departure was hardly a surprise — Dallas already signed fellow receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant to deals worth nearly $69 million — but despite the assertion by many that Robinson was the team's third receiver (fourth, if tight end Jason Witten is included), it was Robinson who became quarterback Tony Romo's go-to target and ended up with 11 touchdown receptions. His departure means the team has to find another receiver to join Austin and Bryant.
Result: There was no secret about the fact that the Cowboys wanted to keep Robinson. But the contract he signed last year with Dallas prevented the team from re-signing him before free agency started, and the Jaguars threw more money at him than the Cowboys could justify matching for a third receiver.
• Tight end Martellus Bennett left to sign with the New York Giants. A fan favorite because of his size and athleticism (and for some, his off-beat personality), Bennett never came close to reaching the expectations he carried coming out of Texas A&M. John Phillips is a more than adequate No. 2 tight end.
Result: Consider this a case of addition by subtraction. Bennett has a tantalizing physique and ample talent, but often seemed distracted and as interested in being an entertaining off-field figure as he was in honing his craft. Phillips can hold his own as Witten's backup and is a better blocker, and the team will bring in extra bodies to fill the third tight end spot.
• Cornerback Terence Newman was released. Newman, 33, was a leader in the secondary for most of his nine seasons in Dallas, intercepting 32 passes and earning a pair of Pro Bowl invitations. But age and injuries clearly caught up with him, as he was a liability down the stretch of the 2011 season, and he was due to make more than $8 million in 2012, accelerating his exit.
Result: Newman's departure is sad to see, but it was time. Team management would have preferred if Newman had chosen to retire, but the former first-round pick didn't. Instead, the Cowboys were forced to cut loose a fan favorite who has been productive and reliable — and sometimes sensational — through nine seasons in Dallas. With the money committed to cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick (whose new five-year, $27 million deal was restructured to free up additional room under the salary cap) and with the understanding that they had to add another veteran cornerback, the Cowboys had to put sentiment aside and part ways with Newman.
• The release of veteran guard Kyle Kosier was something of a surprise to many, even after the team signed free agents Mackenzy Mernadeau and Nate Livings. Kosier had been arguably the team's most consistent offensive linemen over his tenure, and was widely credited with accelerating the development of 2011 rookie tackle Tyron Smith.
Result: Losing Kosier might have the most visible effect of any of the departed former Cowboys. With him out of the locker room, the longest tenure with the team among offensive linemen is that of Doug Free, who has been with the team for five seasons but essentially has been on the field for less than three. In addition to his blocking skill, Kosier also brought to the line a veteran calmness and a level of experience that can't be taught. Incoming free agent Mackenzy Bernadeau is 26, leaving fellow newcomer Nate Livings (30) as the old man of the group. The offensive line is talented but green, and at a position group that requires chemistry and timing and cohesion, that can be risky.
• Kicker David Buehler was released. A 2009 draft surprise whom owner Jerry Jones projected as a possible contributor on special teams coverage, Buehler's booming leg earned him a spot on the team as the kickoff specialist. But injuries and the emergence of 2011 rookie Dan Bailey sealed Buehler's fate.
Result: Although he is bigger and stronger than most kickers, prompting Jones's daydreams of an extra special teams coverage ace, Buehler's greatest asset to the team was his ability to pound kickoffs into (or through) the back of the end zone. When he got hurt, Bailey added kickoffs to his placekicking duties, and proved more than adequate, nullifying the need for two kickers. A groin injury limited Buehler to just four games in 2011, while Bailey hit 32 of 37 field goals — including four of 50 yards or more — to finish his rookie campaign with 135 points, tying him with Neil Rackers of the Houston Texans for the fifth-highest total in the NFL last year.
Did Dallas Lose the Right Players?
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