Health Always Critical
The Cowboys did a good job improving their team in free agency, signing four starters in quarterback Drew Bledsoe, cornerback Anthony Henry, guard Marco Rivera and defensive tackle Jason Ferguson.
They will add further upgrades in the upcoming NFL Draft, considering they have nine picks including two in the first round.
However, just as crucial to their success next season is the return to health of several players who ended last season on injured reserve and/or who are rehabbing from off season surgery.
Outside of running back Richie Anderson, who is facing potentially career-ending neck surgery, the news looks good in that area. TE Dan Campbell (foot sprain), WR Keyshawn Johnson (ankle), WR Terry Glenn (foot sprain) and linebacker Al Singleton (abdominal) are all on schedule in their recoveries and are participating fully in the offseason strength and conditioning program with the rest of their teammates.
And that's not even including rookie guard Stephen Peterman (knee) and running back Erik Bickerstaff (achillees) in this expected improvement from within. Peterman was sidelined in training camp and Bickerstaff was hurt in minicamp. The Cowboys had hoped both players could have been big contributers last season and are looking forward to seeing them in action in training camp. Peterman gives the Cowboys depth at guard and could be a future replacement for Larry Allen. Bickerstaff could be the big back to complement the shifty Julius Jones.
The draft is roughly three weeks away and the Cowboys still have a number of holes to fill.
The question remains whether they can get it all done with eight picks, including two in the first round. Leading the way is the first round dilemma.
They have picks 11 and 20. Do the Cowboys keep both picks or do they trade down with the second one to add another pick in the second or third round?
The Cowboys do not have a third round pick because of last year's trade with the Texans for quarterback Drew Henson.
And then what do they do at No. 11 -- go with linebacker/defensive end Shawne Merriman or linebacker Derrick Johnson if they're available? Merriman likely would be a better fit in a 3-4 scheme.
They still need to add speed at receiver. Can they find it in free agency or do they go after a receiver at No. 20 or in the second round?
Troy Williamson is one popular pick. The former South Carolina star has big play ability and could be the much-needed wide out that could actually stretch the field next year.
However, Dallas still must replace Darren Woodson at free safety. No one on the roster can fill the void next to Roy Williams. Is there a quality coverage safety in the draft?
Possibly Oklahoma's Brodney Pool or Nebraska's Josh Bullocks.
Dallas needs to add a free safety with coverage skills. Roy Williams makes plays close to the line of scrimmage, but does not necessarily play well in coverage situations.
A free safety with speed would an ideal candidate for the Cowboys somewhere in the first two rounds.
Updated Team Needs
1. Defensive end: The Cowboys may switch to the 3-4 from the 4-3. However that move is dependent on them getting players to fit the positions. The signing of Jason Ferguson to play nose tackle was the first step, but they have no one on the roster that fits the ideal size for a defensive end.
2. Linebacker: Regardless of a switch, the Cowboys would like to add another quality linebacker to their defense to play the outside rush positions. The Cowboys don't have those types on the roster either.
3. Offensive tackle: Right tackle is big priority. It has been the Achilles heel of the offensive line the past two seasons. Torrin Tucker and Kurt Vollers may be an answer, but additional help up front is needed for next season.
4. Wide receiver: The Cowboys like what they got from Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn but they need a young receiver to stretch the field. They will look for a burner in the draft.