FREE AGENCY: Help Needed Inside?

With the loss of Jason Ferguson for the last 15 games of the 2007 season, finding the right tackle to anchor the Cowboys' interior defensive line is an immediate priority. Or is it?

Starter-- NT Jay Ratliff (26) [5 years/$20.5 million through 2012]
Backup -- NT Tank Johnson (26) [2 years/$1.5 million through 2009]
Backup -- NT Jason Ferguson (33) [5 years/$21.5 million through 2010]

In 2007, the Cowboys were solid if not spectacular up front.

The good news is Jay Ratliff proved to be a keeper at nose tackle after replacing the injured Jason Ferguson and getting a multi-year contract extension.

The bad news is the Cowboys didn't get the impact they hoped out of Johnson, who took awhile to get in football shape after being suspended for the first eight games of the season.

Entering the 2008 offseason, the Cowboys must decide what they want to do with Ratliff. Is he better suited to move to the outside next year or he has he developed in the interior to keep him there?

Wherever he ends up, expect him to be in Dallas for quite some time after signing a five-year, $20.5 million contract extension in Dec. 2007.

Last year he recorded 30 total tackles including three sacks.

The Cowboys didn't get the impact they hoped out of Tank Johnson in 2007.

2008 Free Agent DTs
Unrestricted Free Agents
Bailey, Rodney (ARZ)
Anderson, Tim (ATL)
Lewis, Damione (CAR)
Moorehead, Kindal (CAR)
Garay, Antonio (CHI)
Williams, Corey (GB)
Killings, Cedric (HST)
Klecko, Dan (IND)
Johnson, Spencer (MIN)
Moore, Rashad (NE)
Young, Brian (NO)
Davis, Russell (NYG)
Scott, Ian (PHI)
Von Oelhoffen, Kimo (PHI)
Darby, Chuck (SEA)
Wyms, Ellis (SEA)
Haynesworth, Albert (TEN)
Simon, Corey (TEN)
Starks, Randy (TEN)
Boschetti, Ryan (WAS)

Restricted Free Agents
Gordon, Amon (BLT)
Jefferson, Jason (BUF)
Cole, Colin (GB)
Maddox, Anthony (HST)
Reid, Darrell (IND)
Shaw, Josh (OAK)
Haye, Jovan (TB)

Dallas must also look closely at the future of Jason Ferguson. Now entering his 11th year in the league, Ferguson isn't getting any younger and only played in one game last year before going down with a season-ending torn biceps in week one.

While he should be back to 100 percent in time for the start of training camp in late July, can he hold up for another season or should the Cowboys go ahead and move in another direction? is hearing the Cowboys want Ferguson back next season and will give him the opportunity to claim the starting spot.

Then there is Tank Johnson. Signed to help provide depth after completing an eight-game suspension to start to the 2007 season, Johnson was not the answer the Cowboys were looking for last year.

It took him three games to get back into football shape before he was anywhere close to what he was with the Chicago Bears the year before.

In eight games he recorded 11 total tackles and two sacks. In 2008, it would safe to say much more will be expected of Johnson.

So what will Dallas like do with this potential three-man rotation next year at tackle? is hearing the Cowboys would like to have Johnson and Ferguson anchor the inside, which then would allow Ratliff to move to end.

In terms of free agency, don't expect the Cowboys to make a big splash at the tackle. While several big names available, including Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth, Dallas is not in position to aggressively pursue elite-level talent, especially considering the other areas of need.

Haynesworth, who league sources suggest was largely inconsistent before 2007 would be the top ranked tackle available along with Tampa Bay's Jovan Haye, a rising star no one seems to know about, and San Francisco's Isaac Sopoaga.

Remember, in a 3-4 scheme, the Cowboys have to find a tackle with size and power. It's not like any regular defensive tackle can take over in the interior of a three-man front and have success.

Also don't forget about these defensive tackles, who were on a roster when the 2007 regular season ended:

Rien Long - A former fourth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans, Long could be a decent fourth tackle for a team and had tryouts with the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets recently.

Joe Salave'a - Solid backup who could start for a short period of time if needed. Had a tryout with the Cleveland Browns recently.

Lional Dalton - Could be a solid fourth tackle for a team.

Rodney Leisle - Had tryouts with the Denver Broncos and New York Giants.

Kenderick Allen - He could be a solid fourth tackle for a team and had tryouts with Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans and had a Houston Texans visit with the last season.

Matthias Askew - The former fourth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals had tryouts with the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans.

Chad Lavalais - Serviceable fourth tackle.

Johnathan Sullivan - Former first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints who was a major underachiever.

Junior Siavii - Underachieving former second-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. Had tryouts with the Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Washington Redskins last season.

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