Head coach Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates with Anthony Spencer #93 of the Dallas Cowboys after the Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 at Cowboys Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
In what was accurately labeled as an “uncomfortable” offseason in Dallas, the Cowboys really may have just gotten started. Numerous familiar faces from the past few seasons are set to become unrestricted free agents, and it’s unclear if Dallas will re-sign any of them.
OLB Victor Butler
Butler has been a personal favorite of mine for years because he’s been productive whenever he’s played. In the past three years, Butler has pressured the quarterback on 8.1 percent of his pass-rush snaps. That’s superior to Anthony Spencer (7.9 percent), but Butler simply hasn’t gotten the playing time necessary to make a huge impact. At 6’2’’ 245 pounds, Butler won’t be an option for Monte Kiffin.
DE Kenyon Coleman
In his two seasons in Dallas, Coleman has been an underrated player. On a per-snap basis, he recorded a tackle about 20 percent more often than Jay Ratliff. Time isn’t on Coleman’s side, however, and the Cowboys won’t re-sign the 33-year old.
CB Mike Jenkins
Jenkins started the 2012 season on fire before cooling down over the final half. All told, Jenkins allowed a 63.0 percent completion rate and 8.33 YPA. Neither figure is outstanding; they won’t be enough to keep Jenkins around in 2013.
RB Felix Jones
Jones’ career YPC is 4.8 due to the blistering manner in which he began his tenure in Dallas. In the past three seasons, however, Jones has totaled only 1,777 total rushing yards on 423 carries—4.20 YPC. Jones probably wasn’t utilized correctly in Dallas and he could potentially make a bigger impact elsewhere.
WR Kevin Ogletree
The fact that Ogletree caught only 57.1 percent of his targets with players like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten drawing the majority of coverage is very telling. The Cowboys need to part ways with a player who simply never possessed the upside people believed.
LS L.P. Ladouceur
Some fans have never even heard of L.P. Ladouceur. For a long snapper, that’s a great thing.
TE John Phillips
Phillips lost his job as the Cowboys’ second tight end by midseason, and rightfully so. Phillips was decent as a blocker, but he never showed the ability to threaten defenses in the air in the same way as rookie tight end James Hanna.
LB Ernie Sims
Sims is an interesting case because no one in Dallas thought he’d be around after 2012, but he actually performed really well. Sims made a tackle on 11.5 percent of his snaps this season—superior to Bruce Carter’s 11.2 percent tackle rate. With the switch to a 4-3 defense, the Cowboys certainly need linebackers who can cover. At 230 pounds, Sims was the only linebacker on the roster under the 240 mark. Plus, although it seems like Sims has been in the NFL for a decade, he’s actually only 28.
OLB Anthony Spencer
This is the big one. Should the Cowboys give the franchise tag to an unrestricted free agent coming off the best season of his career, or let him walk? There are rumors that they’re leaning toward the latter decision, but I think that’s a mistake. It’s true that Spencer overachieved in 2012 with a 42.6 percent sack rate, but the concerns about his fit in a 4-3 defense are overblown. Spencer lined up at defensive end in college and did just fine. The idea that an NFL athlete can rush the passer from a stand-up position but all of a sudden won’t know what to do with his hand in the dirt is silly.
A bigger concern is Spencer’s size—anywhere between 250 and 260 pounds—but it shouldn’t be. The Cowboys need to build their defense to stop the pass, and that begins with the pass-rush. Plugging 280-pound second-year man Tyrone Crawford into the starting lineup would be a mistake. The ‘Boys should franchise Spencer for one more year and then let him leave in free agency, but they’ll probably go a different direction.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.