Free agency doesn't get under way for quite a while, but it's not like the Cowboys have anything better to do than start figuring out which players will stick with the team and which will be given a firm handshake on their way out the door.
With 17 restricted and unrestricted free agents, there are plenty of decisions to make. Moving through the list finds a few players who should absolutely be kept around, but, generally speaking, there are more players likely to leave than remain in Dallas for 2012. That should make for an active offseason around Valley Ranch and the decisions that the Cowboys make with these players and, in some cases, their replacements will decide whether the end of next season is any happier than this one.
Alan Ball - The Cowboys need to get better in the secondary and keeping Ball isn't going to help them reach that goal. He shouldn't be back in 2012.
Martellus Bennett - Remember when the Cowboys used to rave about Marty B and imagine a world with him and Jason Witten wreaking havoc at tight end? That seems like ages ago and John Phillips can do everything that Bennett can do for the offense.
Keith Brooking - He did a nice job during his stay in Dallas, but the team needs to get younger and more athletic at linebacker to fully install Rob Ryan's scheme. It's been a job well done, but Brooking's time has come to an end.
Derrick Dockery - There's no rush here as the Cowboys should exhaust every other option to improve on the offensive line before looking back in Dockery's direction. He isn't likely to generate much interest on the open market, but you could do worse as a depth play.
Abram Elam - He wasn't terrible this season, but, again, the Cowboys need to upgrade in the defensive backfield. If they can do that elsewhere, Elam can return but it shouldn't be the first option.
Tony Fiammetta - The fullback is a restricted free agent and he should definitely return next season. When he's healthy, the run game is much better.
Montrae Holland - Similar story as Dockery. The need to improve is paramount, but you always need quality depth in case things go wrong.
Bradie James - Bruce Carter is taking his spot. James had his moments, but his next ones will have to come in a different uniform.
Jon Kitna - If you want a sign of how rapidly the NFL has become a passing league, just check out Kitna's career stats. The team needs a new backup quarterback they can rely on.
Daniel Loper - Hard to imagine the Cowboys can't upgrade here, but, again, depth matters on the offensive line.
Mat McBriar - McBriar's been very good for the Cowboys, but his health muddies the picture. Chris Jones looked fine in his replacement work and saving some money here could benefit the rest of the team.
Sammy Morris - No spot for him as long as DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner are back healthy.
Kevin Ogletree - Ogletree is a restricted free agent, so the call is totally up to the Cowboys. With Dwayne Harris' kick return skills earning him a spot, there might not be any room at the inn for Ogletree.
Laurent Robinson - Robinson should be back. He's valuable as a third receiver and his value only rises thanks to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant's frequent visits to the trainer's room.
Anthony Spencer - The toughest call of all. When Spencer's on, he's very good. The problem is that he's on infrequently. Victor Butler has flashed some ability, but it would be a gamble to just hand him the spot. Others should set the market for Spencer with the Cowboys keeping an eye on how things are progressing before deciding if they are in or out.
Frank Walker - Bye, bye.
Chauncey Washington - He's another restricted free agent, but the biggest restriction would see to be that there's no sign that he's anything more than practice squad fodder.