by Dallas Cowboys Mailbag, Jonny Auping & Nick Eatman
Going into the offseason with over 20 free agents and limited cap space, what is the realistic expectation to be able to upgrade on the defensive side of the ball? I read we are around $25 million under the cap now, then factor in a lower cap and Dak's contract being a priority, how much can expect to upgrade the defensive side of the ball? - EUGENE GREENE / FREDERICKSBURG, VA
Nick: First of all, Im always a fan of names that rhyme. You're in the Shaquille O'Neal category. But if this team doesn't upgrade on defense, they'll be even worse than last year and that's hard to fathom. The good news is it won't take much to improve. The bad news is that they need so much improvement just to be average. I don't think they will make a drastic change on defense to get better but it'll need to be smart free agents plus a couple of picks that can play right away. Need to hope Diggs, Gallimore, Hill and Wilson keep developing as well and LVE has to stay healthy. Yes, there can be a turnaround in one year but a lot of things need to go right.
Jonny: Honestly, I do think we have to temper our expectations for how much the defense will improve for the reasons you mention. I think that the front office will have to strategically decide where they most need to improve and where they can make small gains simply by the development of young players and the addition of a new system under Dan Quinn. If they let one of Awuzie or Jourdan Lewis (or both) go in free agency can they replace them in the third or fourth rounds of the draft? Can they sign a playmaking safety? Realistically, they might only be able to upgrade their defense to a top-12 or top-14 squad, but if they fail to do that, it could cost them the postseason.
I believe your swing tackle and potential starter at that position is already on the roster and his name is Connor Williams. With his college experience at the position, along with his size and athleticism. And, since we can expect to have a full off-season this would be the year to groom him for that position switch. Your thoughts? - FRED LONDON / MORRISTOWN, TN
Nick: My thoughts are the same. I've said that before and I think it would be a good thing for the Cowboys to have a versatile tackle who can play either side. Now, what about Connor's thoughts? He's entering his contract year and he's been playing guard and developing his game there. Would he want to make that move? Maybe not but perhaps he would want to show even more position flex. But all of that is contingent on the Cowboys having a better option at guard. Not a terrible thought but if they've got better options inside.
Jonny: I think I agree with that for the reason that Williams has handled everything that's been thrown at him so far. He's been available and he's been competent, and that's a pretty good start. After a decade of mostly being spoiled with great offensive linemen, the Cowboys have to be constantly focusing on possibilities determined by availability. I can't say that Williams at swing tackle is the plan, but I'm sure it's one of the potential plans.