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Mailbag: 3/10/10

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Q: What is the Cowboys 2010 schedule?

Danny Cloyd, Upper Marlboro, MD

A: You will have to hold off on buying Dallas Cowboys tickets just yet because the 2010 NFL schedule has not yet been released. However, the Cowboys do know their opponents and the location of their games. Excluding the division matchups, the Cowboys will host Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Jacksonville, and Tennessee. They will travel to Green Bay, Minnesota, Arizona, Houston, and Indianapolis.

The road opponents appear to be significantly better than those teams Dallas will host in 2010. The Cowboys could be legitimate underdogs in five or six games next season, which is a rarity for America’s Team, particularly of late.

We see Baltimore OT Jared Gaither as a possible free agent addition, assuming the price is right.

There is one game for which you can already score tickets, as the Cowboys were selected to play the Bengals in the Hall of Fame game, the first preseason game of the season. This means they will have five preseason games– extra snaps to evaluate the rookies and second-year players.

The official NFL schedule generally gets released around the second week of April.

Q: The Cowboys have been inactive thus far in free agency. Do you see them making any moves before the draft? What about the Ravens’ tackle Jared Gaither?

Adam Reinhart, Erie, PA

A: If the Cowboys do sign anyone before the draft, it won’t be anything major. Jerry Jones recently claimed that the team has a lot of players on their own team they need to lock up long-term before worrying about free agents. We imagine the main focus is Miles Austin, with Gerald Sensabaugh also a priority to sign to a long-term deal.

If the Cowboys do sign a free agent to a big-time contract, we think you are correct about it being Jared Gaither. Gaither is a supremely underrated tackle who gave up only six quarterback pressures in all of 2009 (as compared to Flozell Adams’ 42). The Ravens placed a first round tender on him, but they seem fairly willing to deal him to make room for second-year player Michael Oher.

The Cowboys are highly unlikely to yield their first round selection for Gaither, but it is possible Baltimore could let him go for less. If Dallas could obtain him for, say, their second and fourth round picks, then it is a real possibility. However, don’t forget they would still need to lock Gaither up long-term.

There have also been rumors of Dallas being interested in Colts’ restricted free agent Antoine Bethea. He too received a first round tender, but we believe Bethea has much less of a chance of joining the Cowboys this offseason than Gaither.

We recently detailed why Flozell Adams should remain a Cowboy in 2010, but the lure of a signing a player like Gaither without relinquishing a first round draft pick sounds enticing.

Dallas may take a look at UNC's Cam Thomas in the second round, a player who is a true 3-4 nose tackle.

Q: I have seen you think the Cowboys might use an early selection on a college defensive tackle who would transition to defensive end for the Cowboys. Do you believe the team might draft a true nose tackle as a backup to Ratliff? Do you think moving Ratliff to defensive end in certain situations might justify such a selection?

Justin Shoemaker, Exton, PA

A: Drafting a true nose tackle is not out of the question. The Cowboys cannot be satisfied with their depth at the position (Junior Siavii is the primary backup), and a lengthy injury to Ratliff could have extreme consequences for the defense.

If they do address nose tackle in the early rounds of the draft, it would likely be either Tennessee’s Dan Williams (projected late first), Alabama’s Terrence Cody (projected early second), or UNC’s Cam Thomas (projected late second). All three of those players are over 330 pounds, with Cody weighing (a lot) more.

We highly doubt the team will draft a true nose tackle in the first round, though, because the projected impact of that player would be very limited with Ratliff an every-down starter.

Your suggestion of moving Ratliff to defensive end might combat this problem, but would not be worth the risk. Ratliff was formerly a defensive end in the Cowboys’ 3-4 and his performance was mediocre. His quickness and athleticism are what allow him to flourish at nose tackle. He is also powerful enough to be excellent against the run despite his 305 pound frame.

Thus, the earliest we can see Dallas obtaining Ratliff’s backup is the second round. Cam Thomas is the most likely option there, but it is more likely the team will address the need a few rounds later with a guy like UCF’s Torrell Troup or East Carolina’s Jay Ross (who we had the Cowboys selecting in the seventh round of our first mock draft.

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