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Shutdown Corner

‘Shutdown Corner’ offseason TPS report: Dallas Cowboys

Shutdown Corner

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Dez Bryant was a bright spot in 2012 (USA Today Sports Images)

Over the next few weeks, "Shutdown Corner" will pay homage to "Office Space" (TPS reports) as we take a quick look back at each team's 2012 season and a look at what lies ahead for the 2013 offseason. We now head to the NFC and begin in the NFC East and the Dallas Cowboys.

2012 record: 8-8

What went wrong: After a 3-5 start to the season, the Cowboys won five of six games and were on the cusp of making the playoffs before suffering back-to-back losses to the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins that dashed their playoff hopes.

Dallas' running game was a problem as No. 1 running back DeMarco Murray missed six games in the middle of the season due to a foot injury. The Cowboys had 50 yards or less on the ground in seven of their 16 games and averaged 79.1 rushing yards per game, which ranked 31st in the NFL last season. The Cowboys offense was 20th in the red zone and 27th in goal-to-go situations, resulting in them tying for the league lead in field goals.

The Cowboys lost inside linebacker Sean Lee, the heart and soul of the unit, to a toe injury midway through the season and ranked 19th in total defense and were 23rd according to Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted defensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric. For a team that spent big money on Brandon Carr (five-year, $50.1 million) and moved up in the first round to select LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys recorded just seven interceptions on the season. Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware had a team-high 11.5 sacks and was named to his seventh Pro Bowl, but the usually dominant pass-rusher was slowed late in the season by a shoulder injury that required surgery after the season.

Nose tackle Jay Ratliff battled injuries all season and his backup, Josh Brent, was charged with intoxication manslaughter following a collision that took the life of Cowboys practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown.

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What went right: Perhaps the best aspect of the Cowboys' 2012 season was the development of Dez Bryant into a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Dogged by questions about his maturity continued into training camp as owner Jerry Jones created a set of rules for the 2010 first-round pick to follow in order to remain a Cowboy. Bryant may always push the envelope with his decision-making away from the field, but 2012 was his statement season between the white lines. Bryant caught 92 passes and led the Cowboys with 1,382 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns, scoring 10 of his touchdowns during a seven-game stretch in the second half of the season. Tight end Jason Witten set an NFL single-season record for receptions by a tight end (110) and went over 1,000 receiving yards for the fourth time in his career. Witten was named to his eighth Pro Bowl and was a second-team All-Pro.

Aiding the great seasons by Bryant and Witten was quarterback Tony Romo, who completed 65.6 percent of 648 pass attempts for 4,903 yards with 28 touchdowns, though "Bad Romo" did toss 19 interceptions. Romo ranked sixth in Football Outsiders' DYAR metric.

Coaching/front office changes: The Cowboys made several coaching changes this offseason. The most notable move was to part ways with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and hiring the legendary Monte Kiffin to run the defense. Joining Kiffin is Rod Marinelli, one of the best defensive line coaches in the business, who will aide in the Cowboys' transition to a 4-3 defense. Head coach Jason Garrett replaced special teams coach Joe DeCamillis with Rich Bisaccia.

Estimated 2013 cap space: $20.19 million over their adjusted cap number

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Tony Romo could have his contract extended (USA Today Sports Images)

Possible cap casualties: The Cowboys will free up some cap space by renegotiating the contract of cornerback Brandon Carr, who is due $14.3 million in fully guaranteed base salary and has a $16.3 million cap number for 2013. The Cowboys are also expected to extend quarterback Tony Romo's contract, which currently has a cap figure of $16.818 million for 2013. Wide receiver Miles Austin is due $6.372 million in base salary with an $8.303 million cap number. With four years remaining on his contract, Austin is a prime candidate for a restructure.

[Also: Andy Reid faces tough road ahead with Chiefs]

Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has a high cap number ($12.22 million), but previous renegotiations have Ware's cap hit more than twice as large as his cash compensation ($6 million), so altering his deal will be a last resort. The Cowboys would probably like to lower Doug Free's $7 million salary, though going further than that would not reduce his $10.02 million cap number. If released, and not designated as a "post-June 1" transaction, the $10.02 million in signing bonus proration that remains on his contract would accelerate onto the Cowboys' 2013 cap.

Backup linebacker Dan Connor could be a cap casualty as he's scheduled to earn $3 million in non-guaranteed base salary in 2013.

Unrestricted free agents

Victor Butler, LB
Michael Coe, CB
Kenyon Coleman, DE
Derrick Dockery, G
Eric Frampton, S
Mike Jenkins, CB
Felix Jones, RB
LP Ladouceur, LS
Brian Moorman, P
Kevin Ogletree, WR
Charlie Peprah, S
John Phillips, TE
Brady Poppinga, LB
Ernie Sims, LB
Anthony Spencer, LB

Restricted free agents

Phil Costa, OC
Danny McCray, S

RFA tender amounts in 2013 are:

• $1.323 million for right of first refusal and/or original draft round compensation

• $2.023 for right of first refusal and second round draft selection

• $2.879 for right of first refusal and first round draft selection

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Franchise Tag candidates: The Cowboys would like to hang on to Anthony Spencer, a defensive end-turned-linebacker who slowly developed into a solid pass-rusher, posting a career-high 11 sacks while earning $8.856 million in base salary on the franchise tag in 2012. To use a second franchise tag on Spencer would cost the Cowboys $10.627 million in 2013, which may not be possible given the team's tight cap situation. Spencer could draw interest on the free agent market, particularly from the New Orleans Saints, who are moving to a 3-4 defense under former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

Previous installments of the "Offseason TPS Reports" series:

AFC East: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

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