Mailbag: Is Free The Replacement For Adams?

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WARREN WILSON – BALTIMORE, MD: Since the Dallas Cowboys have brought in Chris Boniol to help David Buehler and Connor Hughes, should we conclude one of those guys will be their kicker next season, as opposed to a free agent or a draft pick? And is that a wise move?

Nick: Well, I don’t think the Cowboys will spend another draft pick on a kicker. That wouldn’t make any sense. You go out and get a new kicker when you realize the one you’ve got isn’t working. And how are they going to figure that out with David Buehler by late April? The one thing about the kicker position – and we’ve all seen it – you don’t a lot of time to gel with a new team. So if Buehler and Hughes struggle in camp and the Cowboys aren’t confident with either one of them, then I’m sure they will find one off the street somewhere. But until then, I think it’s safe to say Buehler is the guy and Hughes is here to provide some depth and not wear out Buehler’s leg.

Josh: I think you can safely assume the kicker is already here, yes. It paid off for the Cowboys to keep Buehler as a kickoff specialist last year, but I think they would rather use that extra roster spot on a position player. If Buehler can become at least an average NFL field goal kicker over the next few months, he’s probably their guy.

SHAWN MILIAN – SOMERSET, WI: I noticed the Cowboys have a pretty challenging schedule coming up next year. What are your thoughts on how they will stack up against the tougher competition?

Nick: You think it will be tougher competition. That’s the thing about schedules and next year’s opponents, who really knows how good or bad a team will be? I’m sure there were teams that had Tennessee, Miami, Carolina, Atlanta and even the Giants and Redskins on the schedule last year, and that seemed to be tough. It doesn’t always turn out that way. Now, the one thing that I think we can count on being difficult is playing indoors on the road. And of the eight road games next year, we know the Giants, Redskins and Eagles will be outdoors as usual, but of the remaining five, four of those games could be indoors. The Cowboys will play at Minnesota again, and then Houston, Indianapolis and Arizona all have retractable roofs and will likely face the Cowboys inside. So regardless if those teams struggle next year or not, it’s always tough to win on the road.

Josh: There’s just no way to know right now. If Brett Favre doesn’t return I doubt anyone is very worried about the trip to Minnesota. The same with Arizona, where Kurt Warner has retired. I would almost guarantee tough games at Houston, Green Bay and Indianapolis, though, along with all the NFC East games. Hey, at least the Saints are coming to Arlington. I thought it was going to be next to impossible for the Cowboys to beat those guys in the Superdome in December. It’s just a week-to-week deal.

DAVID F. – EASTON, CT: With Flozell Adams nearing the end of his career, do you think Doug Free will get a chance to take over at left tackle, or will the Cowboys look to the draft for Adams’ replacement?

Rob: My guess is Adams is back for 2010. Beyond that, who knows. They seem to like Free as much, if not more, at left tackle than right. But they should take a long look at tackle in the draft if one falls to them – if nothing else than to keep adding depth there. Pat McQuistan is a restricted free agent.

Josh: I don’t know. I think the Cowboys probably project Free as a future starter on one side or the other, but he seems more like a left tackle because of his pass-blocking ability. I just don’t know if he’s that stud, franchise-caliber left tackle everybody seems to be looking for. Maybe his presence knocks left tackle down on their priority list. Or maybe they give him a chance before breaking down and drafting one. I don’t think Adams’ roster spot is guaranteed right now, but I don’t think it would help to release him.

BRANDON HOFER – PICKENS, WV: Keith Brooking is a great player, but he’s also an aging player. Should we think about drafting another linebacker to sit behind him for a few seasons to learn?

Rob: They drafted two guys last year at that weak-side spot: Jason Williams and Stephen Hodge. Both need time to learn their new position, and Hodge has to get healthy. They’ll look at linebacker simply because you can’t have too many in a 3-4 defense. Bobby Carpenter also is in the last year of his deal.

Josh: Well, the guy sitting and learning is Jason Williams, their third-round pick last year. But if there was a good enough option in this draft, I could see the Cowboys spending another high pick on an inside linebacker. I like Brooking, but it seemed like he made fewer plays as the season went on, as older players tend to do sometimes. I doubt they’ll find anyone capable of taking his starting job for 2010, though.

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