5 Dallas Cowboys With the Most to Gain in 2013
Dallas Cowboys: 5 Players with the Most to Gain in 2013
They are a team with a good mix of veterans: guys like Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin, and younger players who will and could become stars like Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Sean Lee, DeMarco Murray, Bruce Carter, Brandon Carr, and Morris Claiborne.
The team enters 2013 with the same expectation as in years past, which is that of a contending team that has all the potential in the world to make a playoff run. Their success will hinge most likely on how Romo plays throughout the year and if he can finally get over that playoff hump that has been with him his entire career. It will also depend though on the offensive line, a group that is one of the team's clear weaknesses, and how the defense plays in a new scheme with longtime NFL and college coordinator Monte Kiffin running the unit.
They play in an NFC East that is competitive every season. The New York Giants are expected to be right up there contending, the Washington Redskins' success hinges on the health of its young and supremely talented quarterback Robert Griffin III, and the Philadelphia Eagles are talented, but have question marks with a first-year head coach and a receiving corps that lost its no. 2 wideout in Jeremy Maclin for the season.
While their success does hinge on their leader Romo, the Cowboys also have very talented younger guys who are expected to do big things. It's no secret that the team has a lot to gain this season, but here are five players with the most to gain in 2013.
5. Morris Claiborne
When the Cowboys traded up from the 13th spot to the 6th in the 2012 draft to take Claiborne, they envisioned him being the next great corner back for the defense. Last year, some people would say he didn't fully meet the expectations of a top 10 pick, and now he has missed virtually all of training camp with a sore knee.
But the 23 year old is expected back for the season opener, saying there's "no doubt" he'll play. And this season, playing in a scheme that emphasizes physicality from its corners, Claiborne should be able to thrive. He has tremendous cover skills and play making, which scouts and observers gushed over while he was in college, and also does well in press coverage.
Last year some viewed as a disappointment, but if he is able to be healthy throughout the season and play well, he surely can establish himself as a very good corner in the league.
4. Brandon Carr
Much like his cornerback partner Claiborne, the 27-year old Carr had a lot of expectations going into last season.
He signed a $50 million contract with the Cowboys last summer -- paid like a no. 1 corner -- and didn't fully live up to the billing in most people's eyes. Like Claiborne though, if he can play better this season in a new system that suits his 6-feet, 206-pound frame well, he can be a top-flight corner in this league and could maybe even make the case for a Pro Bowl appearance.
3. Doug Free
Among all the question marks with the Cowboys going into this season, you wouldn't be that far off if you labeled Free as the team's biggest question in need of answering.
Free was given a rather rich $32 million deal after a great 2010 season, but it's been all downhill since. The 29-year-old was moved to the right side after the team drafted Tyron Smith, and he has now gotten reps at guard to alleviate the team's lack of depth and injuries along their offensive front.
Of all the team's offensive linemen, you could say that Free has been the most disappointing just based on his expectations after 2010 and the failure to meet them since.
A solid year from Free at the tackle position would do wonders for not only the team, but could even secure his spot on this line in the long-term.
2. DeMarco Murray
The 25-year-old Nevada product has shown the capability to be one of the league's best backs when he has been healthy, but his health has been the story of his career so far.
In two seasons, he has missed nine games, playing in 23 of a possible 32. He was known to be injury-prone going back to his college days, and that has seemed to follow him into the pros.
The Cowboys don't have the greatest of offensive fronts, so the jury is still out on how well Murray can run this season. But if he can finally stay healthy and show the type of ability he has over the last two years when he's been on the field, he could very well establish himself as a top NFL running back.
1. Sean Lee
The 27-year old Cowboys defensive quarterback is fresh off signing a six-year, $42 million extension this past week that will keep him in Dallas until the age of 33.
Anytime a player gets a big contract, it comes with a large amount of pressure to live up to the money. People know Lee as one of the best middle linebackers in the game already -- he made a strong case for the Pro Bowl a couple seasons ago when he tallied 105 tackles and four interceptions -- the latter statistic being impressive for a linebacker.
But like Murray, Lee's health has been a little bit of an issue. He has yet to play a full season, and missed the last 10 games last year due to a broken toe. The injury is part of the reason by people have questioned his new contract.
But if Lee stays healthy, he can make a very strong push for the Pro Bowl, and could even make himself the best middle linebacker in the NFL not named Patrick Willis.
Jake Carapella is a Dallas Cowboys writer for RantSports. Follow him on twitter at JKCSports1.