The Cowboys ended the season extremely weakened up the middle. They lost NTs Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent, ILBs Sean Lee and Bruce Carter and S Barry Church. That’s four starters and a key reserve. Most teams couldn’t handle such losses.
Four of the five are expected back, with Brent’s status (he’s the reserve) very much in the air following intoxication manslaughter charges connected with the death of teammate Jerry Brown. But it’s Lee and Carter who might be the most important pieces. Ratliff has been great in the past, but he might be beyond his prime.
Lee was the Cowboys’ best defender when he required season-ending toe surgery that shut him down after only six games. Carter stepped up in his place, calling plays and taking on a playmaking role, but was stopped with an elbow injury after 11 games.
The good news is that both are expected back for most of the offseason program and are eyeing the May veteran minicamps for a return to the practice field. Lee might be able to work back sooner in the weight room and likely will be able to do quite a bit even before he’s fully cleared. The Cowboys’ defense, whatever it looks like next season, will be better off with the injured players back in the lineup.