With Spencer Tagged and Sensabaugh Gone, Cowboys' Needs Are Shifting Quickly

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMarch 4, 2013

Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles (43) runs the ball against the Dallas Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh (43) and linebacker Anthony Spencer (93) at Cowboys Stadium. The Saints beat the Cowboys 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, with the NFL Scouting Combine results giving us a slightly better feel for what could be on the horizon, we drew up draft boards for all four NFC East teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, while noting that a lot would probably change between then and April 25.

Ultimately, it took only five days to render the Cowboys' board ancient history. 

Dallas made two rather large, rather surprising moves earlier Monday, likely shifting the team's focus for the remainder of the offseason. 

In our initial take, we felt the defensive line was the area that had to be addressed most urgently in March and April. But with Anthony Spencer now possessing the franchise tag (via ESPN) for the second straight year and with Gerald Sensabaugh's release leaving a void in the secondary, priorities are changing in Big D.

The Cowboys could still use some help up front, especially with Josh Brent's status unknown, Jay Ratliff in decline and Kenyon Coleman slated to hit the open market. They don't know what they have in Tyrone Crawford, and Victor Butler might not return, either. 

But with Ware and Spencer likely to be locked in as bookend defensive ends in the new 4-3 defense, the Cowboys instead have to make sure that they find a replacement for Sensabaugh. 

The safeties are important in Kiffin's Tampa-2 defense, and Barry Church is the only decent one remaining on the roster. Church might be a great fit as a John Lynch-like presence in and out of the box, but even he is a question mark as he comes back from a torn Achilles. 

Sensabaugh wasn't a great fit anyway, but he sure as hell would have been a more trustworthy option than Matt Johnson, who didn't play as a rookie, or Danny McCray, who was, in my opinion, the worst player on the entire defense in 2012. 

The problem is that even though they saved $1.3 million by cutting Sensabaugh, the 'Boys are still clawing to get back under the cap. They won't have the money to sign Kenny Phillips, William Moore or Dashon Goldson, all of whom are slated to become unrestricted free agents. 

Still, I'd be shocked if they didn't make free safety their top priority while handcuffed on the open market. Miami's Chris Clemons and Houston's Glover Quin are potentially affordable options. LaRon Landry is also be an interesting possibility. 

Even with a veteran on board to work with Church, I'd still be shocked if they didn't also use one of their top two or three draft picks on a safety while potentially waiting a year before looking for pass-rushers. 

Texas' Kenny Vaccaro is the first name that comes to mind. He's everyone's top-rated prospect at that position and could be on the board when Dallas is on the clock with the No. 18 overall pick. If that isn't the case and they don't play the trade game, the Cowboys have to consider secondary options such as Matt Elam, Eric Reid, Jonathan Cyprien and Phillip Thomas. 

The domino effect created by Monday's moves could also lead to an opening at strong side linebacker.

Right now, Dan Connor is probably the favorite to start next to Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, but ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins reported last week that Connor had essentially been given an ultimatum from the team. If he won't take a pay cut, the 'Boys might have to release him, forcing the team to consider drafting a stay-at-home linebacker in case Butler departs and Alex Albright and Kyle Wilber don't emerge. 

Expect things to change again before we've reached the third week of March—and again and again as the market evolves. The NFL offseason is fluid, and change is in the air right now in the football capital of the world.