Nose tackle is the position with the most questions in the upcoming season. Josh Brent took himself out of the picture with his tragically bad decision making. Jay Ratliff may be taken out of the picture by his salary cap figure. This leaves Dallas with very few choices at the nose.
Before we start looking into the future of this position, lets take a minute to look at what surely the Cowboys thought was there tandem going forward. Jay Ratliff was recently signed to a big money deal that he had certainly earned with past performances, but even at the time most wondered if he deserved based on future productivity. The truth is that Jay Ratliff hasn’t been an elite player since 2009. His sack totals, the part of his game that truly separated him from the pack, have dropped every year since 2010. Overpaying an aging but still somewhat productive player is forgivable as long as you have an underpaid and uber productive player sharing his burden. The Cowboys thought they had this in Josh Brent. Through 12 games this season Brent had 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks, both career highs for a season. Added to the improved numbers was the fact that Brent has the stereotypical size for a 3-4 nose tackle. His size could have been a real plus to the fast inside linebackers the Cowboys have in Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. Brent’s DUI manslaughter case has hit the breaks on his promising career and he will be much more concerned with the loss of his best friend and impending jail time than keeping blockers from getting to the second level.
It seems almost obvious at this point that the Cowboys will have to spend some of their available off season resources on the nose tackle position. That means either free agency or draft. The 5 million dollar cap penalty the Cowboys received from the NFL probably means that they wont be able to find an answer in free agency, and that they wont be able to retain Ratliff. Luckily Nose tackles, at least non elite nose tackles, are not players that get drafted highly. I do feel like because Dallas needs a starting caliber Nose, they will need to spend a pick in the top half of the draft on the position.
Robert Callaway is another possible answer at the position. He certainly has the body for the position, and the Cowboys seem to believe in him as they gave him a three year contract. I have some reservations, namely the fact that he has never registered a tackle in an NFL game. Callaway can be seen as a backup player as best for 2013, but is a viable project at just 24 years old.
Sean Lissemore may be the best option at the nose position. He is undersized at 303 lbs. This is not ideal in the 3-4 that the Cowboys run with undersized backers who don’t necessarily enjoy taking on blockers. He does make plays, and he had 35 tackles in 10 games this year. That is 7 more than his previous career high in limited time. Lissemore is a player that has improved every year and seemed to make a giant leap this season. He looks a bit like a young Jay Ratliff. I am not sure that he has the high end of Ratliff but I do think that he is a better player than Ratliff right now, and that his cap number is much more reasonable. That said I think that best case for the Cowboys and Lissemore is that a starting caliber player is available in the 2nd or 3rd round of the draft and he can spent most of his time at the end position.