Dear Jerry

Jerry Jones

Dear Jerry,

Jerry! What is going on with your team? As training camp opens. it seems that you don’t have the full team you counted on in early June arriving in California? It’s been 27 years since you’ve purchased the team and I can’t remember the last time that the Cowboys have entered a training camp so discombobulated.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some stuff (note to editor, I’m not sure that I can cuss but I’ll let you know stuff is not the intended word. Let’s play Wheel of Fortune and keep the S, buy a vowel and hope the contestant would get an H and a T) that would make you highly pissed.

The 1999 trade of two first round picks for Joey Galloway (yeah that trade) that was intended to extend Aikman’s career but wound up putting the team in complete salary cap hell. In 2001 they drafted Quincy Carter as well as trading the third-round pick in the 2005 draft for the rights to Drew Henson and even the trade for WR Roy Williams from the Lions for a first, third and sixth round pick in the 2008 draft was enough to make the hardcore fan base give the thought to freebasing. (joke)

What I’m saying is that we’ve been behind you through your questionable General Manager skills. And while some have questioned the thought process of Stephen Jones, I’ll be the first to argue that Stephen has bought balance to the organization and it has shown. The reality is that Stephen is not as attached to the players as you are and I get it. I’ve heard that Jerry is all about the consensus and that he takes information from all groups before he makes a decision with the roster but even I am starting to question the information that you are being given which may not make any sense at all.

What is there to process with the 2016 roster? Rolando McClain? Suspended for ten games and because of salary cap implications and there is a question if he should remain on the roster at all?

Stay Off The Weed

Can we agree that Randy Gregory’s has unquestionable talent? Yes! Should he have been drafted with the teams second round pick? Ehhh. Maybe not. Shortly after drafting him the team decided to give him #94, possibly using Demarcus Ware’s old number to try and light a fire under him, (pun unintended) but let’s put a twist on it. The pressure might have been too much for him to compare him to Ware or even Charles Haley. You could say the same thing about giving Dez Bryant the mythical #88. The difference is the personalities of the two players and what football means to them. I knew that Dez could hold up to the pressure of wearing the number and although he stumbled coming out of the gate, I think that he will continue to represent the team and the previous players that wore the number before him. If he doesn’t, it won’t be because of lack of effort. I would never question what another man goes through to get through day to day but if you love your occupation enough to sacrifice your well-being on a day-to-day basis and make a mistake, please do not follow up that mistake with another one. On draft day as well as days after, Gregory spoke of “making you proud” Jerry. I can applaud you for not turning your back on a person in need, you’ve done it before but do not be a fool.

When speaking about the possibility of signing a veteran quarterback, Stephen spoke on it being the time to develop a quarterback, specifically Dak Prescott and I’m certain that fans for the most part would agree with that wholeheartedly. The problem with the statement is that thought process should include the entire roster. If Rolando McClain cannot adhere to the rules that the NFLPA agreed to then it is time to move on. You can’t expect the coach to say “we only coach the players that are here” but not think about week eleven or twelve and the possibility of said player being available. You’ve taken worse salary cap hits through the years (Jay Ratliff and Kyle Orton) so we do not believe that the 750K really matters to you. Isn’t that what you drafted Anthony Hitchens for?

At the beginning of the 2015 season the Cowboys ranked 14th in the NFL with an average age on the 53-man roster of 26 years old and that is deceiving considering that Romo is 36 years old and Witten is 34. Get rid of those old guys and i’m sure the average will take a dip. (I Kid, I Kid) I’m not sure if it’s the coaching staff or if it is you but history has shown that you’re scared to play younger players. If I was Jason Garrett and secure in my job, had a voice in the drafting of players and if and when they played, it would only make sense to use the younger assets to build a strong core. Back to reality Cowboys fans, Jason Garrett has none of the above going for him. As much as Jerry says that Garrett is his guy, the reality is that another 4-12 season or even an 8-8 season could send the head coach in a spiral and end up like Wade Phillips. To put a spin an a Bill Parcell’s quote “The Cowboys are expecting Jason Garrett to cook with the groceries that the team buys” and to put it bluntly the team in the past bought Rolando McClain and Randy Gregory. I would hate to put Demarcus Lawrence’s suspension into this equation but as a fan, I’m tired of the high risk.

We know that Jerry has made a living off of risky moves and buying the Cowboys was one of them but the inconsistency of the application of the thought process is what drives me crazy. If that’s who you are Jerry, OWN IT, but remember you passed up Randy Moss because of his “character issues”.

Note: Congratulations to Jas for getting her drivers license today! Now you can drive your pops to the MGM for Fat Tuesdays!

Ed Note: Double that congratulations!

So Mote It Be!

Red Ball or Red Herring

On my last post the discussion started off about JJ Wilcox and his ability to maintain his roster spot. All of a sudden the discussion switched to Jason Garrett’s ability to coach and progress talent on his roster. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the questions, a 45-43 record and the more import postseason 1-1 record. Depending on what side of the fence you are on, his record can be viewed as progress or mediocrity at its finest.

What can you say? Jason Garrett is the Dallas Cowboys eight head coach who was initially hired as the Offensive Coordinator for Wade Phillips in the 2007 season. Many Cowboys fans knew something was up when Garrett was hired before Phillips. It makes you wonder if Phillips was slitting his own throat by signing on with the Cowboys. Was Phillips that desperate for another shot at a head coaching job that he would be sign up for a public castration? The 2007 season started off like a dream with Jason Garrett’s offense finishing second in total offense and other teams started knocking at Jerrah’s door looking to hire the wiz kid. The Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons interviewed Garrett and even went as far to offer him the big dog position which he decided against, resigning with the home team for three million dollars in 2008 to remain the offensive coordinator. If I was Wade, I would have known the fix was in at that point and the writing was on the wall. I could possibly understand Garrett passing up the job due to the fact that he was looking at Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich in his quarterback stable and an over the hill Warrick Dunn in the backfield. The Falcons wound up drafting Matty Ice in the 2008 draft but maybe in this situation it was better to stay with what you know than what could be, but the Ravens job is what had me looking at Garrett sideways.

GarrettThe Baltimore Ravens are one of the premier franchises with a owner who was committed to fielding a competitive team and a General Manger in Ozzie Newsome who not only had a storied NFL career but also a solid track record in drafting solid players which he showed in the 2008 season by selecting Joe Flacco and Ray Rice who wound up being important pieces in the Ravens 2012 Super Bowl season. I wonder if Garrett looks back and wishes he was double jointed so he could kick himself in the butt.

There are fans that have questions about the Cowboys managements decision in 2010 when they decided to fire Phillips after starting off 1-7? Did Phillips become too soft on the team? Can a players coach really be successful in the NFL? Defensive players who played for Phillips swear by his approach and it’s hard to argue with them considering that he helped make Demarcus Ware an All-Pro, JJ Watt aka “Hell on Wheels” a premier pass rusher. Do I need to point to the job that he did in Denver with an old but still beloved Ware and Von Miller.

Is it hard to imagine that Garrett knew that he would be the next head coach in Dallas if Phillips ever tripped and fell. Unlike some internet conspiracy theorist, I believe that Garrett like most coaches would want to succeed even though some fans can point to the 2008 and 2009 seasons with Boys and say that the offense became predictable.

I can admit that I am an admirer of the ol’ Jimmy Johnson days, coaches and players that come from that Super Bowl tree. You can point at the Dave Wannstedts, Norv Turners, Dave Campos and Butch Davis and wonder if Jimmy was the only one who had the magic potion. Does it bode well for Garrett being the only Cowboys player to ever become a head coach for the team considering that Dan Reeves wound up having a decent career and (ahem) Mike Ditka won a Super Bowl in 1985. Please forgive me for going back that far. Could you expect a mid-level player (and that’s being generous) to be more than a mid-level coach? Would you throw Garrett a life-line considering who his GM is?

In January 2015, Jerry rewarded Garrett with a 5yr/30million dollar contract which to some pundits and fans can basically mean that he was rewarded for his 2014 playoff appearance as well as the ability to be the Yang to Jerrah’s Yin which basically means “Do As I Say Chump”. If you compared the rosters from Wade’s short lived reign to Garrett’s takeover and expansion, has the team grown to a point where you feel comfortable with the teams growth.

I can unequivocally say that I do. Garrett has had his share of growing pains as the Head Coach of America’s Team but the overall roster is in better shape than it has ever been, including Parcells short lived tenure. Argue if you want but I would be willing to bet that Garrett will coach this team while Romo and Witten are young enough to compete. If Garrett’s process is true we will see a complete overhaul of the backend of this defense in the next draft with a sprinkle for the defensive front.

Shall I say Red Ball, Corner Pocket?

So Mote It Be!

Cowboys Defensive Line – Then, Now, Tomorrow

Jimmy Johnson Leon Lett Russell Maryland

Much has been made of late about the state of the Cowboys defensive line. Primarily the interest lies in two clearly defined areas. In no particular order they are the lack of a dominating defensive lineman and the impact of the impending four game suspensions of both projected starting defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory.

Those are two pretty darn good areas of interest. One can readily see the reason for concern.

There is the Cowboys Defensive Line of yesterday. There is the Defensive Line of today. Then there is the Line of tomorrow. Talent is the common thread that drives all three and a dominant defensive lineman presence a hallmark in the history of the team.

Lack Of Dominant Defensive Lineman

Dallas has a history of dominant defensive lineman. Mr. Cowboy is a nickname that refers to DT Extraordinaire Bob Lilly. That’s a good place to start. Randy White, Jethro Pugh, Harvey Martin, Charles Haley and DeMarcus Ware are some names you toss on the fire after you get it going.

A player of the above stature and all the commensurate attention and stats such a force brings has yet to step forward from the talent currently on the roster. This is a valid observation. Rod Marinelli believes in and teaches a scheme that relies on high motor effort from a rotation rather than a starting four and has proven to be an effective model. Yet historically his scheme has excelled when it’s had a dominant player to lead it.

However not having a singular dominant defensive lineman doesn’t spell doom nor even promise failure. A lesson a guy I admire above all others taught me comes immediately to mind – “now that you’ve shown me what we don’t have and what we can’t do, show me what we do have and what we can do.”

It’s generally accepted there were no “obvious” dominant defensive edge rusher available in the 2016 NFL Draft. There wasn’t much in “obvious-blue-chip-top-shelf-talent”  projected period. Instead it was tabbed as being incredibly deep due to a huge influx of non-senior talent. There will almost always be a blue chip player that emerges that wan’t detected in the evaluation prior to the draft. Especially at this juncture this is not a consideration.

Kudos to the Cowboys for recognizing the situation and using a strategy that took advantage of the nature of the talent tiers in regards to the incredibly deep defensive line position. This allowed them to spend valuable later round currency in an area of need the team could upgrade with a higher chance of success than reaching for something that wasn’t visibly there early.

As Ben Grimaldi remarked in an earlier podcast “it takes a more than one WR to make a corps.” The same can be said of the defensive line. DeMarcus Ware fans can attest to how difficult it is for even an elite talent to be effective when the rest of his teammates are mediocre or worse. Think back to recent Cowboys dominant lines. Charles Haley was the guy that put the unit over the top. The player that made the unit feared. They were pretty good before his arrival however. He was the cherry on top.

The 1993 starting four of Tony Casillas, Tony Tolbert, Chad Hennings and Charles Haley was impressive, however Jim Jeffcoat, Jimmie Jones, Leon Lett and Russell Maryland were feared rotation guys who each had consistent splash plays on game day. That hasn’t been the case in recent years for Dallas. Starting this year, that changes.

Ed Note: Click here for the latest Dallas Cowboys Depth Chart

Randy Gregory, Cedric Thornton, Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence are penciled in as the starting four. A team will keep 8-10 DL on the roster. That leaves six slots at most available after the starting four. You want to be able to fill the rotation with players that can stop the run, pressure the QB and make splash plays. This is critical in a Rod Marinelli style attack.

  1. Ryan Russell – After being in coach Marinelli’s dog house most of last year before hitting the IR due to an abdominal injury Russell has reportedly turned it around and is now being praised for his acumen, effort and performance in OTA’s. Russell is displaying a great motor and is big, strong, quick, fast and looked very comfortable running as the strong side defensive end often with the number one unit. This kid has all the tools and upside written all over him. Currently viewed as the starter on the strong side for the first four games.
  2. David Irving – Can play both end positions as well as the three tech and even saw time at the nose last year. This year he seems to be focusing on the edge and at 6’7″ that would seem to be his natural position. A steal from the Chiefs scout team last season the high-energy Irving is neck and neck with Russell in competition to start the first four games on the strong side. Regardless of the outcome each will be valuable rotation members and can play either side.
  3. Benson Mayowa – Young, high motor, quick first step Randy Gregory clone minus the Bob Marley obsession. Low risk, high reward. I like what I see on film and I have to trust the evaluation process the team has displayed in the past. Could start on the weak side for the first four games.
  4. Charles Tapper – Bigger than Mayowa he can play either defensive end position and has a quick enough first step to excel at both. Quick, fast, good strength and the required non-stop motor the former two-gapper’s skill set screams one-gap excellence. Even in his first year I expect production.
  5. Terrell McClain – Pop in last years week one victory over the NYG’s, Not only does watching Eli Manning give away the game in their closing drive never get old you can keep your eye on Terrell McClain and the total disruption he brings from the 1-Tech position. He stays healthy he’s an absolute matchup nightmare and can also play effectively from the 3-Tech slot.
  6. Jack Crawford – The man can be productive from each position on the line. That is roster gold and game day magic. High motor (sound famalier?) with a nice first step, good strength and a savvy feel for the game Crawford will probably never get a huge payday but makes plays from everywhere on the field. He did it last year and should do it again in 2016.
  7. Maliek Collins – Like DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory before him the missed time due to injury will hurt his development. I still believe in this guys talent. He may be the least productive of the above group in 2016. Don’t count him out and please don’t forget he’s number seven on the list needing to knock one of the above guys out to make the final 53.
  8. Caleb Azubike, Michael McAdoo, Rodney Coe – Three players who each bring their own kind of nasty to the party. I like each of these guys for different reasons. Keep their names handy as any of them could step up and be part of final six rotation conversation.

I was excited a few years ago at the depth and talent of the Cowboys offensive line. You could see the talent. I have a similar feel for this group. We will know more once camp starts of course, but I can confidently state this is the most talented group of defensive lineman to hit Valley Ranch in years.

We didn’t even talk about the starters or which of the above guys has the potential to “emerge.” Before the suspension I would have picked DeMarcus Lawrence as the guy who was going to make the most progress this year and have the potential to take it to the next level. It’s unknown however how much the four game suspension will affect his 2016 campaign.

The Suspensions

The two starting defensive ends will be missed. Though both drug suspensions they are vastly different cases. Randy Gregory (reportedly) has a taste for ganja. He’s not a domestic abuser. He’s a kid. There is no denying the foolishness of his actions. As a team you have to give him a chance to grow out of it. He’s already on the roster. The time to debate the wisdom of the pick has passed.

DeMarcus Lawrence case is more like the Orlando Scandrick one in that “reportedly” it’s an amphetamine  contaminate from medicine (versus a molly for Scandrick). An appeal is in process with hopes for either a reduction of games or possibly a complete overturn of the penalty though that would seem unlikely.

It’s important to note that both players are under “Substance Abuse Violations” versus PED. This allows them to do pretty much everything with the team except actual practice or drills. They can workout, watch film, chill in the locker room, etc. Per David Fleming due to the NFL’s drug policy after 2004 the above alterations were enacted to foster a support system for players dealing with addiction issues. PED violators are still totally banned from any contact with the organization.

Short view outlook on the four game suspensions would be to quickly sign one of the remaining few vets who can supply some presence off the edge. They won’t be cheap or necessarily effective. Aging vet Dwight Freeney has preferences and Dallas has yet to be named as one of them. Greg Hardy is a locker room cancer and is still trying to live off past success he has yet to duplicate after choosing to miss meetings and show up late for practice last season with Dallas. A late cut from another team is always a possibility however the choices aren’t pretty leaving a trade as the only real option for a fix and an upgrade. It would be expensive.

Without clearly having better options some times it’s best to just suck it up and hope you can overcome. That seems to be the case here. So far the Dallas front office has shown no indications of over reacting. That’s a good thing. For unless the second coming of Charles Haley becomes available via trade then the new Dallas young guns are going to need to become a force sooner rather than later. A rotation that can take advantage of one on one blocking schemes is a needed step in building a dominant unit. I believe they are on the roster now.

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over

2016 NFL Draft – Cowboys Critical Team Needs

Jason Garrett

It’s three days until the Cowboys 2016 NFL Draft. It’s past time to be excited. With the countdown expiring in a matter of days what do we really know? What do we not know? What do we need to know and (of course) what do we think we know?

We know Dallas has the fourth pick of the first round burning a hole in their pockets. We also know “lying season” is in full swing and Jerry Jones is absolutely in his element. And with free agency mostly done we also have a very good idea at this point of what the actual 2016 critical team needs are.

Yes, “team needs” is a subjective subject, not only for the fans but the team as well. Here I list them in regards to the 2016 season. With the Cowboys fully on board with the “Romo window” school of thought the needs list is (of course) “Romo friendly” and I believe not losing sight of that concept is the key to figuring this draft out.

2016 NFL Draft Cowboys Critical Team Needs

Running Back – As Jerry Jones has stated, any RB can run behind this offensive line. With McFadden getting 1,000 yards after gaining the starting role this is a true statement. However it doesn’t mean “any RB” will give Dallas what it needs in order to dominate via the running game. That’s critical.

In 2014 the Cowboys figured out a team identity and a winning formula. Run hard, run often, score. Keep Romo in advantageous down/distance situations. Keep your defense off the field and win the Special Teams contest. In 2015 Dallas found out “any RB” isn’t good enough for the job. After spending a ton of draft currency on their offensive line and winning the lotto with first round talent La’El Collins being available as a UDFA, it would be criminal not to take advantage of it to the fullest extent possible.

Some say a dominate running game starts with a dominate running back. Others say a dominate running game starts with a dominate offensive line. The truth is a dominate running game needs both. Darren McFadden is a talented player. Alfred Morris is a truck! Lance Dunbar is a dynamic, explosive player who can’t stay on the field. There may be better options in next years draft, or the year after. That’s not relevant. Tony Romo and the Cowboys need a player now to make this part of the offense work. They need a RB.

Ezekiel Elliot at 1/4? I would be smiling. Derrick Henry in the second or third? Grin from ear to ear. There are other talents that would help as well. Dallas has “options” at RB on the team now. What I don’t see is the “answer” at RB currently on the roster. After missing out in 2014, the Cowboys need to obtain a solution this draft.

Defensive Line Pressure – Ignore the dual four game suspensions of Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence. The Cowboys needed to upgrade their ability to pressure the QB before their starting edge rushers were penalized. That hasn’t changed. Reaching for talent would be a huge mistake. Not dealing with the issue would be even graver.

DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller or Charles Halley clones are not available in this draft. Get over it. The Cowboys defense did better in 2014 because the team wasn’t consistently behind in the fourth quarter. Instead the team was often in the lead forcing opposing teams into late passing situations which gave the Cowboys advantageous scenarios to pressure the QB. Trying to sack the QB while the opposing team is handing off with a two digit lead in the fourth quarter isn’t high on the successful tactics list.

A dominant running game and a late lead makes defensive pressure instantly better. Dallas still needs to upgrade their defensive line and this draft is chock full of options with talented players available through the fourth round. Especially at the DT position. This is an itch the team should be able to scratch.

Bosa at 1/4? Not top shelf value but I’m ok with it. DeForest Buckner? Another talented guy. Shaq Lawson, Noah Spence? They have wheels and motors that get results. A few more round one guys but after they are gone the talent is still … really, really good. Not going DL in round one won’t make that much difference in talent level for the selection. Draft this position anywhere from rounds 1-4 and feel good about what you get.

Defensive Back – The team has plenty of talent on board for the 2016 campaign. Byron Jones is the only young starter with more than a year on their deal however. The team has to consider options at this position. Carr will probably be gone in a year. Morris Claiborne is a 50/50 option at best. Scandrick is coming off a serious injury and doesn’t have the size preferred for the outside. Olatoye, Mitchel and Thomas are all talented but don’t have high end pedigrees.

DB Jalen Ramsey would be a fine addition. If Dallas doesn’t take him at 1/4 a DB in rounds two thru four would certainly be in play. This is a big need and if it doesn’t get addressed this draft next year’s need level would be catastrophic.

Ramsey isn’t the only option at safety. Watch for Boston College’s Justin Simmons in the middle rounds with Clemson’s 6’4″ Jayron Kearse as a late round sleeper to keep an eye on.

Linebacker – If Lance Dunbar was the primary running back for Dallas people would be freaking. A player that can’t stay on the field doesn’t “solve” a position riddle. That’s why Dallas has a HUGE need at LB. Sean Lee and Rolando McClain have issues staying on the field and after those two players the production level for the position drops off a cliff of immense proportions. The offense absolutely sucked when they lost their QB. The defense is no different when they lose their signal callers, Sean Lee OR Rolando McClain. The team doesn’t have the depth at the position to compete at the NFL level sans those two players.

ILB Reggie Ragland would be a late first addition. Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith are the two injured blue chippers (shades of Sean Lee Batman). LSU’s Deion Jones & Stanford’s Blake Martinez should be available in the middle rounds and both have Sean Lee like qualities. Virgina Tech’s Dadi Nocolas and Utah State’s Kyler Fackrell are talented guys that could be headed to Dallas in the middle to late rounds who project as possible Rolando McClain clones.

LB is two things in 2016. A position of need and a position thin on available talent. After years of having their primary LB targets being snatched up by other teams it’s time for Dallas to make a preemptive move here and get their man versus settling for JAG’s later.

QB of the Future – Paxton Lynch or Conner Cook late first or early second. Christain Hackenberg in the second. Cardale Jones, Jacoby Brissett or Vernon Adams Jr. in the later rounds. I like them all and I like them in that order. Dak Prescott is also on the list (last) due to his visit status, not because of any impressive pre-draft showing. I rated him at the bottom of my QB board after the combine and it seems the rest of the NFL is seeing what I did. Balls hitting the ground with regularity.

That’s it. There are still plenty of “needs” for the team to field at this juncture as in any offseason. However the team covered most of these issues during free agency and will (of course) be hitting the UDFA route hard post draft.

An upgrade at WR2 would be nice but isn’t critical. A healthy Dez Bryant and Tony Romo instantly upgrade the rest of the receiving corps. I wouldn’t be surprised at a WR pick in the second or third round, but probably only if they traded down and obtained an extra pick.

An interior backup player for the OL to replace Bernadeau is on the list yet currently ably manned by free agent signee Joe Looney.

Swing tackle options are on the team already. If they use a pick on an OT then last years selection of Chaz Green was wasted. Resigning athletic OT Charles Brown assures the team won’t get caught lacking at this position.

The team has yet to resign FB Tyler Clutts yet there are several attractive options at FB that should be available in the sixth.  Northwestern’s Dan Vitale is especially interesting. For those of you wanting the team to forgo the FB position don’t hold your breath. Garrett experimented with that already. He didn’t like the results. The club waited till after the draft to sign Clutts last year preferring to try for options in the draft. It didn’t work out in 2014 yet look for a similar approach in 2016.

Tight End – Yes, the team is scouting the tight end position in the draft. They have a second round pick don’t they? Yes, that was sarcasm. With Witten and Hanna under contract this is obviously not a position of need. It is a position of team focus however. Watch for Baylor basketball player Rico Gathers in the sixth. Cowboys TE coach Mike Pope gave him a private workout and raved about him afterwords. 6’6″ 273 lbs and was a rebounding machine on the hardwood.

Backup QB is not a team “need”. The staff has penciled in Kellen Moore there and I’m fine with that. After his 2015 game 16 performance you should be as well. Moore has warts but understands the Linehan offensive scheme and the job isn’t too big for him. Cassell and Weeden wilted under the pressure.

For the team to be successful at capitalizing on the “Romo window” they don’t need one player. The Cowboys need a solid handful. The team needs a “dynasty draft.” They need to hit on something besides a first rounder and a solid UDFA. They need a draft HAUL. This draft has the talent there for the choosing. It all starts this Thursday.

Have your own team needs? Comment below.

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over

Cowboys Draft Strategy 2016 – Turn Up The Volume

Dallas Cowboys Mock Draft
This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series 2016 Dallas Cowboys Draft Strategy

The 2016 NFL Draft is coming. Time for some Dallas Cowboys draft strategy. Let’s start off (of course) with a few observations about this iteration of the NFL Draft before bringing it all together with a lynch pin strategy approach.

Word on the street is QB’s drive the draft. Not so fast. Depth and type of talent are more important in dictating the flow of the draft. Nuance is the wild card. QB’s do drive the top of the draft. Not much top tier QB talent? Another position group moves up the boards. How far depends on how deep the group is.

The 2016 NFL Draft is VERY anemic in blue chip talent. The two “injured” OLB’s are both blue chippers. One should play this year. The other may never play. After them you have one Ezekiel Elliott, blue chip running back. That’s it. Will there be a “blue chipper” that will reveal themselves after the draft? Every year. However the die has been cast for the prenuptial contract dance and when you have a defensive end who doesn’t have that elite burst and a free safety with only one interception in college both considered consensus top five selection your draft is thin at the top. But that’s ok when you balance it with insane depth. Welcome to 2016.

Ed Note: Click Here for in-depth 2016 NFL Combine Reports

The defensive line edge class is deep. The interior lineman crew is the Philippine Trench. How deep? Players you get from the top of the second to top of the fourth are considered to be similar in talent as the bottom third of round one. Let that sink in.

Dallas just upgraded at 1-Tech via free agency. They could solidify the position via the draft anywhere in the top four rounds for the next 10 years. The Cowboys have spent high round picks on edge talent for the last two years. Why stop now? Dallas didn’t lead the league in sacks last year. Keep bringing the heat.

Need a “Sherman-style” DB? Step right up. Prefer the old template quick twitcher? You came to the right draft. Hurting for a slot guy with speed? Slap down a draft pick and go home with your choice from a truckload of beautiful options. How many in-the-box safeties do you want? Prefer ball-hawking free safety with pedigree and upside? Put the check in the box. By the way. The best free safety prospect in the draft is not Jalen Ramsey or any guy with his athletic ability who only manages to come down with one interception in college. In college? #ComeOnMan. Best safety in the draft is Karl Joseph out of West Virginia. Bring band-aids.

Zeke is NOT considered as good a runner as Todd Gurley from 2015. He IS considered a better “all-around” RB. Elliot can look like a lumberjack in blitz pickup. (Almost) anyone can learn to block, Ezekiel enjoys it. That’s rare. Gurley went at 10 to the Rams. Elliott should go higher. Possibly Dallas at four but certainly falling no further than the Eagles at eight. After him is equally intriguing 6’3″ sling shot Derrick Henry. Power, vision, speed, blitz pickup. One impressive dude. Upright runners tend to die quick deaths in the NFL but there are (exciting) exceptions. All indications are Henry will be a force. How long is the key.

After those two guys it’s a crap shoot where the only way you can lose is picking the wrong kind of runner for your blocking scheme. You don’t think that’s an important aspect? How did that DeMarco Murray thing work out for Philly last year? This just in, north/south power zone runners are pretty lame going east/west in space. Beyond that this is one seriously talented group of RB’s that bring a similar versatility to the menu as the DB’s. A fast, powerful, crafty group of guys that can catch and tote the rock. Draft with joy.

There are two QB’s that (on paper) are heads above the rest. Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. They are not however anywhere near the talent level of Andrew Luck/RGIII who went 1/2 in the 2012 draft. Yes, the two QB studs are getting a tremendous amount of press. Wonderful. They’re not going 1/2. More like 3 and before 10. Maybe.

One of the QB’s (most likely Wentz) should go to Cleveland. After that Dallas and the 49ers are the most likely to take a QB. Possibly the Eagles at 8. After that Goff is dropping unless a trade occurs. Wentz goes first because he has the most upside and the NFL is obsessed with upside. Goff has the highest floor, which is to say he is the most NFL ready.

You don’t want to be picking the second QB out of the top guys. UNLESS, your picking behind Cleveland which is where QB’s go to die. Otherwise names like Ryan Leaf and RGIII come quickly to mind. Spread QB’s are trickier to bring up to speed on the NFL game. That said these two guys have all the tools.

Word is Jerry Jones wants to win with Tony. Dallas still needs a “QB of the future,” but not one with the fourth pick. That means probably not Wentz/Goff. I like Wentz better. Not getting one of these two guys is no big deal in my opinion however. The QB class grades out very well after the top two giving similar tiered talent from the bottom, middle of the first to the top of the fourth. Look for a QB to be taken in that range or even later by Dallas.

If you had prepared a hit list for the Cowboys to focus on this offseason you would have laid out a draft like this. Could Dallas use a blue chipper? Who couldn’t. Players like DeMarcus Ware make an incredible difference. Yet compare the results from having Ware on the Cowboys and on his current team the Broncos. Let’s cut to the chase, Dallas needs a huge influx of talent, not one blue chipper to push them over the top. You don’t get four or five blue chip players in one draft. But you can get a solid handful (or more) of next level guys and that’s what puts teams over the hump into the Super Bowl hunt. Every team that has turned it’s fortunes around in short order has had a big talent influx or two. Time for the Cowboys to pony up to the bar and bring a wagon versus a side car.

If the Cowboys want a blue chip talent in 2016 they are there for the taking with the fourth pick. They should have their choice out of the three/four available. I see RB Ezekiel Elliot as a possible, though not probable pick at four. Otherwise I believe Dallas will be looking for a trade down partner.

Sidebar – The signing of OT Charlie Brown protects Dallas with their Chaz Green selection from last year. This means there should be no offensive linemen taken in this years draft.

The draft board is still coming together. Cowboys Nation will post that and mock drafts from the writers over the coming weeks as well as a “Cowboys Draft Target List.” In the mean time I offer a closing observational tidbit in support of the trade down scenario happening. Jerry Jones loves to trade like I like to breathe. He learned from Jimmy Johnson who targeted players then went and got them.

Be it four, five or six players out of the top 100, Dallas needs to hit on every one of them. Any party suggesting trading away one of these picks to move up the ladder should be summarily drawn, quartered, shot and hung. The Cowboys have obtained a good player or two each year in the draft. It’s time for a handful. Here that loud beeping noise? That’s the Dallas Cowboys bus backing into the NFL Draft loading ramp. Plenty of seats available.

Ed Note: Click Here for in-depth 2016 NFL Combine Reports

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over

Cowboys Offseason – The Process Needs Work

Jason Garrett Training Camp

The NFL offseason is all about preparing for the coming campaign. You pay attention to last season, but only to a degree. What happened in 2015 only matters if it helps you prepare for 2016.

No matter whom you inquire with at Valley Ranch as to precisely where Dallas is in regards to preparation for 2016 you will get variations on the standard Jason Garret mantra – “It’s A Process.” This may be frustrating, but it’s a factual response.

As a quick aside, it’s also a great sign that everyone at Valley Ranch is on board with “The Process.” Regardless of which scheme, method of attack or annual motto a team chooses to follow, it will always be more successful if everyone is dipping their oars into the water on the same drumbeat. This is the case with the Cowboys.

A man of great detail and painstaking preparation, Garrett doesn’t waste a minute once the final whistle blows. It’s no secret by now how Garrett drives the bus in the offseason. He has a multi-pronged approach.

  • Assess previous season’s team and performance
  • Assess league and next seasons opponents
  • Consider and implement changes to current Cowboys templates
  • Continue 24/7 365 talent assessment effort on all levels
  • Identify Dallas free agents worth second contracts
  • Identify and sign talented free agents with upside that haven’t reached potential
  • Sign players to fill out roster allowing draft to occur without regard to need as much as possible
  • Create board based on “Cowboy template BPA”
  • Draft
  • Integrate
  • Win
  • Repeat

All wonderfully revealing data. Injuries be damned, last year “The Process” came up short in several key areas. Perhaps even worse Dallas wasn’t surprised as they had talked about addressing these known issues all offseason.

Whereas the Cowboys personnel department has received deserved kudos over recent years for it’s ability to identify and sign talent, it’s not for every position. There is no doubt a great job was done in identifying offensive line talent in the draft and in procuring defensive linemen off the street that can compete in the NFL.

What about identifying and signing talent at other key positions?

The critical RB position wasn’t settled in any fashion until six games into the season. McFadden was an excellent signing. Relying (again) on a fragile Dunbar was a miss. Not getting a RB in the draft was a miss. Joseph Randle was a miss in every sense of the word. Ben Malena – Miss. Christine Michael – miss. Robert Turbin – Miss. Ryan Williams – Miss. Rod Smith – UNK. Those are the ones off the top of my head.

The scouting department and coaches all share the blame here. They should have identified McFadden much earlier as their best option. They should have procured better players. Supposedly it’s now “easy money” to get a RB in the draft or in free agency. Hmmmmmm.

The ability of the DL to create pressure without DeMarcus Ware via Kraken was a PR and production nightmare. Don’t even get me started on the interior run D and the 1-Tech position. I love the young talent on the line. DeMarcus Lawrence is exciting. David Irving was a total find. Tyrone Crawford should have a bounce back season. Randy Gregory is doing his part to legalize marijuana and …. and .. and … well there’s the rub. Four guys worth mentioning from 2015. Two of them are even starters. Contain your excitement.

It’s great to be able to get guys off the street that can play in the NFL. What the Cowboys need now however are guys who are elite. They are stocked with rotation guys.

I knew Brandon Weeden was not a solid option at QB. My wife’s hairdresser knew. They should have known as well. Pass after off target pass in camp once you got away from seven on air drills don’t lie. I mentioned it repeatedly in camp reports and podcast. Beautiful balls. Nice tight spirals. Overthrown. Too far outside. Too far inside. Swing and a miss to borrow Weeden’s former professions parlance.

Dallas has chosen not to develop QB’s or a QB department in the Tony Romo era. Jerry Jones has iterated more than once that having to give practice and preseason snaps to players who don’t make it as QB’s was a bad return on player time and therefore a bad investment. It was a mistake years ago. It’s a mistake now and yet another failed example of high finance rules applied as if it were actual football acumen. Will McClay’s influence can’t expand fast enough.

Linebacker play outside of Sean Lee was not good last year and of course, Lee was (again) unable to deliver 16 games. McClain was out of shape until late in the year after missing the first four games under suspension. Gachkar was too small to hold up in the middle. Hitchens is a 1/2 step slow to the outside. Damien Wilson and Mark Nzeocha had invisible jerseys on the entire year.  This patchwork unit needs some players that can excel and stay on the field. I get it the guys they have targeted have been snapped up right before they pick. Time to get the job done fellas.

Safety/Cornerback – Why not lump them together. Round the clock scouting, high draft choices, mid draft choices, low round choices, expensive free agent signings, UDFA’s and psychics have all been used to identify and acquire “talent” at the DB position for the Cowboys. Fail is the polite term. At least they finally moved on from the CB coach. The same one that excelled before he got to Dallas. Had to be his fault, right? #ComeOnMan

“The Process” correctly identified areas of concern last year. They were talked about. They were spot on. The consistent inability to identify and acquire (you need both) upgrades at the positions of need identified by your own process is the Dallas Cowboys 2015 season in a nutshell.

The Dallas Cowboys need to step it up in the strategy department. They seemingly know what to do and I am encouraged by some moves made this offseason, the recent upgrade at 1-Tech a prime example.

To be clear, I was fully on board when Dallas didn’t break the bank to sign Murray. I understand the need to let Ware walk under the fiscal situation they found themselves in (who got them so tight against the cap again?). The new fiscal restraint policies follow historically successful teams trends. I also acknowledge the consistent failure of successfully addressing critical personnel needs.

I see moves in the right direction. Great. I have seen such direction each offseason. Now enough with the baby steps. Time for leaps and bounds. Time to tweak “The Process” and get the job done.

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over