All in for Romo?

A debate exists amongst football fan bases when their team has an improved season and makes some noise in the postseason whether or not the team should go all in to maximize their chance at a championship. For the Cowboys in 2015 this is an especially good version of said debate. The situation sees a former dynasty being rebuilt by true decendants in Jason Garret and Stephen Jones along the lines of a vision known as The Process. Add to the mix a newly lightened salary cap, recently strong draft history, and an aging quarterback with only a few years left to win the big one. With so much being slowly built to ensure a positive future for the team, should the Cowboys revert back to the Jerry Jones brand of high risk taking and go all in to win a championship for Romo? Even if it gambles the future of the team?

To make such a decision, it would be wise to follow first evaluate the team and decide what pieces would need upgrading, and figure out how to go about acquiring those pieces.

The idea is not to build the roster like an All Madden team or a Dream Team. Everyone knows what happened to the Dream Team in the NFL and saw the undefeated Patriots lose the Super Bowl. Instead, identify the weak spots and bringing them up to par. Improve on your strengths and keep an ace up your sleeve. When you become a top quality team, and you can match up against the others on that level, then and only then is the team is truly a Super Bowl contender.
The points of weakness on the Cowboys roster stand out at defensive line, cornerback, and running back. The linebacking corps will be all shored up if Rolando McClain re-signs, but until that happens it should be considered as well.
The strengths of the team are offensive line, receivers, and kicker. They have already taken care of these areas. Doug Free and Ronald Leary were re-signed to keep the starters intact on the offensive line, but some depth will be needed as the swing tackle Jeremy Parnell got paid like a starter to join Jacksonville. Dez Bryant was tagged while they work out his long-term deal and Cole Beasley was signed to a multiyear deal to continue giving fits to opposing defenses on third down. On special teams, kicking ace Dan Bailey should enjoy the continuity of his place holder, punter Chris Jones, being retained.
As far as an ace up the sleeve, one can see several options on the roster already. Gavin Escobar has shown he can be a huge passing treat in the red zone. Lance Dunbar has the kind of speed and elusiveness to make a few home-run plays. On defense, J.J. Wilcox has done nothing but improve in his new position. His hard hitting ways and focus on the ball could see him grow into something special. Morris Claiborne has his back against the wall to ever show he can be the talent his draft pedigree suggests. It doesn’t look likely, but if the mental side of the game “clicks” while quarterbacks target him, his splash play potential could see him exemplify why he was “Pick 6” in 2012. Lastly, if you hang around the best Cowboys site on the internet, BtBBtB, you will pick up a lot of faith in second year DE Ben Gardner from the very football savvy crowd over there. He didn’t play a single snap last year due to injury. He may turn into the next Unicorn Matt Johnson, or he may become Jared Allen.

A few edge rushing options remain on the market. Greg Hardy would be the biggest name, but his checkered past has kept him jobless so far. Some established veterans in Abraham and Freeney are available, but the best bet may be the Cowboys’ own Anthony Spencer. Inside, a major space eater in B.J. Raji, is on the market but would come at a high price. Strong veteran leaders would be nice to lead the young guys while making an impact on the field, but could come with a heavy price tag.
At cornerback, the best player still on the market is Tramon Williams. He is seeking a big payday but that price tag drops every day he doesn’t get signed. A better option could be long time Marinelli player Charles Tillman. He is aging and has had injury issues, but his pure presence could be a major impact on the young guys like Patmon, Claiborne, and whoever is drafted. Teaching these guys his signature “Peanut Punch” could really improve the defense.
The running back situation is not necessarily a hazard but is not as strong as it was last year. The main issue is that every back on the squad has question marks. McFadden has underwhelmed as a Raider, Williams has an injury history, Randle’s off the field issues are a growing concern, and Lance Dunbar seems too small to carry a heavy load. Bringing in a big hitter could return this position to a strength of the team and behind the great offensive line see a running game that pays dividends throughout the team. The big star story is Adrian Peterson coming to Dallas. This is a stretch considering the situation, but if it somehow came together, the team could release Randle and really feel like they are a top team in the league, led by an offense few could match.

By most fans’ account, the team needs to improve the defense majorly to make it to the Super Bowl. The team is currently courting Greg Hardy, a move which would immediately bring real hope that the defensive line could get after the quarterback this season. A re-signing of Rolando McClain and some added talent in the secondary could make this unit a top ten force in 2015. But this brings back the pressing question: is it worth gambling the financial future to pay for help now?

Tony Romo will be the highest paid football player this year making $27 million. While this seems enormous, it will get the team “over the hump” so to say with his contract. They will not be chained to him if a sudden injury ends his career. However, they can restructure his contract and push a bunch of that guaranteed money into the next few years. This would allow the team to pay a couple more defensive players and cover the rookie class. The numbers are too complicated for a laymen to acquire and figure out. That is why Stephen Jones gets the title “genius” from the people who follow his work closely. But when calculating the risk, the inner Jerry Jones in all of us, who wants to go down swinging, says, “Pull the trigger, son. The downside would be only temporary, but the glory of a championship lasts forever!”


This Week in Cowboy Football 3/14

A flurry of activity occurred this week to ring in the NFL league year and, despite all the news, things were not very exciting for Cowboys fans. Until you get down to the meat of things.

Originally, this article was supposed to recount one of the most masterful sports business tales in recent history. Demarco Murray was in attendance at the Mavericks/Cavs game in Dallas on the opening night of free agency, with friend Miles Austin, while in contact with Coach Garrett. One could see Cowboy superfan Lebron James mosey up to Demarco after his spectacular performance to shed some advice about money vs. championships. Garrett would then tell Murray they could increase the offer a smidge and he would agree. But not so. Instead, the story includes “backstabbing” phone calls, recruitment, and a tragic end for the Dallas Cowboys. This is exactly why not to focus on the hype. Murray’s future performance is not set in stone and the Cowboys have plenty of routes to maintain their running game. Darren McFadden was signed Friday to join Randle, Dunbar, and Williams. Take a breath and move on. The team has. And they have done so with a lot more money left to spend.

Before the Murray move, a foundation of departures prepared Cowboy Nation for the bad news. Wide receiver and special teams standout Dwayne Harris got paid to join a division rival in the New York Giants. He had put up some great numbers as a returner in the past, although they dipped this past year. He was a gunner in the punt game and led the special teams in tackles. What’s more is his role on the offense was often that of a blocker and what a blocker he was! On several of Demarco Murray’s big runs last year Harris could be seen as the most tenacious blocker on the team. He also can catch a big pressure pass, netting a game winning touchdown reception against Minnesota in 2013. He will be missed.

Lovie Smith did not succeed in drawing Rod Marinelli to Tampa Bay to revive the Tampa 2 defense. Instead, he syphoned Bruce Carter and Henry Melton, the latter a former player of his in Chicago, to build his team. Neither was particularly expected to re-sign
with Dallas but either one would have been welcomed back so long as their contract didn’t push out someone more important.

The linebacking corps lost another favorite in Justin Durant as he signed with the Atlanta Falcons. A veteran to the Marinelli system, he offered the luxury of playing all three linebacker positions and was playing lights out before his injury last season. His injury history may have caused the Cowboys to be slow in re-signing him. Value aside, the Cowboys have holes to fill at linebacker.

Lastly, Jeremy Parnell got big money to become a Jaguar. He offered value as a swing tackle, and will again cause the team to fill his void sometime soon in free agency and/or the draft. Expect the former.

To make up for the roster voids, the team began by signing minor players. Fullbacks Jed Collins and Ray Agnew were signed as well as former Minnesota Viking middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley. None of these signings will light up the fan base, but sound developments in the offseason are often rather quiet.

Several former Cowboy free agents are still on the market. The most hotly pursued is middle linebacker Rolando McClain. He will now be the focus of the front office and his signing would make the offseason feel like an overall positive, despite the other departures. After him, the team could come to terms with guys like Sterling Moore, Anthony Spencer, George Selvie, or even Nick Hayden.

If the team needs to make more cap space, there are a few moves that could create room. The restructuring of Romo’s contract would invest more in his questioned future, but free up a ton of cash for this year. Brandon Carr will likely need to rework his deal to keep from being designated as a post June 1st cut. Either way, some money will come from his situation. The least likely to happen very soon would be a for long-term deal with Dez be signed that would save some of his $12 million tag.

What to ignore
Ignore any speculation on any major move to upgrade the running back position. Darren McFadden has been in the football wasteland known as Oakland, CA. He is every bit as talented as Murray, while older. With the support of the other members of the backfield and the offensive line, McFadden and the Cowboy running game will be a strength of the team. Now, if a running back is the best player on the board during the draft, then they will upgrade the talent. But don’t expect Adrian Peterson’s Dallas dreams to come true. His karma isn’t that good.
With Murray an Eagle, the hype train will be in full motion throughout the media. Murray did not get a reward contract for past performance from Dallas for a reason. A single snap won’t be played for months, so there is no reason to pay attention to what might happen in Chip Kelly’s offense. As Garrett would tell his players, “block out the noise.”
The raiding of the Cowboys roster is the consequence of being a good team. Much of what has happened was expected and the roster turnover is not any more than the league average. Some big names were lost, but they were all overpaid elsewhere and their spots can be filled. That is the idea of The Process.
Remember that the teams who “win” free agency rarely do the same in the ensuing season. The Buccaneers won free agency last season and they have a top ten draft pick this year. It can be good to add one big time player, if affordable. Jimmy Graham in Seattle could have a big impact, but again, we will have to wait and see.

Division Watch
The Giants have been quietly building their roster with solid players in the backfield. Mentioned earlier, they brought in Dwayne Harris who will not only add to their potent receiver group but aid their special teams, too.
The Redskins have been upgrading their defense along the line and at cornerback. Cowboy fans may have green eyes watching this approach, but not likely for the specific players acquired.
The Eagles have been the attraction of the league, firebombing their roster. Turnover at quarterback, running back, and receiver will see a very different face to the Chip Kelly offense. What more will they do? Who knows, but they will be an interesting watch this September.

What We Know

With the kickoff to the NFL business year comes a wave of free agent signings, trades, and contract restructures. It can be overwhelming to keep track of the shuffle. Now is a good time to look at what we do know about the team and what it will do in 2015.
Jason Garrett, Rod Marinelli, and Scott Linehan were all re-signed to their respective coaching positions. Bill Callahan and Monte Kiffin are no longer with the team. The latter two had lesser roles last season, although Callahan’s work with the offensive line cannot be overlooked. He will be in Washington this year, a most unfortunate reality. The consistency at the top of the coaching staff is indicative of a team with a clear vision.
The 2015 version of the Cowboys offense should look very similar to the one in 2014. Romo will return under center looking to repeat his MVP-caliber performance. No matter who ends up behind him on the depth chart, it will not matter as no one else gives the team a chance to win it all. Dez Bryant received the franchise tag and will assume his lead of the receiving corps, with Terrence Williams and Cole Beasley behind him. Beasley struck a 4-year deal with the team just recently. A decision must be made about free agent Dwayne Harris if he is to return as the 4th receiver and return specialist. Jason Witten and his fellow tight ends James Hanna and Gavin Escobar will return as well. Along the offensive line, all five starters will return. The three first round draft picks, newly restructured Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin will stay in the company of right guard Ronald Leary, who was retained as a restricted free agent, and the elder statesmen of the group Doug Free, who just struck a deal that will keep him a Cowboy until age 34, averaging $5 million per year.
The elephant in the room is the decision Demarco Murray will make as an unrestricted free agent. He will no doubt receive higher offers than Dallas can allocate his way, but will the difference be made up by the Dallas Discount? The answer will arrive soon. Other than Murray, the Cowboy backfield will feature Ryan Williams, the off-the-field trouble known as Joseph Randle, and Lance Dunbar who was also brought back. The floor for this position doesn’t look so low, but keeping Murray in Dallas would go a long way in assuring the Cowboy offense continued success in 2015.
The Dallas defense will see some change this offseason, particularly up front. Jeremy Mincey, Tyrone Crawford, and Demarcus Lawrence will return to the line as assumed pieces of Marinelli’s rotation. A group of guys, highlighted by Ben Gardner and Terrell McClain, are behind them on the depth chart with a chance to earn their play. The whole mess will be sorted out over the summer, but first, expect some quiet free agent signings and some fresh faces through the draft.
The linebacking corps will see some change as well. Sean Lee returns from injury and will be joined by Anthony Hutchens, Kyle Wilber, and Keith Rivers. The Cowboys hope to get a contract done with Rolando McClain, who resurrected his career last year. Justin Durant may very well return as well as he should be a cheap signing and has been a great contributor. Bruce Carter is a free agent, like Durant and McClain, but will likely get a big payday elsewhere. He has shown he can succeed in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 scheme, as well as make timely interceptions.
Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox should return as the safeties unless a very talented one shows up in the draft or free agency. However, it isn’t likely as there are not many on the market or in the draft and the Cowboys are going to be bargain hunting. Fans may be underwhelmed by this reality, but Barry Church has been solid for years and the coaches believe Wilcox can continue to improve as he is still relatively new to safety, and defense in general.
Orlando Scandrick will lead the 2015 Cowboy cornerbacks. The team surprisingly passed on an option to retain Sterling Moore. It doesn’t mean they can’t still get a deal done in free agency. Brandon Carr has been asked to take a pay cut and many expect he will. If not, he can be designated as a June 1st cut. Morris Claiborne will return from injury to make a last ditch effort at restoring his reputation. Tyler Patmon will be given a chance to earn playing time. Still, an infusion of talent is expected through free agency and/or the draft.
Players Returning from Injury
The 2015 Cowboys will feature some very notable players returning from injury. The biggest of course is Sean Lee. Depending on who the team signs at linebacker, Lee could be moved out to weakside linebacker where many hope his nose for the ball could flourish and his body would be a bit safer from the traffic in which a middle linebacker must navigate.
The much beleaguered Morris Claiborne will try to take advantage of his final chance to prove he can be a solid cornerback in this league. The coaches and front office have spoken highly of him. We will learn this fall whether or not those words were just to save face. He’s going to have to earn a starting role in training camp if he wants a real shot at another contract with Dallas, or anyone, in 2016.
The Cowboys acquired Ryan Williams from the Arizona Cardinals last year who sat out the entire season due to injury. He was drafted highly and, when healthy, poses a real threat to defenses, especially behind the Cowboys’ impressive offensive line. By the time he gets on the field at mini camp in May, it will be much more clear how much action he will see.
Last year’s draft pick Ben Gardner made some noise coming out of Stanford. He didn’t play a single snap but looks to make his impact this season. The coaches were touting him very highly in training camp. Hopefully, he can fulfill their expectations. Another down roster player who will return is offensive tackle Darrion Weems. He is poised to become the new swing tackle but will need to prove his health and roster spot in training camp.
Free Agency
With free agency beginning today, a flurry of activity will light up the league. Typically, the teams who stack flashy signings do not have great seasons so this is really just a lot of hype for nothing. The Cowboys have retracted from this type of business behavior since Garrett took over. They will add a couple of decent guys on defense for a low amount of money later this week. What is more important is what happens with the Cowboys’ own free agents, most notably Demarco Murray. If he is lured out of Texas by a big contract, there will be a hole at running back, and in many a heart.
Several big name free agents have been linked to Cowboys, but it is unlikely any of them make it to big D. Folks love to imagine the best players playing for the biggest teams and reporters exploit this to get eyeballs on their sensationalized stories. Additionally, tons of players are from Texas so it always sounds plausible. The only way anyone will see Adrian Peterson or Brian Orakpo don a star on their helmet would be if the team found itself in a sudden need for a player at their position and they signed a very cheap contract.
The Draft
The Dallas Cowboys will draft the best player available when their time comes in the draft. Draftees have played a major role in the rebuilding of the team, in strong part to this strategy. By signing free agents to fill out the roster, they can focus on getting the best talent available rather than choosing a player to fulfill a need, which rarely maximizes the value of the draft selection.
The players who attend Dallas Days can indicate who they might be interested in as they have historically drafted attendees of this event early and often. When It comes to Jerry Jones and the draft there is no guarantee. He loves to surprise, having traded more often than not in his reign as GM. The first round trade back in 2013 worked out very well and the general consensus was relief when Jones opted out of drafting Johnny Manziel last year. Keep those fingers crossed this positive trend continues.
Training Camp
Training camp will again take place in Oxnard, CA. The dates are yet to be announced, but it will take place later this summer. Under Garrett, and strongly reinforced by Marinelli, the best players will play. No one’s starting spot is safe, except probably Romo and Witten. A competitive environment can be expected, as has become the usual. Hopefully there won’t be any injuries or serious violence while some solid players emerge in Oxnard. For those who follow it closely, it is obvious that training camp has become a unifying experience for the Dallas Cowboys.
The schedule has yet to come out, but based on last season’s results, we know which teams they will play. Six games will be played against the three divisional teams. The Cowboys will play the four teams in both AFC East and NFC South. The other two games will be against the division winners in the NFC that they do not already play: the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. Later this offseason, feature articles will be focused on each opponent.
A successful 2014 has restored the public’s focus on the Dallas Cowboys, as the wins and expectations stacked higher and higher. The more casual fans have returned. Combined with the high public demand for all things Cowboys, this all but guarantees that the team will be featured in the maximum amount of nationally televised games in 2015. Considering the big name teams they face outside of the always intriguing NFC East, we know we can expect some serious spotlight on match ups with the Patriots, Seahawks, and Packers in addition to the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins.

For further reading, take a look at why you can expect to see a Dallas Discount.

Check back Saturday for a summary of pertinent Cowboy activity, a guide on what to ignore, and a watchful eye on the division.