Not that the 2011 season is going to be lost, but the chance to actively compete within it might be. Each day that passes without an end to the NFL Lockout is another day the Cowboys lose out on when it comes to bettering their team. The fact is simple, without Free Agency, the Cowboys will find themselves mired in mediocrity in 2011. Upgrades are needed, and with the NFL Draft complete, Free Agency provides the only answer from now until the beginning of the season.
The Cowboys showed their hand in April, opting to select only two defensive players with their overall allotment. One of those selections, a second round pick, is recovering from a serious knee injury, and his 2011 contributions are very up in the air at this time. The Cowboys stayed true to their Draft board, and with almost all selections the best player available was an offensive player. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but most would argue, offense is not the problem with this team.
Even though quarterback Tony Romo was lost for most of the 2010 campaign due to injury, the team still scored points under the direction of back-up Jon Kitna. The skill positions are loaded with talent, and it appears the offensive line in undergoing some needed and necessary changes. Coach Jason Garrett wants to establish a power running game, supported by a stout passing game, and while moving in the right direction, it may take a year or two to get the pieces he needs to control the line of scrimmage, move the pile, and advance the chains. Ball control is a key element in the NFL game.
While ball control reigns supreme in most organizations, the game is still about stopping the opponent. This is where the Cowboys fell short, way short, last year. Giving up 436 points, an average of 27.2 points per opponent, and an overall ranking of 31 out of 32 NFL teams is far from getting the job done. To be frank, these results are atrocious. Downright miserable. Not many games are going to be won in professional football when you're heeding 27.2 points to your opponent week in, week out. Quite simply, this needs to be fixed, and fixed fast. So, how do you go about rendering solutions to this highly-visible deficiency?
Well, the first, and probably most important step, was addressed shortly into the 2010 off-season. This was the acquisition of new Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan. It's unknown whether the Cowboys missed on other candidates available and subsequently chosen by other teams, but know this. The Cowboys did not "settle" on Rob Ryan. He was not taken off the leftovers plate. Rob Ryan will bring a style and defensive expectation not seen in these parts for many years. While refreshing and greatly anticipated, it's even more perplexing the new addition didn't generate more Draft selections on the defensive side of the ball. This leaves the Cowboys organization with one of two possibilities: ride with the current roster of 436 point givers or have a plan and several top-notch targets in Free Agency.
Seeing that the Cowboys have their own share of defensive free agents to address, it's hoped they'll be aggressive with defensive spending. Something has to be done to shore up The Sieve.
The perspective Free Agency listing of defensive players is littered with players who have Rob Ryan connections. Via stops in Oakland and Cleveland, Rob Ryan has coached a good number of soon-to-be available and potential players. This can only be a positive in the recruiting process, unless the player and coach did not see eye-to-eye or the coach didn't feel he was getting the player's best effort. Several of the available players are in key positions and essential to the Cowboys' needs, mainly the defensive secondary and the defensive line.
While NFL rules prohibit teams from contacting players while a lockout exists, something says that the word can, and does, get out. It's a safe bet that agents and players know who is expressing an interest.
Bank on the Cowboys having done their homework, and they're basically sitting in the starter's blocks waiting for the gun to sound so the Free Agency sprint can begin. They will have to make up for lost time and not lose any ground to the other 31 teams in the same acquisition race.
It's a safe bet the Cowboys probably have 20 different Free Agency plans outlined because no one yet knows the rules and parameters of which a new labor agreement or Collective Bargaining Agreement will carry. Fortunately, the team is not hand-cuffed or crippled by financial hardships. The Cowboys have played the "dead money" game before, and the brain trust has sworn they will never go there again. Not that there isn't overpaying represented on the current roster, but at least they're not paying players who are no longer on the organizational roster. That, plain and simple, is the recipe for disaster.
The last thing the Cowboys can afford right now is a misdirected recipe. They need all the ingredients to mix up a winning and contending season. There are plenty of the proper herbs and spices in the Cowboys cabinet, but a trip to the store is also a must. To make the best dish possible, you don't leave out key ingredients or substitute with generic substitutes. Get quality to produce quality. Rob Ryan could be a magician, but even a magic man needs a wand, top hat, deck of cards, and a saw to cut a volunteer or two in half. He needs the props to craft his magic. So, it's high time, what little left of it there is, for Jerry and Stephen to work some Free Agency magic of their own. Big splash acquisitions; the Sir Charles Haley's, Primetime Sanders and Terrell Owens of the world aren't needed, but upgrades are a must. Break the bank is nowhere near a necessity, and there are no can't miss, must have players on this year's market. Just buy prudently and fill necessary holes.
Here is the main thing the Cowboys need to keep in mind if they feel they can make a run at a championship in 2011: Know what the opposition presents. Like it or not, the Cowboys are the 3rd overall team in the NFC East behind the Eagles and Giants. Argue if you will, but until proven differently, they are 3rd in a four team race. More importantly, The League has to take notice what will happen to the Packers this coming year. They will basically acquire a new second team to compliment the squad that hoisted this year's Lombardi Trophy. How so? Look at how many players they lost to injury last year and still won a championship. Their front office has "roster depth" mastered. This has to be an absolute nightmare for the other 31 teams chasing the Pack. Think of a NFL team having two squads which could essentially compete on every Sunday of the 16 game slate. That is both remarkable and unheard of in these days of Free Agency. So, that is the bar and high-water mark the Cowboys and all others must reel in.
Regardless of what they do when the opening bell sounds, standing pat is not an option. Let me repeat that…..standing pat is NOT an option.
Thus, we can play Free Agency roulette all we want, but the organization knows more than any other, now is the time. There are too many players on this roster in their primes not to give it the ol' college try in trying to field a team contrived to make a run for the hardware. There is no "grooming" going on out at The Big House. As the clock continues to tic loudly, the Cowboys must have all plans and contingency plans in place. When there is a meeting of the minds between ownership and players, let the prudent buying begin.
Tick, tick, tick
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