The work is never done.
While a team never wants to look past the here and now, when it comes to the opportunity that is presented each and every new football season, organizations must also keep the future in perspective. Quality organizations strike a balance between fielding a competitive team for the approaching season, and also making sure that the franchise positions itself to be competitive into the future. Coaching staffs, free agent acquisitions and salary cap maneuvers all must be made with considerations to how long a team, and the direction they are heading, remains viable.
No team greater exemplifies this than the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. Dallas is in a unique position (read, neither positive nor negative) of having several questions needing to be answered about their path going forward. For all intents and purposes, Dallas seemingly entered 2014 with the midset of “the last hurrah” for this version of the team. From Head Coach Jason Garrett to the majority of his primary assistants, the coaching staff will be free agents at the conclusion of the season. The team has a myriad of players that are at the end of their deals and will enter some form of free agency after the final game is played. For some young players, it’s restricted free agency, but there is a long list of key cogs that will be unrestricted. Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Doug Free, and Rolando McClain headline the list.
Dallas also has some key players with hefty contracts that can be walked away from over the next two seasons as the club looks to have the most financial flexibility it has had in some time in 2016.
To put it bluntly, the Cowboys front office has the entire team functioning in a contract year. The results, to this point have been surprisingly positive. While those that are directly responsible for the on-field product continue to focus on making a run for the playoffs, there are others in the front office who are knee-deep into preparations for the future. During this bye week, we’ll take a look at some of the things they are contemplating, and see if we can get a finger on the pulse of the future of the franchise.
Here’s a look at the schedule over the next several days:
(Today) Day 1: Player Rankings – A team has to be able to realistically judge the talent that they have in house, and know which players could be upgraded.
(Thursday) Day 2a: Confidence Picks – The easiest path to making the playoffs is dominating your division. In this special edition of Confidence Picks, CowboysHQ will take into account not only the current performance of each unit, but the long-term viability of them.
(Thursday) Day 2b: State Of The Union (Cap Health Check) – Taking a closer look at the 2015 and 2016 caps.
(Friday) Day 3: State of the Union (Coaching Canvas) – Where does Dallas stand with the current coaching staff and who are possible replacements if the assistants go elsewhere.
(Sunday) Day 5: Free Agency Ledger
(Monday) Day 6: Team Needs
(Tuesday) Day 7: Draft Prospects To Watch
|1||88||Dez Bryant||WR||Most talented player on the team, emotional leader, still a bit flawed in route running. True descendant of the 88 lineage.|
|2||9||Tony Romo||QB||Toughest man in a uniform; he'll be walking like an 80 year old at age 40. In top third of league QBs.|
|3||70||Zack Martin||OG||The rookie is dominating opponents in both pass pro and the run game. One on one, power or zone, pulling, screens, second level… all facets.|
|4||29||DeMarco Murray||RB||The ultimate dichotomy; doesn't do the two most important RB traits exceptionally (vision, decision) but is so great at everything else a RB does; not a lock to return.|
|5||5||Split'Em Bailey||PK||Pound for pound, probably best player on the team. Sucks that the rest of his unit sucks in 2014, signed for life.|
|6||69||Henry Melton||DT||Get that 3-year option with the built in restructure ready. Melton is a force in the rush game|
|7||32||Orlando Scandrick||CB||Best corner-play this franchise has seen in a while; where are all those naysayers about his extension? Quieted.|
|8||82||Jason Witten||TE||Blocking is still elite, receiving skills still above average although end is approaching.|
|9||98||Tyrone Crawford||DT||The new Almost. Crawford is just a disruptive force and perfect 3t compliment to Melton.|
|10||77||Tyron Smith||OT||Tough year, technique and penalty wise…makes one wonder if an undisclosed injury is being toughed out. Signed for life.|
|11||55||Rolando McClain||LB||From the scrap heap to being built around; McClain's athleticism is uncanny. Missed tackles keeps him out of Top 10 though.|
|12||72||Travis Frederick||C||The Don of the line, Fredbeard is the leader of one of the league's best units|
|13||50||Sean Lee||LB||Don't forget about Lee… even with his injury history has the production to warrant Top 15 status.|
The Cowboys upper tier. Surprisingly, the defense is well-represented here, even though the offense dominates the Top 5.
|14||52||Justin Durant||LB||Defensive captain was having a stellar season before a torn triceps. Will he be squeezed out?|
|15||83||Terrance Williams||WR||The world's best body catcher.|
|16||65||Ronald Leary||OG||Maybe the meanest of all the Cowboys O-linemen. Might be only player to contain J.J. Watt for 2014.|
|17||92||Jeremy Mincey||DE||Surprise, cheap FA addition with the technique to rush the passer but not the speed to complete the task.|
This is the “not quite awesome” group. Williams and Leary have an opportunity to round out a championship caliber Top 15 in 2015.
|18||68||Doug Free||OT||If Doug Free is your best lineman, you're in trouble. If he's your 5th best, you're doing something right.|
|19||42||Barry Church||SS||Church is an average NFL safety, no more no less.|
|20||59||Anthony Hitchens||LB||Shows a nose for the ball and ability to make plays at key moments. Trending up after slow rookie start.|
|21||54||Bruce Carter||LB||Injury bugs inserted themselves into a campaign where he was on the come.|
|22||39||Brandon Carr||CB||Carr is a victim of the deal he received, which no one would turn down. He's an average corner being paid like a star.|
What was thought to be a weakspot on the team is a strength? Even though three of the players are set to be FAs next year, the Dallas Cowboys have 5 linebackers in their Top 21 players. Combined with all 5 offensive linemen, we see where the strength of this team is.
|23||21||Joseph Randle||RB||Huge improvement over last year, but so is the line. Beware of Hambrick-like projections of future stardom though.|
|24||27||J.J. Wilcox||FS||Uber athletic, big hitter… still lost in space.|
|25||11||Cole Beasley||WR||Beasley is still coming through when targeted on third downs, hasn't dropped a pass on the year but his contributions are limited.|
|26||26||Sterling Moore||DB||Moore has played very well in Claiborne's absence. He doesn't allow deep balls and attacks passes. Still plenty room to grow in his coverage though.|
|27||90||Demarcus Lawrence||DE||The rook has made several impressive plays in his two games, but has yet to register a sack. Obvious he's still got a ways to go, though.|
The young guns… the upside in this group of “non-starters” should be very inspiring to the evaluation of the future of the team. One player is a starter at a position he’s only played for 2 and a half years. A potential starting running back and rush defensive end, as well as a cornerback are in this group too. That’s quality depth that you need to compete (and withstand a rough free agency).
The remainder of the roster is sprinkled with niche players, injured guys, young depth in need of a proving ground and more than a few jags. In order for Dallas to build a perennial contender, more of these “types of guys” will need to elevate their play to warrant moving up a tier or two. There is probably little chance that comes from more than two or three players that are in this group, so roster churn is a must.