Cowboys Offseason Manifesto: Needs Assessment

Building a team isn’t about one free-agency haul, one draft or anything that can be stated in just one breath. It is a long, arduous process that intertwines a head coach’s philosophy, a personnel director’s evaluation acumen, as well as a financial wizard’s adept forward-focus. How might those things converge on the 2015 offseason?


Building a team isn’t about one free-agency haul, one draft or anything that can be stated in just one breath. It is a long, arduous process that intertwines a head coach’s philosophy, a personnel director’s evaluation acumen, as well as a financial wizard’s adept forward-focus. Leading up to the surprising joy of the just-completed 13-5 campaign, this formula is what had educated Cowboys fans (also known as dedicated readers of CowboysHQ) hopeful over the last few years. Most fans that had issue with Head Coach Jason Garrett were unenthusiastic about his game management decisions. Rarely were his team-building philosophies and approaches questioned. The change in direction of the front office, guided by Garrett’s insights and executed by the steady-rising Will McClay, moved Dallas to sound footing in approaching free agency and the draft. Despite ‘Chicken Little myths of Cap Hell’ public perception, the financial management of Stephen Jones, Adam Prasifka and the number crunchers have successfully navigated Dallas from the treacherous of the last decade and the mentality that led them.

These three factions have led Dallas to its own little happy place in 2015. There are many shots across the bow to be taken for it taking so long to reach this point, but those articles have been written, read and regurgitated. Now is the time to focus on capitalizing on the time spent in said happy place, and doing everything it takes to decorate it with a Lombardi Trophy.

Often times, this space is used to heavily from upon a team spending big during free agency. A large subset of signings end up as regretted ventures for the new ball club. Dallas, however, finds itself in a unique situation; the sands are free-flowing through the hourglass. There is a running clock on Tony Romo’s greatness. Make no mistake, Romo is sacrificing long-term quality of life with his Robocop impersonations; weekly Torodol shots aren’t highly recommended by many medical professionals this side of Dr. Nick.

With back ailments affecting his last few seasons and an odometer that reads “Sacked Too Many Times”, the Cowboys will be very lucky to see the “four-to-five years of Romo” Jerry “Poppins” Jones is selling the public. Realistically, Dallas should not expect more than a 2-3 year window of Romo playing at his current level. As such, Dallas might be more inclined to spend in free agency than they would have been if their quarterback was a bit shorter in the tooth.

This isn’t green-lighting a caution-to-the-wind approach. Rather, a simple opening of the checkbook to players that answer the handful of question marks that remain after the last few rounds of talent acquisition for the Cowboys. Any moves that Dallas makes must consider the long-term; it must balance a quest for immediate greatness as well as long-term maneuverability. Here’s the difference.

A team that is strictly in win-now mode, will take the risk of spending on potential locker room cancers (Pacman Jones in 2008), and giving big money to players that are entering their third professional contracts (Jay Ratliff 2011). This is not an advisable strategy. Instead, if Dallas is going to splash in free agency, they need to only do it for players that are at the ends of their rookie deals, players that are hitting the street because their teams have invested money in their position already and don’t want to become top-heavy, players that aren’t in positions of high attrition, players that have performed at high levels for multiple years.

Look at the mistakes that Dallas has made financially in the last few years. They gave Marion Barber, a player at a position with the least longevity in the league, who played one of the most bruising games of anyone at that position. Fail. Wideout Roy Williams, who really only had one great statistical year and it was with an obscene amount of volume thrown his way. Fail. The Jay Ratliff contract wasn’t a bad one based on his recent production, but he suffered injury issues that often occur when a player enters his seventh and eighth years in the league. Most recently, Brandon Carr was given a huge contract although he was never the No. 1 corner in Kansas City and in three years has never resembled a No. 1 corner in Dallas. These are the mistakes that Dallas must avoid making if they are going to be spenders. It’s definitely about this two year window, but if you are going to spend, spend on players that will likely still be elite contributors in three, four or five years down the line.

Last week, we fixed our collective gazes upon the four restricted free agents in our quest to conquer the Dallas Cowboys offseason terrain. As stated in that article, fans often times devote all of their attention to the draft process once the season is over, forgetting the all-important rule; fill your holes in free agency so the draft is about the best talent available. Dallas’ holes are a-plenty, considering they have 25 players that logged time in 2014, but enter the offseason with no deal.

Garrett subscribes to the “Free Agency for Needs, Draft for Wants” principle and has stated so on many occasions. Despite tying for the best record in the entire league, Dallas has needs to be addressed. In that vein, we will now offer our roadmaps as to what we feel might be the best strategy for the Cowboys to employ in chasing that elusive sixth Lombardi.

Here’s a quick look of the list of the 23 players who were contributors to Dallas in 2014, but are no longer under contract.

PlayerPositionHow Acquired
Dez BryantWRDraft '10
DeMarco MurrayRBDraft '11
Rolando McClainLBFree Agent '14
*Doug FreeOTDraft '07
Bruce CarterLBDraft '11
Ron Leary (ERFA)OGUDFA '12
Dwayne HarrisWR/KRDraft '11
Sterling Moore (RFA) CBFA '13
Cole Beasley (RFA)WRUDFA '12
Lance Dunbar (RFA)RBUDFA '12
Anthony SpencerDEDraft '07
Justin DurantLBFA '13
George SelvieDEFA '13
Nick HaydenDTFA '13
Henry Melton*DTFA ‘14
Chris Jones (RFA)PUDFA '11
Jermey ParnellOTFA '10
Darrion Weems (ERFA)OTFA '12
Tyler CluttsLBUDFA '13
CJ SpillmanSTUDFA '14
James AndersonLBUDFA '14
Tony HillsOTUDFA '14
Cameron LawrenceLBUDFA '13

Not all holes are created equally. Many of these players will be brought back into the fold, and several others were just warm bodies that filled a role and are easily replaceable. This can be done by players currently on the team, or via low-cost replacements.

In Part Two of our series, we’ll take a look at players that are under contract with the Cowboys, but risk either being released, or approached about redoing their contracts to stay with the club. Part Three will take a look at potential free agent signings for the Dallas Cowboys.


Get educated: What's about to happen has nothing to do with "Dez vs. DeMarco.'' It's worth mentioning that DeMarco, "hopeful'' of staying in Dallas, is telling "The Dan Patrick Show'' this: “We’ve built a great foundation ... I don’t think about (the one big contract), I’m thinking about winning a Super Bowl. What’s best for me to win a Super Bowl and win one now. At the end of the day, the money is irrelevant to some degree. But you definitely want to get what you’re worth and things like that. At the end of the day it’s about winning a Super Bowl.” And as always, DeMarco staying at the right price is fine by us. ... Getting ready for the draft? Please read "The Cowboys' Six Tells and Tendencies in the Draft'' ... Fish and I get after each other in this Crunchtime Podcast focusing on Marshawn and the Media and the latest Cowboys/Adrian Peterson rumor.

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