The Dallas Cowboys finished with a disappointing 8-8 record in 2011. The season was disappointing to the media, the fans and most importantly the players.
The season, however, may not have been such a disappointment to Coach Jason Garrett.
Coaches usually have a pretty accurate read of the real-talent level on their roster. At the beginning of the season, Jason Garrett may have thought an 8-8 record and having a shot at the NFC East title in week 17 would have been a successful season.
Obviously everyone, including Garrett, at Valley Ranch wanted more. But the veteran cuts and rebuilding process that took place after the lockout made that unrealistic. A shot at a division championship in week 17 may have been looked at as a success during that process.
The Cowboys cut Marion Barber III, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode after the lockout. All three players have played integral roles in the Cowboys' success since 2007—the year the Cowboys won their first divisional title with Tony Romo.
The cuts did not end there. The most telling release of the offseason was Roy E. Williams. After two and a half seasons of dropped passes, miscommunication with Romo and lack of an impact, the Cowboys cut the wide receiver they believed was the missing piece to a Super Bowl run in 2008.
Jerry Jones was both revered and questioned after trading the Cowboys’ first, third and sixth-round picks for Roy Williams. Many critics believed the Cowboys gave up way too much for a one-time Pro Bowl receiver that was in the middle of a declining season.
Others believe Jones was bold and gave the Cowboys the best offense in the league with the trio of Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Williams.
Looking back, the Cowboys committed one of the worst trades in history. A trade that sets a franchise back seasons. And in 2011, the Cowboys finally felt that setback.
Here are the Lions selections:
No. 20–Brandon Pettigrew TE
No. 82–Derrick Williams WR
No. 192–Aaron Brown RB
At first glance none of those players would have helped the Cowboys win more games this past season. Pettigrew is a good player who is improving, but he isn’t that much better than the combination of Bennett and Philips.
That first glance does not tell the whole story of what could have been for the Cowboys. The players drafted after the Lions' selections could have made the Cowboys Super Bowl contenders this past season.
Alex Mack, Vontae Davis, Hakeem Nicks, Patrick Chung, James Laurinaitis and Clay Matthews were all taken after Pettigrew. Mike Wallace, Lardarius Webb and Henry Melton were taken after Derrick Williams. Jason McCourty, Captain Munnerlyn and Julian Edelman were taken after Aaron Brown.
Add Clay Matthews, Mike Wallace and Captain Munnerlyn to the Cowboys instead of Roy Williams in 2009—and the Cowboys could be facing the New England Patriots this Sunday instead of the New York Giants.
Those are all what-ifs because no one knows who the Cowboys would have selected if they had never traded for Roy Williams. Jerry Jones could have selected three busts that contributed nothing to the success of the 2011 Cowboys, but that is the same amount of success Roy Williams contributed this season to the Cowboys.
More than likely, the Cowboys would have had a more successful draft in 2009 with those three extra draft picks. Those three draft picks would have added more depth and potential to their team—depth and potential that would have helped in 2011. Maybe the Cowboys would have had better replacements for Gurode and Davis when they were released.
That is the risk a team takes by trading multiple-draft picks away. The Dallas Cowboys built their 90’s dynasty on the famous Herschel Walker trade. The Cowboys' neighbors, the Texas Rangers, built their back-to-back World Series teams off of their Mark Teixeira trade with the Atlanta Braves.
The Cowboys made the other decision and traded potential and quantity away for one hope in one season. They traded for one player—a player that did not pan out to their expectations, and a player that caused their 8-8 season in 2011.