While it may be early to throw in the towel for the season, the Dallas Cowboys are terribly close to being done.
At 2-3, the Cowboys are still very much alive in the NFC East, but it’s the way they're playing that suggests the future won’t be a successful one. The Cowboys have been plagued by mistakes. Each mistake creates a setback, and each setback contributes to loss.
There is an identity crisis in Dallas. The Cowboys are full of talent but can’t seem to consistently put a winner on the field. For an elite franchise that has a history of success, this isn’t the quality team that we’re used to.
So what comes next?
There is a lot to do in the coming year if the Cowboys plan to legitimately contend in 2013. Here's a to-do list for owner Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys are a team with a great deal of problems. It’s their mistake-prone offense that has put them in this position to begin with.
If the Cowboys plan on taking a step forward, they’ll have to sit and identify what their weaknesses truly are.
Jones should be looking at the offensive line, defensive line, safety and team depth.
If there is one thing wrong with the Cowboys, it’s their inability to put a good offensive line together. Anyone who thinks that having Doug Free, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau is a legitimate offensive line is in a ridiculous state of mind.
The Cowboys need to fix this weakness through player development. Yes, players can be found through free agency, but it’s unlikely that teams are going to part ways with truly skilled offensive linemen. That leaves the Cowboys as bottom feeders getting the castoffs from other teams.
As for the defensive line and safety positions, the Cowboys have been neglecting them for years.
They need to remedy this by advancing player scouting and player development. Bringing in players is only the beginning. Players must be developed properly so that they can succeed later down the line.
It’s easy to say, “Fire Garrett” or “Cut Romo,” but that doesn’t mean anything if it’s done under false pretenses.
When Tom Landry took over the Dallas Cowboys, they only had 18 wins in his first five seasons.
I’m not saying that Garrett is Tom Landry, but I am saying that the guy has hardly had enough time to put his own stamp on this team.
The NFL used to be based on loyalty. Coaches used to stay with franchises for more than five years. Now, every time a bad season comes around, we call for the coach’s job.
I’m glad my career isn’t like that. I’d have been fired a lot by now.
The same goes for Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. We are so quick to throw these guys to the wolves when they’re bad and then act like we love them when they’re good.
Let's not overreact. Let’s not cut these guys when they have unfinished work. The future may not be with Romo, but it is with Dez and Garrett. Let’s see this thing through.
Are the Cowboys a team with an excellent defense and a mediocre offense?
Are the Cowboys a team that manages the clock and uses a stout defense to secure wins?
Are the Cowboys an explosive offensive force?
No one knows, and that’s what the problem is. The Cowboys badly need to figure out what their philosophy is. Teams that have been consistently successful have had a core identity that they haven’t deviated from.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens have built teams with dominant defenses. The New England Patriots have been a dynasty of explosive offense. That's just how it works. They draft to fit their philosophy, and they continue to be contenders because of it.
Whether it’s a dominant smash-mouth type of football team or a finesse team, it doesn’t matter. The point is that the Cowboys won’t be successful until that identify is found.
Once they figure it out, they’ll be able to move forward into an era of success.
Develop a Foundation
One thing the Cowboys have done well is obtain solid talent. Even through a rebuilding phase, they’ve have managed to be, at least, considered contenders.
In the last few years, they’ve brought in players like DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr and Tyron Smith.
These are top-tier young players who are budding superstars. The problem is going to be locking all these guys up long term, which is where the Cowboys need to start.
For the team to really make a push at being the team we expect it to be, Dallas needs to develop a long-term foundation.
It’s nice to have DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten, but they won’t be around too much longer. It’s time to look further into the future. It’s time to figure out who will be the next Ware and Witten.
Lee and Claiborne are rare talents who have already blossomed young. Smith, Bryant and Murray are already productive young players with even higher ceilings.
If Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett are serious, these guys have to be long-term priorities.
The 2013 NFL draft may be the most important draft of the last 10 years for the Dallas Cowboys.
In this draft, the Cowboys need to address all of their weaknesses. That means they’ll need to bring in a solid defensive lineman, a quarterback of the future and a starter for the offensive line. They’ll also need depth at wide receiver and tight end. Not to mention a true top-caliber safety.
Of course, there will be free agency. The Cowboys may be able fill their defensive line need and depth concerns there. But they need to make this draft count.
There is legitimate talent in this draft when you consider the Cowboys' needs. Players like Barrett Jones, Eric Reid and Tyler Wilson all excite Cowboys fans.
Jones needs to take this draft seriously. It’s the difference between being a contender in 2013 and beyond or being a laughing stock for the next couple of years.