5 Moves the Dallas Cowboys Can Make to Contend in 2013
Five Super Bowl championship banners hang at Cowboys Stadium.
I’m aware that this season isn’t over and that anything can happen. Sure, we can look to the New York Giants of a year ago as inspiration I guess. They really showed that mediocrity can not only reach the Super Bowl, but somehow it can win it.
But it sure doesn’t appear that Dallas has taken any significant steps towards becoming a better football team that doesn’t hurt themselves, in many cases, more than their opponent. Many predicted a record of about 8-8, give or take, for the Cowboys. Many will be correct, but this won't mean contention very often.
The reasons for the Cowboys’ 4-5 record heading into week 11 are plentiful. But most of these can be corrected in one offseason.
No, Dallas is far from the worst team in the NFL given the talent on the roster. But the issues are perplexing and the following illustrates the top five moves that Dallas can make to dramatically change its fortune on the football field in 2013.
A new quarterback doesn’t make the cut here and there’s no reason for it to.
As much as I’d love to include a new general manager, I’m just not ignorant enough to ever expect that.
But here’s what can happen
5. Stop Committing Penalties
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
This problem goes all the way back to the beginning of head coach Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator in 2007.
Whether it is former or current offensive tackle Flozell Adams or Doug Free, too much time and too many games have been lost because of self-inflicted wounds. Last week’s performance by rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne was worse than anything I ever saw out of Terrence Newman.
I still believe that Claiborne will end up a good player, but don’t expect a great one. Cornerbacks just aren’t going to be great anymore as the NFL continues to cram the passing game down everybody’s throat.
A few penalties can be overcome but once you pass five or six in a game, your odds of winning as you help out your opponent start to drop quickly.
If other priorities on this list are improved, penalties will go down.
Flags are thrown when a team has players that are either getting beat too often because they aren't very good or because of mental lapses that have to be eliminated.
Dallas has a combination of both and no matter how it happens penalties have to come way down.
If this occurs, hopefully with a better offensive philosophy, Dallas will have already gone about halfway towards staking out a playoff spot, possibly with a top two seed, and becoming a legitimate contender in 2013.
4. Stop Trading Away Draft Picks
Retired wide reciever Roy Williams
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The 2012 NFL draft was considered deep, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But for all of his good intentions, owner and general manager Jerry Jones just can’t help himself on draft day. He reminds me a lot of a gambler in Las Vegas that talks a good philosophy but still loses money again and again.
Perhaps you’ve heard Jones essentially state that he only takes a gamble if the value outweighs the actual risk involved.
This sounds great—until you see Jones’ track record.
A few names:
Roy E. Williams
Each of these players involved trading away draft picks, some of those being first round selections, for players that simply did not or might not pan out.
A good rule of thumb is that you don’t trade picks away for players who don’t touch the ball often or are not in the trenches. Each of the players above are either wide receivers or a cornerback. These positions, from week to week, will have varying touches or participation in a football game. This is just how it is.
In today’s NFL there won’t be another Deion Sanders. The rules and stature of the receivers they cover have just about taken them out of the game, takeaway run support.
Wide receivers for all of these spread out college offenses can be found without mortgaging future talent at positions that, frankly, are a lot more critical.
If it isn’t a quarterback, young running back or a position that’s really close to the line of scrimmage, don’t trade first day picks away.
It is one thing when you trade away one player for a ton of future selections and some players, like Herschel Walker in 1989, but doing something closer to the opposite is just plain dumb.
Jones should have learned this already. A look at his franchises record immediately following these respective deals is just undeniable.
3. Improve the Offensive Line With Blue Chip Talent
Former Dallas lineman Larry Allen
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Free agency can always add some benefit to your roster so long as it is done right.
The Cowboys do not generally do this right.
Deion Sanders is a rare exception to Jerry Jones’ big spending sprees which make headlines early in the offseason.
The offensive line is not where you spend big money. Each year, you seldom find any talent anywhere on the offensive line that you would consider “must haves.” And anybody who is worth big money is staying with the team who drafted him, so he won't even be available.
A few more names:
Each of these players were acquired as stop-gap linemen who were either passed their prime or never had a prime to begin with. For the money spent on each, the returns were never there, although I suppose we can hold our breath on current right guard Bernadeau, or at least you can.
Injuries to quarterback Tony Romo in recent seasons and a running game that borders on pathetic are all the proof you need to realize that expensive players another team didn’t want probably won’t translate into a strong offensive line.
I compare this to buying used underwear from a thrift store. I’m just not going there. A used jacket might be one thing, but not underwear.
Compare those names to former Dallas linemen like Erik Williams, Larry Allen, Mark Stepnoski and Flozell Adams.
See the difference?
The biggest difference is that the names just mentioned were all drafted—and obviously good.
This is when you get offensive linemen that create good offenses.
To contend in 2013, Dallas cannot continue to toss the ball around the yard 60 times in a contest. A running game has to become much more of a focal point of the offensive attack. Obviously pass protection has to improve as well.
The offensive line, take away perhaps 2011 first round selection and starting left tackle Tyron Smith, needs fundamental change, period.
2. Pass Rush Must Improve Before Window Slams Shut
Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware
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Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has led the Cowboys in sacks in every season since his rookie campaign of 2005. Twice in his career he has posted 19.5 sacks or better in a season. In each of those seasons, Dallas missed the playoffs.
The Cowboys might be pretty hard pressed to acquire anybody who can challenge those numbers. Ware is looking like a hall of fame player and these guys don’t grow on trees.
Still, another consistent force must be obtained before this defense can become a contending unit.
Offense wins games, defense wins championships.
I am not among those that believe that outside linebacker Anthony Spencer should be allowed to walk in free agency. Spencer has 3.5 sacks thus far in 2012 and we are just barely halfway through. Spencer has too much value in other areas beyond just rushing the quarterback, and backup Victor Butler is not a replacement.
The Cowboys essentially wasted the best of nose guard Jay Ratliff’s career by playing him at nose guard, something I have screamed about for years and years. This is not to say that Ratliff is not a valuable player but rather to point out the obvious.
Nose guards should not weigh in at 285-295 pounds. Only the Cowboys have bought this idea that has worn down Ratliff earlier than expected.
But what if Ratliff was healthy next year while moving back to defensive end where he belongs?
Now add in Ware and Spencer as established veterans that also create havoc and solidify the edges.
All that’s left is to add another pass rusher to take this defense to the next level.
With nose guard Josh Brent clogging the middle the way a nose guard needs to in 2012, a top notch defensive end to replace Marcus Spears, should he be allowed to walk after the season, and a compliment to Ratliff, a player with the skill set of J.J. Watt in Houston is just what the Dallas defense needs.
As I already covered, drafting secondary players doesn’t create a dominant defense. Selecting a guy like Ware, Reggie White or Lawrence Taylor is what it’s all about.
The 2013 NFL draft will offer yet another opportunity to compliment the talent this Dallas defense already has—and there is definitely talent all over the field.
1. Get a Head Coach with Contending Experience
Dallas head coachJason Garrett
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Some will still say, based solely on record and ignorance, that former head coach Dave Campo was the worst hire in the history of Jerry Jones’ tenure as owner and general manager.
Well, Campo had no talent and the franchise had no salary cap space as of when he was promoted as head coach in 2000. And that Joey Galloway trade took care of any possibility of drafting a franchise quarterback, such as Drew Brees, just as Dallas had to suddenly replace hall of fame quarterback Troy Aikman.
These issues have never faced current head coach Jason Calvin Garrett.
Garrett wasn’t some hot-shot assistant coach like Mike Holmgren or Mike Shanahan that came from a coaching lineage of Super Bowl winners. Garrett just got the tag and Jerry Jones obviously knew him, liked him and bought the pitch.
Garrett’s best quality is probably his political skills. Unfortunately, that skill set does not win football games.
Garrett seems lost where clock management is concerned while children playing Madden 2013 on PlayStation seem to have it down.
Garrett offers no synchronicity whatsoever in his play calling, even if he does rack up good numbers as a play caller. But unfortunately, again, yardage does not win games either.
Garrett has never been recognized as a leader. He doesn’t have the experience or the personality to bring this critical element to the table. It’s not like he ever started at quarterback in the NFL like Jim Harbaugh, for example, and so playing experience doesn’t even suggest leadership exists.
Instead, Garrett sometimes calls upon former head coaches and retired military personnel to inspire his team. Jones, himself, undercuts Garrett by running onto the sideline during an actual game to give an update on another game that impacts the Cowboys’ paper thin playoff chances.
You think former head coach Jimmy Johnson or even Harbaugh in San Francisco would tolerate that?
Garrett is attached and on the clock not only as head coach but also offensive coordinator. Neither post has offered up the kind of results that justifies a head coaching job—unless you’re Jones, another guy who is misplaced as general manager.
Head coach of the Dallas Cowboys is not a job for beginners or prospects. Remember that Garrett served just two seasons in Miami as quarterbacks coach before Jones hired him. I don’t recall his work with passers such as Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington and Cleo Lemon as being anything memorable or innovative.
Previous Super Bowl winners are available to replace Garrett at regular season’s end. Playoffs or no playoffs, it’s time to move on.