It’s been a difficult season for the Cowboys, but they made the most of it and fell short due to a week 17 loss to the Washington Redskins. A week later, it’s back to the drawing board.
The offseason goes much faster than many realize. Head coach Jason Garrett and his staff will go back to work studying film and evaluating personnel in hopes of identifying and weeding out the weaknesses of this team.
The Cowboys have a ton of needs. In this article I’ll prioritize them and let you guys know who to keep your eye on as the offseason progresses.
While DeMarco Murray has proven his worth as a starter in this offense, there remains the substantial issue of depth at the position.
Felix Jones is likely to depart the team this offseason via free agency. His departure will leave the Cowboys with unproven Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar as the lone backs behind Murray.
Murray has an extensive injury history and the Cowboys rely heavily on a balanced offensive attack. That being said, the Cowboys need to have more consistent, reliable depth behind Murray to ensure the team's rushing attack doesn’t suffer again in the event of an injury.
Realistic Available Free Agents: Jackie Battle, Tashard Choice, Jalen Parmele, Javon Ringer
Realistic Draft Targets: Montee Ball, Marcus Lattimore, Joseph Randle, Stepfan Taylor
The Cowboys have lacked a legitimate playmaking safety since the days of Darren Woodson, but now it’s time for that to change.
The Cowboys recently signed Barry Church to a long-term contract and Gerald Sensabaugh is still on the hook for a few more seasons. I don’t see those factors stopping the Cowboys from drafting a playmaker, if it comes at the right price.
Church is considered a very good up-and-coming player. He has good ball skills and plays well in the box, epitomizing what a balanced safety should be.
Sensabaugh has been a blue-collar player who does everything and anything he can to help this team win. He plays hurt and tough, leaving everything on the field. Unfortunately for the aging Sensabaugh, he gets beat deep too consistently.
The Cowboys have paid big money to repair a broken secondary. The additions of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne (through the draft and free agency, respectively) have been huge in the improvement of this unit. Now it’s time to focus on the back end, where the Cowboys are still susceptible to the big play.
Until it is fortified, they will continue to surrender those type of plays.
Realistic Available Free Agents: None.
Realistic Available Draft Targets: Kenny Vaccaro, Matt Elam, Eric Reid, Tony Jefferson, Bacarri Rambo
The Cowboys spent money on the position this past offseason by signing Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings to lucrative deals, but that doesn’t mean that they solved the problem.
While the interior line is better now than it was last year, it’s still a big liability. The Cowboys need to be thrifty with their money and still find a way to get Tony Romo ample protection.
The Cowboys have two young guards that the organization is ready to give a shot. Ronald Leary and David Arkin are young prospects that have been biding their time. The popular thought is that the Cowboys will give these two guys a chance to succeed rather than overlooking them completely.
Another point of note is that Bernadeau can play the center position quite well and be a candidate to compete for that spot.
Realistic Available Free Agents: Andy Levitre
Realistic Draft Targets: Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper, Cyril Richardson, Omoregie Uzzi
If the Cowboys are fortunate to have a good, young tackle in Tyron Smith, they are equally unfortunate to have a $32 million locked into right tackle Doug Free.
Free hasn’t lived up to his contract, to say the least, and is now splitting reps with Jeremy Parnell, not what the Cowboys had in mind when they gave him big bucks.
If the Cowboys are serious about making a move into annual contenders, they must make the moves necessary to solidify this line with young, talented players.
Let me make this clear: the Cowboys aren’t interested in finding a 30-plus year-old veteran. They must instill some youth in this line and let them grow and succeed together. Continuity is the name of the game here and the Cowboys previous shuffles have left none.
Week in, week out, Tony Romo is taking a beating because of the ineptitude of Free. If this isn’t the biggest offensive need for this team, I don’t know what is.
Realistic Available Free Agents: Andre Smith, Sebastian Vollmer
Realistic Available Draft Targets: Jake Matthews, D.J. Fluker, Dallas Thomas
Jason Hatcher, Sean Lissemore, Marcus Spears and Tyrone Crawford.
Does that rotation really strike fear in the heart of opponents?
The Cowboys defensive line is a putrid. Together they have less than one-third of the sack total of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer combined. They bottom linejust aren’t making enough big plays.
The Cowboys desperately need a defensive lineman who can contribute on a level that will require some focus from offensive coordinators.
Rob Ryan’s version of the 3-4 features the linebackers as its core. He relies on the defensive lineman to occupy the lineman and take space to free the movements of said playmakers. At least, that's how it's supposed to work.
This isn’t happening.
There are some options for the Cowboys to explore, but one thing is for sure: this needs to be the biggest priority of the offseason.
Realistic Available Free Agents: Michael Johnson, Henry Melton, Glen Dorsey
Realistic Available Draft Targets: Sheldon Richardson, John Jenkins, Jesse Williams, Margus Hunt, William Gholston