One man can't run the league, the other can't run his team
The Dallas Cowboys will not be participating in the 2013 Super Bowl. To most fans this should not be much of a startling revelation considering the Cowboys have been no better than a .500 team over the last 17 years. To Jerry Jones, the Cowboys' 31-29 loss to the Ravens might be considered proof that his team is close to being a contender.
That's what he thought the year before after losing the division to the Giants in the season finale, right? How did that work out? Yeah, another 8-8 season and more questions than answers.
Now the Cowboys head into the 2013 offseason with a lot to prove and what continues to be a recurring theme for this franchise. Jason Garrett survived Jerry's wrath, but Rob Ryan and a few other coaches were shown the door or encouraged to leave through it.
Monte Kiffin has now arrived in Dallas to unveil his 4-3 defense along with defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. All signs are pointing to Bill Callahan calling plays in 2013 and that leaves Garrett in a peculiar position. Is he a lame duck? Will being a walk-around coach enable him to manage the game better? Or is Jerry just laying the groundwork for a Jon Gruden arrival?
Only Jerry knows what Jerry wants, but there is still much work to do in Dallas. Free agency is over a month away and the draft shortly follows, but this could conceivably be a very critical offseason for the Cowboys. It's time for this team to take a major step forward and close the gap with the NFC's elite.
But behind any hopes and aspirations for a 2014 Super Bowl should lie a great plan. Let's start to develop the building blocks for one; the future of this franchise depends on it.
Targeting free agents, mapping out dream scenarios and creating hypotheticals is completely useless without the Cowboys sorting out their salary cap situation. Currently, the Cowboys could be anywhere between $18 to $25 million over the cap. Either way, it looks like a lot of restructuring will be needed to determine what wiggle room, if any, does exist.
The Cowboys are a team that is desperately looking to return to prominence, but they will be faced to deal with a very challenging cap situation. Getting the cap in order will ultimately determine everything for this team. It's the key to the offseason and it could be the biggest avenue for success.
Some potential restructuring targets could be DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jay Ratliff, Brandon Carr and Jason Witten. The Cowboys could also target some casualty suspects such as Doug Free, Dan Connor and Lawrence Vickers.
Then you need to factor in the possible extension for Tony Romo and the impending decision on free-agent-to-be Anthony Spencer. There are certainly a lot of enticing free agents, but as it stands right now resources seem to be scarce. Decisions need to be made but cash needs to be cleared.
Jerry Jones, it's your move!
The Great Walls of Dallas isn't a new Chinese restaurant; I'm talking about improving the two biggest areas of need and weakness. The offensive line needs to do a better job of holding up in protection, they need to do a better job of allowing Tony Romo to correctly utilize the pocket and they need to give the running game a boost.
The Cowboys were out-rushed by their opponents 2,003 to 1,256 yards and they surrendered 36 sacks. Ironically, the Cowboys' total offensive yardage was more than their opponents to the tune of 5,994 to 5,687. But the Cowboys attempted 147 more passes than their opponents, probably as a result of their slow starts.
If the Cowboys are going to be successful in 2013 then they almost need to flip these stats. Either way, an improved offensive line will help them get there. Ultimately, the Cowboys need to get back to the way they utilized their offensive line in the early '90s where they wore down opponents and took over the game.
Monte Kiffin's new 4-3 alignment will require an attacking, aggressive defensive line. This team does not have one at the moment, but they have a few nice pieces to the puzzle. As long as there is some money to be spent, the Cowboys need to address this area in free agency first, then the draft.
Henry Melton would be an ideal fit and so would prospects such as Alex Okafor, Sam Montgomery or Dion Jordan. The bottom line is that Jason Hatcher led this defensive line in sacks with four. The entire unit had seven and a half.
It's time for things to change.
The Cowboys have had more success from their drafts in recent years. Some of those notables are Mike Jenkins, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, DeMarco Murray, Tyron Smith, Sean Lissemore, Morris Claiborne and Bruce Carter.
While it's definitely an improvement, it's hardly enough to make Cowboy fans forget about all the swings and misses like James Marten, Robert Brewster, Akwasi Awusu Ansah, Jason Williams and Stephen McGee, to name a few.
The Cowboys hold the 18th pick in the 2013 draft and they could go in a variety of ways. Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper, Sam Montgomery, Dion Jordan and Sheldon Richardson would all look nice in silver and blue, but which way should they go?
The Cowboys have six picks in this upcoming draft and they need to deliver serious impact on all of them. With the current economic landscape making it hard to retain quality depth, the draft now becomes the best source of replenishing it.
The Cowboys need to hit some home runs with needs at offensive and defensive line, safety, linebacker and running back.
Jason Garrett's seat is probably already warm thanks to Jerry Jones' wave of discomfort over Valley Ranch. But it's completely justified and Garrett has to realize that the bull's-eye on his chest is getting bigger. Garrett is a likable guy but he needs to produce 10 wins and deliver a playoff appearance to save his job.
Any signs at all of a slow start, the same inconsistencies, poor game management and an arrow not pointing up should make for a quick exit for Garrett. Eliminating him under those circumstances would eliminate the weekly distraction and pave the way for his eventual successor. Jon Gruden?
Bottom line is that Garrett is officially in the hot seat and it only gets harder for him. Things could get interesting very quickly in 2013 should the Cowboys start off the season at, say, 2-4.
For anybody who thinks the Cowboys are close, on the brink or just a few players away, you are delusional. This is an average team with average results. The depth is average, the evaluation process is average, the growth is average and history is repeating itself over and over.
This franchise, and Jerry Jones more specifically, needs to realize that improvement is needed in all phases of the team and its operations. It's otherwise known as reality and every single member of this company needs to look themselves in the mirror and say, "You know what? We're just not that good."
This isn't about hiring a GM; this is about a major reality check. And while teams like the Redskins, Seahawks, 49ers, Vikings and Falcons found ways to win and continue to improve, the Cowboys finished at 8-8 again. That is the worst thing for this franchise. Are they good enough to win or are they really that bad?
At 8-8 it's hard to tell but the reality suggests an area of gray that this team is currently stuck in. The only solution is to find any and all possible ways to improve. There is no magic formula, there is no magical free agent or draft pick that can single handily catapult this team to a title.
It has to come from a belief in their system, a belief in each other and a feeling of being sick and tired of losing and coming close. The cumulative effects of the last three seasons have to lead to a fork in the road that could be the key to the season.
It could ultimately be the biggest key to the Cowboys' blueprint to the 2014 Super Bowl.