Dallas Cowboys' Most Disappointing Players of the 2012 NFL Season
A second straight season of precise mediocrity in 2012 did not go unnoticed by Dallas Cowboys fans, players, coaches and the front office. Clearly, this team has missed its window of contention that was initially built under former head coach Bill Parcells, who retired from coaching following the 2006 regular season.
It's easy to play “Monday morning quarterback” once the season is over. History gives us results, and this is a look at the Dallas players who simply did not live up to expectations last season.
Now, these players may or may not have futures with the Cowboys in 2013. Further, the circumstances surrounding their lacking impacts was often not their fault.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones is the chosen face of the franchise, and he fails to make this list only because he doesn't wear a helmet and pads. His inability to maintain strong coaching and his penchant for blowing money and draft picks is well-documented.
So the following players can't be blamed for too much, because when a ship sets sail with holes throughout, it will likely encounter problems en route to its destination, much like Dallas does in trying to reach the Super Bowl year after year.
10. Kevin Ogletree WR
In four seasons, wide receiver Kevin Ogletree has made very little impact for the Cowboys. In his first three seasons, it could be said that a lack of opportunity was the main reason for Ogletree's lack of playing time and statistical value.
But in 2012, his fourth season in the NFL, Ogletree was going to be counted on, especially following the difficult decision not to re-sign 2011 phenom-receiver Laurent Robinson.
On the bright side, Ogletree did deliver—exactly one time.
Ogletree would not have made this list had he not elevated expectations for himself to open the 2012 regular season. Visiting the New York Giants at the Meadowlands, Ogletree had a career night, bringing in eight catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-17 victory over the defending Super Bowl champs.
But that was it—and Ogletree likely won't be seen wearing a blue star again given his current status as an unrestricted free agent.
9. Jay Ratliff DT
There is not much point in beating up on Jay Ratliff. Appearing in just a handful of games last season, there was no reason to expect too much given his rash of injuries in 2012.
But this has been true since the defensive tackle out of Auburn was moved to the interior of the Cowboys' former 3-4 defensive line in 2007. He was never a good fit there at all.
I suppose the lesson was finally learned that guys as small as Ratliff will not hold up against multiple offensive linemen. Further, your second-best pass-rusher does not belong in the path of the most resistance, as Ratliff certainly did over the past six seasons.
Now, with Dallas having switched back to its historic 4-3 defensive scheme, a brighter future is absolutely there for Ratliff provided he can stay healthy. He'll simply be returning to the position he played in college and will no doubt benefit from additional size and support in a four-man front.
Ratliff, if healthy, could shove it down the throats of all of his doubters who just don't understand the lousy position he's been in for most of his career.
Some believe that the reported shouting match between Jones and Ratliff last December marked the end of the defender's time in Dallas—but don't bet on it. That exchange, even in its nature, probably needed to happen long ago.
8. Gerald Sensabaugh FS
Since signing a six-year, $25 million contract in September of 2011, free safety Gerald Sensabaugh has yet to earn his $8 million in guaranteed cash.
Following his five-interception performance in 2010, Sensabaugh has chalked up a meager two interceptions since, which includes zero picks last season.
This contract is among the most senseless I have ever seen given Sensabaugh's history in the league. In only one other season has Sensabaugh had as many as four interceptions (2008), and in all other seasons he's been rather pedestrian.
I don't think Sensabaugh is a bad player, but it's clear that he's not exactly a difference-maker in the defensive backfield. His salary, moving forward, is only going to get higher, and I would be surprised if the eight-year veteran out of North Carolina plays out this contract.
You simply have to get more from a guy to whom you pay as much money as Jones did a couple of years ago. This could happen if the Dallas defense improves in stopping the run, which it almost certainly will given the switch back to the 4-3 alignment.
The upcoming 2013 NFL draft might offer significant clues regarding Sensabuagh's future in Dallas.
7. DeMarco Murray RB
Starting running back DeMarco Murray is the best running back to grace the Dallas backfield since Emmit Smith. Murray's skill set and age make him a top priority in the Dallas offense, especially since unqualified play-caller Jason Garrett has finally been relieved of that responsibility.
The injury bug is something that Murray needs to get rid of. A broken ankle during his rookie season was all that stopped Murray from easily crossing the 1,000-yard barrier and raking in much more recognition than he has gotten.
Having a credible play-caller in 2013 who doesn't necessarily believe in tossing footballs around stadiums 50-60 times per game could ignite a rushing attack not seen in Dallas in well over a decade.
Murray can do everything and, if he stays healthy, he will next season. But 1,560 yards and six rushing touchdowns in two seasons has to improve substantially if Dallas is going to make serious noise in the playoffs.
Make no mistake: The NFL is a running league.
6. Morris Claiborne CB
The Cowboys decided to trade up in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft for LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. In doing so, the Cowboys lost a second-round pick in a selection meeting that was believed to be pretty deep, especially where defensive players were concerned.
Moments after that pick, I pointed out that Claiborne would probably not make too much impact as a rookie, and this held true. You don't build defenses from the outside in, and it was almost laughable that Claiborne was chosen even after Jones dropped a king's ransom on free-agent corner Brandon Carr from Kansas City.
Well, the Cowboys were 8-8 without Claiborne in 2011, and they're still 8-8 with him after 2012—not a shocker in my book.
Claiborne should have a much stronger sophomore campaign as a pro given his additional experience and also some highly encouraging changes brought to the defensive side of the ball. Added pressure and better run defense should create more opportunities for Claiborne to get his hands on some passes.
There won't be any more shutdown corners in the NFL, at least in the mold of Deion Sanders, for example. Receivers are just too tall, too fast and now too big. But Claiborne should be about as good as you can get in man coverage moving ahead and I expect his rookie interception total of just one to go as high as five or six next season.
But for a player who cost so much to bring in, Claiborne needs to be involved in every way he can, which includes special teams.
A single interception and a fumble returned for a touchdown was a start, but Claiborne's impact should have been greater given his overall skill set.
Better than even RGIII?
What about left tackle Matt Kalil?
5. Tyron Smith LT
Second-year veteran Tyron Smith makes this list because of where he was drafted. His general manager and head coach have to take responsibility for this, however.
It's true that Smith was the first offensive lineman chosen in 2011, a distinction usually reserved for left tackles who are considered NFL-ready. Smith played right tackle at USC, which explains his selection outside the top 10.
Following a better-than-solid rookie season playing his natural position, Smith moved to left tackle as the Cowboys discovered that then-left tackle Doug Free couldn't handle that responsibility.
Last season didn't go as well for Smith, as there was clearly a learning curve associated with playing left tackle for the first time.
Dallas has to quit either discovering or acquiring right tackles only to move them to the other side immediately thereafter. True general managers do not do this, and it has to stop.
Is Smith the same caliber of prospect on the left as he was on the right coming out of USC?
I have no idea—and neither do the Cowboys.
Remember that Kalil was the reason Smith didn't start at left tackle for the Trojans.
Just a thought.
4. Mackenzy Bernadeau OL
Anytime you sign a free agent in March who ends up having hip surgery and a knee scope prior to the start of football games in September, things are not off to a very good start.
Such was the case for offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau, whose true position with the Cowboys is still a bit murky.
When you sign a multi-year contract for eight figures, there's going to be some expectations. But Bernadeau looked just awful at right guard early in the season before he eventually got healthy. As other injuries continued to hamper the offensive line, Bernadeau settled in and might have made his best impression as a future center—obviously Phil Costa isn't the answer.
Even with the future looking much better than the beginning, Bernadeau was still brought in with the stated value of bolstering an offensive line that performed no better in 2012 than it had the last few seasons.
Did the Cowboys get the anticipated return on a $3.25 million signing bonus?
Far from it.
3. Nate Livings LG
I can't remember, off the top of my head, a time when any team whiffed on two offensive linemen, let alone guards, in one free-agent signing period. Only Jones could land that not-so-prestigious distinction.
It's been said that there are two kinds of NFL free agents.
First, there's the highly-sought-after player who is in his prime and will likely set the market at his respective position, like defensive tackle Henry Melton of Chicago will this offseason.
But then there's the player who hasn't exactly lived up to expectations and is essentially allowed to test the market because the team that likely drafted him just hasn't gotten the bang for their buck, kind of like receiver Kevin Ogletree in Dallas.
Livings has size, power and experience—but to this point, you wouldn't recognize those facts based on how he and the rest of the offensive line performed in 2012.
Perhaps a full year in the Dallas offense coupled with a better play-calling offensive coordinator can change the opinion of Livings. But after signing a contract even larger than that of the previously mentioned Bernadeau, a more visible impact clearly should have been seen in Livings.
But remember that Cincinnati, a playoff team last season, didn't want Livings anymore.
Dallas fans, and especially Jones, can only hope that the necessary commitment to a dominant rushing attack will keep Livings off of lists like this one in the future.
$18.7 million over five seasons is a ton of money for a guy that might not even start in 2013, isn't it?
2. Miles Austin WR
I've never been a big fan of Miles Austin, an undrafted receiver out of tiny Monmouth University.
While Austin has all of the physical attributes you want in a No. 1 wide receiver, you seldom see the kind of production that Pro Bowl pass-catchers bring to the table year in and year out. He may have the height, strength and speed of an elite receiver, but he certainly doesn't have the hands or hamstrings that command an insane $57.16 million over seven years.
Again, enter Jones.
Austin's breakout season of 2009 came at a time when there were valid questions concerning the No. 1 target for quarterback Tony Romo. Terrell Owens was long gone, Roy Williams was on his way and Dez Bryant had yet to arrive.
So Austin cashed in during a period of desperation for Jones that has since been proven questionable, to say the least. In fact, Austin can expect some serious discussions regarding the remaining years of this expensive mess in the very near future.
Austin's nagging injuries, which cause his frequent disappearing acts at critical times, have reached their limit at Valley Ranch, and rightly so. And many forget that during that record-setting breakout game against Kansas City in 2009, Austin's first career start, he dropped two touchdown passes while catching two others, the last of which won the game in overtime.
OT should not have been necessary that day against a Chiefs squad that, coming in, was winless in four previous games.
Austin is as overrated financially as any player ever to get a check like this from Jones.
But this problem will be fixed as Austin will either be traded or his contract re-negotiated—and rightly so.
1. Doug Free T
Doug Free made a name for himself in 2009 as he took over the right tackle position following an injury to then-starting tackle Marc Colombo. His play down the stretch that season helped stabilize a critical position and also helped push Dallas into the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
But things went awry thereafter, as Free was thought to be a good enough candidate to replace long-time left tackle Flozell Adams—and this move looked good at the time. Individually, Free played well enough on the left side to inspire the Cowboys to draft Tyron Smith in 2011 to man the right side.
Well, since those decisions, Free and Smith have actually traded positions, which has prevented both players from getting settled at their respective positions. Clearly, left tackle is not right tackle and vice versa.
Less than two years following the signing of a four-year, $32 million contract, Free has failed to live up to that expenditure. This is not completely his fault given that Jones has been the primary failure in evaluating who should play where on the all-important offensive line.
As of now, Free's return to right tackle in 2012 has left marginal confidence in his ability to start in the NFL. There's even talk that Free might be moved inside to right guard—but this list alone illustrates how much money is now tied up in potential guards on the Dallas roster who might not even be answers.
Free may still have a future with the Cowboys, if for no other reason than the fact that the Cowboys can't afford to release him. This will be up to Jones.
But just look at the number of bad contracts offered in the last few seasons that are now having to be re-evaluated so soon.
The best bet is that Free, along with Austin, will have to restructure his bloated contract in order to remain with the Cowboys.
I can't see free agency offering any answers for an offensive line that was deplorable in 2012, but the NFL draft in April is a completely different story.