With an 8-8 record and a devastating 28-18 loss to the Washington Redskins in Week 17 of the 2012 regular season, the Dallas Cowboys were left to take an early look ahead to an offseason that would promise a bevy of big changes.
Head coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo would remain in the driver’s seat, but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan saw his way out of Dallas in favor of legendary defensive guru Monte Kiffin. With Kiffin’s arrival, the Cowboys will look to adopt a new plan for augmenting a defense that finished the 2012 season 19th in both total defense and pass defense.
Against an NFC East that features two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning and budding superstar Robert Griffin III, Kiffin will have his hands full in bolstering Dallas’ defense. He’ll implement his signature Tampa-2 defense this season, but it remains to be seen how smoothly the Cowboys can make the switch in just one offseason.
The defensive line went largely unaddressed this offseason, but Garrett and Kiffin seem content with a rotation at the 1- and 3-technique defensive tackle positions. Linebacker Anthony Spencer (who was handed the franchise tag this offseason) and pass-rushing specialist DeMarcus Ware will slide down to defensive end in the 4-3 front—a move to which both players should adapt rather quickly.
To address the positional change for the pair of linebackers, Dallas signed former Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions linebacker Justin Durant and drafted South Carolina linebacker DeVonte Holloman in the sixth round of April’s draft—a tremendous value pick in an otherwise bland draft for Jerry Jones.
Despite Holloman’s late draft position, he stands to fight for a starting role in Kiffin’s defense. The Tampa-2 is predicated on plenty of zone looks that necessitate mobile linebackers who can play in coverage, and Holloman previously played safety before transitioning to linebacker at South Carolina.
With Bruce Carter and Sean Lee already in place, Dallas is in line to start a very capable trio of linebackers in 2013, with plenty of depth to give Kiffin some versatility to work with.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the offseason, however, came in the first round of the draft, when Jones selected Wisconsin center Travis Frederick after moving down to the 31st pick. It may not have been a popular choice, but Dallas desperately needed to address its interior offensive line this offseason, which it also did in re-signing center Phil Costa.
The recipient of a new six-year, $108 million contract, Romo was constantly harassed by A-gap pressure last season, due in large part to abysmal performance from Dallas’ interior offensive line. The Cowboys probably should have continued to address their offensive line beyond the first round, but adding Frederick was a good start to rebuilding a unit that was 22nd in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus' rankings.
Read on to take a closer look at some of those moves and delve deeper into Dallas’ offseason, as well as preview some key position battles and predictions for the 2013 season.