Earlier this offseason, there was a great thread on Reddit asking fans what piece of advice they'd give their favorite team's front office exactly five years ago. Let's expand on that a little bit within the NFC East, starting with the Dallas Cowboys.
If we could go back five years to the 2008 NFL offseason and give only one line of futuristic wisdom to the "America's Team," here's what we'd tell Jerry Jones and Co.
Invest in the offensive line
Five years ago, the Cowboys were really underestimating how quickly their line was deteriorating. Left tackle Flozell Adams was 33, and Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo were declining. That upcoming year, the line stayed extremely healthy but still gave up more pressure than all but two other offensive lines, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
That offseason, Dallas used zero draft picks on the position and didn't bring in any offensive linemen in free agency. Adams, Davis, Gurode and Kyle Kosier remained serviceable in 2009, with 2007 fourth-round pick Doug Free exceeding expectations at right tackle in relief of Colombo.
But things would continue to go down hill.
The team spent only one of its 12 2010 picks on an offensive lineman, and 2009 third-round selection Robert Brewster didn't pan out. When Free's play fell off a cliff and the aging Adams, Davis and Colombo were either cast aside or allowed to walk, the 'Boys were left relying on young, unproven guys like Phil Costa and Bill Nagy as support for top pick Tyron Smith in 2011.
Of the 26 picks they had in the top five rounds of the five drafts that took place between 2008 and 2012, the Cowboys spent only two selections on offensive linemen. And when you do that and you swing and miss on the odd free agent (Alex Barron and Mackenzy Bernadeau come to mind), you're inevitably going to be in trouble.
This past season, only Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers were pressured on more dropbacks than Tony Romo, according to PFF. And the interior offensive line did nothing to help a running game that averaged just 3.6 yards per carry (31st in the NFL).
Jones has been ignoring the need for fresh talent along the line for more than half a decade, and now it's costing his team.
Even with Smith on the right track at left tackle and with top pick Travis Frederick having a chance to shift the outlook at center in 2013, this line still leaves a lot to be desired. Bernadeau was terrible last year at right guard, Costa can't stay healthy and Free has been an embarrassment for two years running.
The 2009 draft could have changed everything. Quality interior and exterior offensive linemen like Michael Oher, Andy Levitre, Sebastian Vollmer, Will Beatty, Phil Loadholt and Louis Vasquez were available in the first three rounds, but Dallas was left with zero picks in the top 68 as a result of two trades—one of which, sadly, gave the Cowboys Roy Williams in exchange for a first-rounder.
The 'Boys have actually drafted fairly well of late, adding top-end talent to the receiving corps (Dez Bryant), the linebacking corps (Sean Lee and Bruce Carter), the secondary (Morris Claiborne) and even the offensive line (Smith). But not enough attention has gone to the line, and it's almost impossible to win in this league when you can't feel comfortable with the five guys protecting your quarterback and paving the way for your running back(s).
No wonder the Cowboys are stuck in what is tied for their longest playoff drought in two-and-a-half decades.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!