Grading Every Major Dallas Cowboys Offseason Move to Date
Following last season's tepid results, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones declared that the offseason would be most uncomfortable. This has, so far, been the case, especially for head coach Jason Garrett, who has yet to turn in a winning record in his two-plus seasons at his position.
Most of the major moves have been progressive, although the ways that they have come into being may not have been the most appropriate or professional.
Yes, the Cowboys will be look different in 2013, but it's anybody's guess as to whether or not any of this offseason's changes will have any effect on the standings.
Here I'll grade what I believe to be the six most critical offseason moves to date, and analyze what the impact of each move might be this coming season.
Change is a constant in life, but it's important to know the difference between an upgrade and a lateral move.
I do believe that much thought has gone into the numerous adjustments brought forth by Jones. I think that certain areas of weakness will emerge as strengths in the coming season, but remember that change also creates the need for adjustment. When adjustments are being made, it's not likely that the best results will be discovered.
Switch To 4-3 Defense Under Monte Kiffin
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It took me awhile to buy into the 3-4 defense back in 2005. Then-head coach Bill Parcells essentially wasted the first two years of his tenure in Dallas running what was already in place, as opposed to implementing the defensive scheme that he was well-known for operating.
Well, Parcells was gone after only two years in the system and former head coach Wade Phillips was hired as a replacement, simply because of his background in the 3-4.
This was in 2007.
Here we are in 2013, and the antiquated 3-4 alignment is finally gone. I can honestly say that I had been waiting for this for a few years—and it's the right move.
New defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is a 4-3 specialist, who will bring simplicity and effectiveness to a unit that has been almost embarrassing over the last several years. No longer will Dallas be hurt by the lack of a true, space-eating nose tackle like they were every year in the 3-4.
If he stays healthy, don't be shocked to see defensive tackle Jay Ratliff have a surprising ''comeback'' season in 2013.
There is still room for concern, though, such as a smallish pair of defensive ends in DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and a number of unproven candidates vying for both safety spots.
But, at the end of the day, the Cowboys are better suited for this scheme than they ever were for the 3-4. This switch back to the basics may take a few weeks to adjust to, but the results should be much better next season and beyond.
Trading Down in the First Round of the 2013 NFL Draft
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So many of us had it right. The Dallas Cowboys were targeting the offensive line for weeks leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft.
But virtually everybody had the specific target wrong.
It wasn't much of a surprise to me that Dallas decided to trade down in the first round. I did, however, think that they would both get more for that fall and address a position of greater value than they did.
Wisconsin center Travis Frederick just became the final member of the Cowboys' draft class to sign a contract. With guaranteed money passing the $5 million mark, it's quite clear that Frederick will be an opening day starter against the New York Giants on Week 1 this September.
Getting a starter in the first round is a good thing and the Cowboys have done a better job of drafting starters early over the past few seasons. But one has to wonder, especially with the situation concerning right tackle Doug Free, who had yet to take his pay cut in April, why a first-round center was so highly coveted.
Highly respected offensive guards like Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack were never going to be available beyond the top 15 picks, but there were possibilities at tackle, arguably a more important position and definitely a more glaring hole on the Dallas roster.
Time will tell how the Frederick selection pans out. If he ends up a Pro Bowl-caliber linemen, then this grade will certainly go up.
But, for now, it's a little disappointing and it still leaves a few important areas of need for Dallas moving ahead.
Extending the Contract of Tony Romo
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Some feel that this was far too much money for a quarterback of Romo's skill level. These folks don't know much about quarterbacks, though.
Most realize two things concerning this contract extension.
First of all, Dallas had absolutely zero leverage concerning Romo's future with the club. The Cowboys hate drafting quarterbacks, at least during the Jones dynasty, and so there was nobody waiting in the wings to replace Romo, had he become an unrestricted free agent in early 2014.
Second, and most importantly, Romo is a stud quarterback who's been one of the very few positives for the franchise for most of his career. Give him top-notch skill position players to catch the ball and he'll hit them all day long.
Give Romo a running game and better pass protection and Dallas is an immediate contender in the NFC, period. Those two elements have been missing for most of Romo's career. I am not certain that they have arrived yet.
This doesn't mean that Romo isn't worth the money, however.
Football players aren't paid for championships. If this was true then there would be very few players in the NFL that make top dollar. On the contrary, players are paid for their performance on the field, and Romo has played like one of the league's best players at his position since he took the reigns from Drew Bledsoe in 2006.
The NFL is no place to be when you don't have a quarterback. Jones knows this all too well.
Forcing Doug Free Into Taking Pay Cut
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I'm one of the few, apparently, that think that Free is a better linemen than he gets credit for. This is not to say that he wasn't pretty bad in 2012, because he really was. When you're the most penalized player in the NFL, there are obviously some issues.
The bigger problem concerning Free was the ridiculous contract he was offered by Jones—but it certainly didn't start out looking so ridiculous.
I'll say this for Free: There has been far too much movement concerning his position since he proved himself worthy of a starting role back in 2009. Back then he was a right tackle—then he went left—then he went right, again, just a year ago.
Yes, Jones thought he had himself a real bargain for a left tackle in 2011, but he was wrong. Pro Bowl tackles cost money and there's no point trying to dodge that fact. Third-year veteran Tyron Smith is heading into his second year replacing Free at left tackle in 2013. Smith has yet to play successive seasons at the same position.
Free hasn't had much more opportunity for continuity either.
Yes, great job getting the pay cut hammered out because Free was not worth his anticipated salary for 2013. Much of what Free was scheduled to earn this season will end up going toward other young players, like Dez Bryant and Sean Lee, that are far more deserving of pay raises.
But unless there is better play at right tackle, the pay cut won't mean much on the field next season.
Who knows? Perhaps Free is more comfortable in his second-straight season back home on the right side.
Giving Play Calling Duties To Bill Callahan
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Bill Callahan will be calling plays for the Dallas offense in 2013.
Garrett has left a trail of video tape that's about a mile long. That tape reads as follows: Throw, throw, throw.
It's certainly true that the NFL feels that marketing the passing game to younger fans is critical for maintaining interest in the sport. But, while throwing the ball in football is a necessity, Garrett has taken this philosophy to the extreme.
Callahan's biggest responsibility as offensive coordinator is to bring balance back to the Cowboys' offensive assault, a quality that has vanished under Garrett since his arrival as OC in 2007.
If yardage, alone, was enough to win football games, then Dallas would have been in pretty good shape over the last several seasons, but points win football games and it's clear that Garrett can't get much accomplished inside the 20 yard line.
Callahan simply has more experience than Garrett, and I hope he manages all aspects of clock management as well. Callahan has taken a football team to the Super Bowl before, and he has more talent now than he had a decade ago with Oakland.
Time will tell whether or not this change means a whole lot, though I strongly suspect that it will. If Callahan can keep Romo's passing attempts below 35-40 per game, better things are going to happen right away.
Dallas has to use it's running backs more, and I mean actually handing the ball off. Callahan will also be charged with getting better results from an offensive line that has been far from spectacular in recent years.
Turning Off Negotiations With Anthony Spencer
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Back in March, the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer for a second consecutive season.
This rare move came with remarkably little resistance from Spencer and his agent Jordan Woy. This fact seemed to fuel speculation that the Cowboys intend to lock Spencer up with a long-term contract sooner rather than later.
At least for the moment, Dallas has ended talks with Spencer regarding an extension, a decision announced just this week. Clarence Hill of Star-Telegram.com quoted Woy with the following regarding Spencer's status:
"Both sides are happy with the one-year deal. We tried hard but could not work out a deal. We have a very positive relationship with the Cowboys. Anthony is happy and he will play to the best of his ability again this season."
It's not that Spencer isn't worth consideration for a long-term deal with the Cowboys. But there's also nothing at all wrong with paying him over $10 million this season, while getting a first look at Spencer at defensive end, a position he hasn't played since college.
If Spencer breaks double-digits in sacks once again, then consider a four or five year plan for him. Otherwise, the seventh-year veteran out of Purdue would be best served playing elsewhere in 2014—and so would the Cowboys, a franchise trying to get out of salary cap trouble.
I'm in favor of Dallas drafting the future at defensive end, arguably the most important position on that side of the ball. While Ware is still a beast and should be playing at a high level for several more years, we can't exactly say that Spencer is in the same league, can we?
Spencer is a little younger than Ware, but his lack of size might be a liability at end, a possibility overlooked by many. I could be wrong on this, but it's good to wait on making a decision before breaking the bank on a player that has one season of double-digit sacks and will turn 30 next January.