The Dallas Cowboys had a rather quiet offseason, as opposed to a year ago with the arrival of Brandon Carr. In a perfect world, every team has a wish list aimed with the common goal of improving, but the economic landscape of the NFL dictates otherwise.
The salary cap ultimately became the biggest obstacle impeding the Cowboys' offseason plans, and the focus and energy was then directed at restructuring and getting the finances in order. The Cowboys added very little in free agency and will once again rely on a solid mix of youth and veterans to right this ship deep into the playoffs.
The goal of any offseason is to carry out the blueprint and execute the plan, but what if there are missteps along the way? Teams are taking a much more aggressive approach in what has truly become a league of parity and a win-now attitude.
Jerry Jones is someone who never shuns the spotlight, but even his deep pockets remained shut this offseason. So where does that leave the Cowboys as they approach training camp? Well, probably strong in certain areas and weaker in others.
But let's look at the missteps along the way.
Doug Free accepted a pay cut to return to the Cowboys in 2013, and that was at least a big step in proving he was all about the team and improving. The key is whether or not he can at least return to an acceptable level of consistency and protect Tony Romo.
But maybe this is where hedging your bet was required. Tyron Smith will once again protect Romo's blindside and Jeremy Parnell will serve as the swing tackle. Beyond that framework, there is little to nothing on the depth chart, unless you feel comfortable with Darrion Weems blocking Trent Cole.
At the same time that signing Branden Albert was a fantasy, the Cowboys had cheaper options in both Tyson Clabo, who signed with the Miami Dolphins, and Eric Winston, who is ironically still available. They aren't saviors by any means, but either of those players would've provided a more solid footing heading into 2013.
The Cowboys are now in a position where they have to depend on Free and he needs to deliver. Is it too risky? Will Free rise to the challenge? With camp just mere days away, the answer will unfold. The Cowboys also had opportunities in the draft and Terron Armstead was available in the second round.
A young, mammoth tackle such as Armstead would've made a nice bookend to Smith for the next decade. The Cowboys did not identify another tackle prospects and this is where the situation currently stands. Will there be any roster movement in this area? Will Winston or another available veteran be an option?
Looks like the Cowboys are going to ride this combination, but it could be their biggest misstep.
The Dallas Cowboys will field a talented roster in 2013, and for that, Jerry Jones deserves credit. He also deserves credit, along with his son Stephen, for circling back and getting this team's cap situation straightened out.
But what about the timing of getting the cap in line and making certain decisions?
First, there was the extension given to Romo, then there was the decision to franchise Anthony Spencer and subsequent failure to agree on a long-term deal and finally, the ultimate timing of restoring some order to the cap.
The business side of the football, and life in general, is about timing. So, as the 2012 season ended in yet more disappointment, why wasn't there a greater sense of urgency in carrying out these transactions?
The Cowboys could've approached Free earlier about his pay cut, Romo's extension should have been handled earlier in the process and the same for Spencer. All three scenarios would have put the Cowboys in position for greater cap flexibility and the ability to add more younger, second-tier free agents.
If you throw in contract restructuring on players like Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Kyle Orton and Miles Austin, it shows just how busy the Cowboys really were. But, when the end result is Justin Durant and Will Allen, it makes you wonder if Jones is leaving additional improvement opportunities on the table.
The Cowboys can't make a splash every offseason and they can't be fiscally irresponsible either. I don't question management and their ability to identify what's best for the organization, but I'm starting to question the pace and it's importance to the process.
Missteps in this area will strengthen other teams.
Before you say "here we go again," just remember what the real needs of this team were heading into the draft. They needed to identify offensive linemen (more than one), safety (which they did), defensive line (they punted) and linebacker (waited until the sixth round).
This is not so much about Travis Frederick and where he was selected, but it's more about the philosophy in general. In my estimation, there isn't a clearly defined mission statement when it comes to the Cowboys and drafting.
There has been a recent turnaround with players like Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Tyron Smith, but let's look closer at the 2013 draft. It started with passing on Sharrif Floyd, then not getting near enough in return from the 49ers in the trade down to 31 and then going back to that obsession with the tight end.
At the same time, you want to convince yourself this is what's best for the team, but human nature is telling you another tale. The key in this draft, like any other draft, is to maximize picks, value and select the best available players.
Did the Cowboys do that?
The Cowboys had the option of going in a number of different directions and it started with the trade down to 31. They did go on to select J.J. Wilcox, for example, in the third round, but was a better route to select Jonathan Cyprien, or stay at 18 and select Eric Reid?
The likelihood is that Frederick was going to be available in the second round where Gavin Escobar was the eventual pick. There were many decisions and many avenues to go down, and the Cowboys ultimately picked their route. We would all like to have a crystal ball, but you can't undo what is already done.
The question you have to ask yourself if whether or not overlooking positions such as defensive line and additional offensive linemen is consistent with the team philosophy? Is there also a direct correlation to being mediocre?
If that's the case, then the missteps have been too many to count.
As I stated earlier, the Cowboys will field a very talented roster in 2013. And with a solid core that centers around young players like Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Dez Bryant, the future is extremely bright. But when you look at the teams that go deep into the playoffs, there always seems to be those additional one or two veterans who make a difference in key areas.
Maybe it's a veteran back like a Willis McGahee, a defensive pressure-player like John Abraham or a veteran blocker like Brandon Moore. In all three scenarios, each player represents a fit for this team that won't pose any major financial ramifications.
The Cowboys need to look at these types of situations and players as insurance policies and opportunities to strengthen the team. It may not be consistent with a commitment to youth, but these players have been through the battles, they've been exposed to playoff football and they would provide extra leadership.
Younger players will always develop at different speeds and this is where you can effectively fill in the gaps. And sometimes adding veterans is the difference between playing in January and perpetuating disappointment.
The Dallas Cowboys are a franchise that does not need any more pressure than they currently endure. The key attribute in any organization is to be on the same page on all aspects and be careful how and what information is shared with the media.
The Cowboys were faced with the situation of handling the Jason Garrett play-calling announcement, and it was a failure. Following another 8-8 season, Garrett came under scrutiny, and rightfully so, and Jerry Jones promised an environment of being uncomfortable.
You could sense the shift from Garrett to Bill Callahan in calling plays was imminent, and there were even rumors of bringing back Norv Turner for that role. Then, Jerry Jones announced at the Senior Bowl that Garrett would be giving up calling the plays followed by Garrett's denial.
The topic came up periodically throughout the offseason and it finally came to a head. But the end result proved one important point about this organization. It wasn't about Garrett delegating his duty as a play-caller, it was about the way it was handled, the disconnect in the story and Jerry Jones' ability to keep his thumb firmly planted on Garrett.
It says a lot about the organization and, more importantly, just how short of a leash Garrett may be on. Jones does speak glowingly about Garrett, but make no mistakes, this is Jerry's team. And while that should be no secret, team business should.
This team does not need anymore distractions and it starts at the top.