Free Agents, Draft Picks Who Could Solve Dallas Cowboys' Problems in 2014
There's a good chance that the Dallas Cowboys are going to find themselves on the outside of the 2013 playoff bubble, but even if Dallas somehow sneaks into the postseason, they're going to need to rebuild with quality draft picks and free agent additions in 2014. This team has a lot of holes.
The problem is that the Cowboys have more issues than they do cash; with limited salary cap space with which to work, the 'Boys are unlikely to bring in any high-profile free agents. That means they're going to need to get creative when it comes to replenishing their roster, seeking out under-the-radar free agents and hitting on underrated rookies.
Last week, I proposed some potential free agents and first-year players who could fill some of the Cowboys' needs. I'm going to do the same in this slideshow, hitting on some new positions this time around.
Perhaps the Cowboys' biggest problem is that the players are continually placed in sub-optimal situations and expected to execute in spite of it. No matter how much talent a team brings in, the players need some help from the coaches.
Actually, I think the head coach is the second most important "position" behind quarterback. Look at what the Eagles and Chiefs have been able to do in just a single season by hiring coaches who embrace analytics, are forward-thinking and don't coach in a cowardly manner.
If the Cowboys don't hit in a big way with their next head coaching hire, they could be playing at a huge disadvantage to the Eagles for years to come.
Potential Head Coaches
Art Briles, Baylor
Chris Petersen, Boise State
Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
In my view, the Cowboys need to get away from the traditional we-need-a-coach-with-NFL-experience mentality. The worst thing this organization could possibly do is bring in a guy like Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher who will install their 1990s-ready scheme and get pummeled by more forward-thinking teams.
Instead, the Cowboys' next coach should be an innovator.
Year in and year out, the most innovative coaches come from the college ranks, where going against the grain is rewarded, not penalized. Whether you're talking about Art Briles or Urban Meyer, the coaches listed above would all be a serious upgrade over Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys have two very capable linebackers in Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, but both have a history of injuries. I'm generally high on previously injured players because I think the majority of what we perceive as injury proneness is just randomness. We'd expect certain players to get hurt more than others just from luck alone.
However, Lee and Carter are reaching the point that it's probable they are just more susceptible to injuries than the average NFL player. Even if they aren't, the Cowboys have a hole at one of the outside linebacker positions in their 4-3 scheme.
Potential Free Agents
Nick Barnett, Redskins
Desmond Bishop, Vikings
Lance Briggs, Bears
Karlos Dansby, Cardinals
Keith Rivers, Giants
Wesley Woodyard, Broncos
Woodyard is probably the best of the bunch here, but again, the Cowboys don't have much money with which to work. Chances are you'll see them address the position in the draft, with current rookie DeVonte Holloman getting a whole lot more playing time in 2014.
Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
If the Cowboys are looking for an athletic linebacker early in the draft, Shazier will be on their radar. He led the Big Ten in tackles and tackles for loss in 2013. Later in the draft, Attaochu might be an option. The senior out of Georgia Tech is a pass-rushing threat that Dallas needs, even if he remains in a hybrid outside linebacker position akin to Von Miller in Denver.
I didn't address the cornerback position in my last version of this slideshow because I still think the Cowboys are relatively strong there.
Morris Claiborne should return healthy in 2014 and Orlando Scandrick has been outstanding this year. Brandon Carr has struggled more than expected, but I'd anticipate him rebounding when the Cowboys bolster their pass rush. Considering how long they're asked to cover players, the cornerbacks have actually played pretty well this year.
The problem is that 1) the Cowboys don't have any big, physical cornerbacks and 2) if someone gets hurt, as we've seen this year, you have a guy like B.W. Webb basically playing as a starter in the slot.
The 'Boys already have an excellent nickel cornerback in Scandrick, so they might benefit from going with a bigger guy to play on the outside.
Potential Free Agents
Zack Bowman, Bears
Tarell Brown, 49ers
Brandon Browner, Seahawks
Antoine Cason, Cardinals
Brent Grimes, Dolphins
Tim Jennings, Bears
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Broncos
Aaron Ross, Giants
Josh Wilson, Redskins
Alterraun Verner, Titans
Charles Tillman, Bears
Aqib Talib, Patriots
Sam Shields, Packers
Tracy Porter, Raiders
As you can see, the free agent cornerback class is going to be stacked. Browner, Jennings, Rodgers-Cromartie, Verner and Talib all have the potential to be No. 1 players at the position.
The abundance of impact players means the price for some mid-tier players is going to be driven down. That could make for an interesting situation for the Cowboys, who need to find bargains in free agency.
Keep an eye on a player like Cason, who was a first-round pick by San Diego but has struggled during his time in the NFL. That's the sort of "buy low" candidate the Cowboys need to seek.
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Keith McGill, Utah
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
It's highly doubtful that the Cowboys will go with a cornerback in the first round, so the names listed above are all options for the second round or later. Both McGill and Jean-Baptiste are big cornerbacks at 6'2".
Still, NFL teams always need to be on the lookout for their next running back for two reasons. First, injuries are frequent for backs. We saw this year that the Cowboys were one injury away from starting Joseph Randle. That's scary.
Second, running backs typically see a pretty linear decline in efficiency from the moment they enter the NFL. The best running back is usually the youngest running back.
Potential Free Agents
Rashad Jennings, Raiders
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
Darren McFadden, Raiders
Rashard Mendenhall, Cardinals
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
Running back is a very dependent position, making it difficult to assess. Is Moreno a quality running back? Well, he was pretty awful when he first came into the league and then suddenly started playing well when he got Peyton Manning to change defensive looks for him.
Ultimately, there's no reason for the Cowboys to sign a free agent running back. It could be tempting to bring in someone like Jones-Drew who has succeeded in the past, but chances are a mid-round rookie would be just as effective.
Andre Williams, Boston College
James White, Wisconsin
Terrance West, Towson
Again, because running backs are so dependent on the offensive line for success, there's no reason for the Cowboys to draft one early. They can wait until the middle or late rounds if they want a running back, focusing on size and straight-line speed as predictors of success.
It's painfully obvious that Romo doesn't have a legitimate weapon to complement Dez Bryant right now. The Cowboys are hoping Terrance Williams can turn into that, and maybe he can. But if you're going to stock up at a position in today's NFL, it should be wide receiver.
Potential Free Agents
Danario Alexander, Chargers
Kenny Britt, Titans
Riley Cooper, Eagles
Eric Decker, Broncos
James Jones, Packers
Hakeem Nicks, Giants
The class of free agent wide receivers is interesting.
There are no blue-chippers, but Danario Alexander is a player who really stands out to me. He's been injured so much that he's never been able to break out, but he's absolutely massive with game-breaking speed to boot. Most importantly, he's not going to cost much, so the Cowboys can bring him in fairly easily and just hope for a Laurent Robinson-esque breakout.
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
Cody Hoffman, BYU
There's one thing all of these players have in common: size. The Cowboys desperately need another player who can be efficient for them in the red zone, and height/weight are strongly correlated with that.