The Dallas Cowboys have not accomplished much in the last few seasons. If things don’t turn around in 2014, drastic changes will occur between now and next offseason.
The simple solution to their problems: win more games.
It’s much easier said than done in the NFL, but the Cowboys have the team in place to do better than they’ve done recently. So in order to improve, the Cowboys must make adjustments to their roster.
Let’s take a detailed look at what Dallas must do to end next season as a playoff team.
All statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com unless indicated otherwise.
The salary cap in the NFL means teams will lose important players despite how talented they are. Dallas will lose two of its best defensive lineman this offseason when Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher test free agency.
The main reason these two won’t be with the Cowboys next year is because of money. If the cap wasn’t an issue, Dallas would love to have both back.
However, Dallas is significantly over the projected 2014 cap number and therefore cannot spend like it wants.
Both Spencer and Hatcher will be hot commodities on the market and won’t be available for long. They each will start somewhere next season, but it won’t be in Dallas.
Someone I think Dallas does invest money into is veteran lineman Brian Waters. The 13-year player started only five games for the Cowboys in 2013 before getting injured.
The reason I see Dallas bringing back the soon-to-be 37-year-old is easy. Injuries occur to the offensive line every year and having depth at these positions is crucial to being successful.
Although the Cowboys line exceeded expectations this season, it’s always good to have insurance policies in place.
I don’t think Waters is someone who can start a full season anymore. However, he’s still a good player and can contribute in a leadership role to some of the younger linemen. If he doesn’t demand a huge contract, Dallas should keep him on for another year or so.
With the amount of money Dallas needs to free up in cap space, certain players are going to have to restructure their contracts. Two guys I see this happening to are DeMarcus Ware and Brandon Carr.
The main reason these two will be the targets for restructuring is because of how much they’ll be earning in 2014. Each has plenty of money to move toward the back end of their contracts and each have several years remaining to work with.
If it was my call, both Carr and Ware would be taking pay cuts as well. I doubt this will happen, but each is being paid like the best players at their respective positions, and they haven’t played up to that standard the last two seasons.
Although this might be obvious to most of the readers, Miles Austin will be a post-June 1 cut. Unfortunately for the receiver, it seems as if his time in Dallas has come to an end.
Austin has been struggling the past few seasons with hamstring issues and just hasn’t been the same on the field. His speed was a big part of his game, and his injuries have clearly affected him.
The receiver will soon be 30 years old and is owed $5.5 million in base salary next year.
The Cowboys don’t have to worry about this decision too much because of other players on the roster. Terrance Williams showed a lot of potential in his rookie season and Cole Beasley improved significantly in 2013, too. Both performed better than Austin and come at a much cheaper price.
For the first time in forever, I’m predicting the Cowboys actually have a smart draft and add pieces where they need help most. This year, that means taking a defensive player with their first three picks.
I don’t have a particular order in which they take each position, but Dallas needs to draft a defensive tackle, safety and defensive end with its first three selections in April’s draft. There’s no excuse for Jerry Jones to not do this, besides his incompetence.
The defensive line as a whole needed help before last year’s draft, and the Cowboys didn’t address it at all. This time around, it’s too obvious to mess up.
With Hatcher and Spencer gone and Ware on the steady decline, the defensive front needs to upgrade right now. Notre Dame’s Louis Nix would be a great addition to an extremely thin line. He’s got a lot of size (6’3”, 342 lbs) and would relieve pressure from Dallas linebackers instantly.
Another controversial area of the 2014 draft is whether or not the Cowboys take a chance on a quarterback somewhere along the way. I think they do.
If you’re paying attention, I just discussed how Dallas should focus on defense with their high-round picks. That doesn’t mean it can’t take chances later on and be thinking about the future during the latter rounds.
There are a lot of quarterbacks available this year, so I think a few may fall to the fourth and fifth rounds who would’ve been taken earlier some years.
Specifically, I’m keeping my eye on Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. He’s got the size (6’4”, 210 lbs) to play in the NFL and was a proven winner in college. I don’t think he’s ready to start now. However, a few seasons on the bench behind Romo could turn McCarron into the Cowboys next Pro Bowl quarterback.
No matter what round, Dallas needs to select someone worthy of starting at safety immediately. The Cowboys secondary has been exposed for too long, due, in large part, to not having had had a solid safety combination in years.
Barry Church was outstanding in 2013 and one of the brightest points for a disappointing defense. He led the team with 135 total tackles and three forced fumbles. The 25-year-old should perform at a high level for several years to come, but he needs help alongside of him.
Dallas’ current options at strong safety include J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson. Wilcox showed signs of potential but isn’t ready to start 16 games. Heath seemed overmatched, and Johnson hasn’t seen the field.
The simple solution here is to draft someone with one of the team’s first few picks. Although he probably won’t make it to the second round, Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be the perfect player to fill this void. The safety is an incredible playmaker, and one of the most consistent Tide players of recent years.