What Offseason Moves Are Next for Dallas Cowboys with the Draft Complete?
The draft is complete, but there are lots of offseason moves left for the Dallas Cowboys. That doesn’t mean signing free agents, though. The free-agency barrel is bare, and, although they aren’t strong across the board, there isn’t one position where the team necessarily needs to bring in a veteran. Even at free safety, the Cowboys are comfortable with the young players they have.
Instead, most of the Cowboys’ offseason decisions will center around player evaluation. Which rookies are worth keeping? Which veterans deserve to keep their starting jobs? How does the personnel fit with Scott Linehan’s offensive system?
Let’s take a look at a few moves and decisions the Cowboys will need to make in the coming months.
Assess the Rookie Class
The first move the Cowboys need to make is to assess their very deep class of rookies. In addition to the nine rookies the Cowboys drafted, they also signed 24 undrafted players. That’s a lot of first-year players whom Dallas will eventually need to release, so it’s important to quickly determine who has enough upside to stick around, then give them the majority of reps.
Undrafted wide receivers L’Damian Washington (Missouri) and Chris Boyd (Vanderbilt) are especially intriguing. Neither player produced at an elite level in college, for various reasons. Washington had a career-high 50 catches for 893 yards in 2013, although he found the end zone an impressive 10 times. Boyd didn’t play in 2013, but he caught 50 passes for 774 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. The year prior, he found the end zone eight times on only 31 receptions.
Both Washington and Boyd have something you can’t teach in size. You’d like them to weigh a bit heavier—Washington is just 195, and Boyd is 206 pounds—but both players stand 6’4”. There’s a very good chance that one of these high-upside receivers will make the final roster, but they need to impress right out of the gate to overtake fifth-rounder Devin Street.
Figure out If Brandon Weeden Can Be the Backup Quarterback
Guess who still isn’t in Valley Ranch? Yup, backup quarterback Kyle Orton. ESPN Dallas’s Calvin Watkins recently reported that Orton’s status with the team is in doubt:
The Cowboys didn’t draft a quarterback but signed Dustin Vaughan as an undrafted free agent from West Texas A&M on Sunday to add depth to the position during offseason workouts. Romo is still rehabbing from back surgery, though he's throwing passes in a controlled setting.
So waiting on Orton's decision on whether he will retire is the biggest offseason mystery for the Cowboys right now.
The Cowboys need to be prepared to start the season without Orton. Jason Garrett feels good about Weeden, but perhaps as more of a project than an immediate go-to player if Tony Romo were to get injured. Garrett told ESPN’s Todd Archer:
We feel in signing Brandon Weeden, he can be viewed as that developmental guy. A first-round pick a couple of years ago, coming from a baseball background, has all the physical tools you want. We view him as in that role right now, so we wanted to be selective about anybody else we wanted to bring in here.
If the Cowboys deem Weeden too much of a developmental player to handle backup quarterback duties, it’s a position where they might want to look in free agency. According to RotoWorld, the top free agent is Kevin Kolb.
Or maybe not.
Learn Scott Linehan's Playbook
The biggest change for the Cowboys offense this year will be the addition of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan runs an offense that’s somewhat similar to Dallas’s prior scheme, but with a few alterations. One of them is more deep passes.
On the subject of throwing deep, Linehan told 105.3 The Fan:
Not to get into specifics, but that's a big part of what I grew up with or believe in, and it's going to be our philosophy to do those kinds of things maybe a little bit more. We have the personnel for it for sure.
It's a way to get the [defenders] backed up a little bit and also create big plays. Everybody says it's a low percentage play, but depending on the look, it's a high percentage play - as long as you've got weapons on the outside part of the field. And I really believe we have that. We also have some big targets with our tight ends when [opponents] start getting the safeties back and overlapping the outside two [receivers].
Tony Romo has historically had great success throwing deep for two reasons. The first is that the Cowboys just simply haven’t done it much, which will naturally increase efficiency. The second is that Romo has been able to buy time with his legs, allowing receivers to get wide open so he doesn’t need to make super-accurate throws.
I don’t think Romo is actually a great deep-ball passer in terms of dropping back seven steps and releasing the football in stride. His value comes in his backyard-football playmaking ability (and, of course, the presence of Dez Bryant). It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys’ deep-passing efficiency changes as they ask Romo to do it more frequently.
Promote the Young Talent
The Cowboys have a number of talented young players who just don’t have much NFL experience. In addition to this year’s rookie class, you also have defensive end/tackle Tyrone Crawford, safety J.J. Wilcox, linebacker DeVonte Holloman, safety Matt Johnson and tight end Gavin Escobar, among others.
It’s time to let them play. Give Crawford the nod over Nick Hayden on the inside. Let Demarcus Lawrence compete with Anthony Spencer to start opposite George Selvie. Let Wilcox and Johnson compete to start at safety. And yes, give Escobar a chance to take away some snaps from veteran tight end Jason Witten, especially in red-zone situations.
The Cowboys have counted on the “safety” of veterans too much in the past. If they trust their talent evaluation, it’s time to show it by promoting the youngsters even before training camp opens.