Winners and Losers of Dallas Cowboys' Offseason So Far
The Dallas Cowboys have had a relatively quiet offseason, signing only one big-name free agent, not making any huge waves during the draft, and going through OTAs without too much to report. The one big headline out of Dallas, though—the season-ending injury to linebacker Sean Lee—was a huge blow to the team.
Lee’s injury, along with a variety of other happenings, have opened up opportunities for new players. Thus, some members of the Dallas Cowboys have “won” the offseason by default. Others have looked sensational in early practices and appear poised for breakout seasons.
Let’s take a look at all of the winners and losers from the Cowboys’ offseason thus far.
WINNER: Terrell McClain, DT
By all accounts, free-agent addition Terrell McClain has impressed at defensive tackle. David Moore of the Dallas Morning News wrote that the Cowboys “liked McClain out of South Florida.” Head coach Jason Garrett had this to say about McClain:
He’s one of those guys who doesn’t say anything to anybody. He’s just quiet and goes to work every day. But he’s absolutely one of the guys who is showing up the most in these first eight OTA practices. He has great intensity in all that he does. He flashes some ability. We really like how he goes about his business.
The Cowboys need McClain to step up after the loss of veteran Jason Hatcher. Alongside Henry Melton, McClain will work primarily as a run-stopping interior lineman for Dallas.
LOSER: Mackenzy Bernadeau, G
When the Cowboys drafted Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin in the first round of this year’s draft, it decreased the value of Mackenzy Bernadeau to the Cowboys. Martin has immediately stepped in to start at right guard—Bernadeau’s old position.
Bernadeau will probably still make the roster, but he’s now competing with Ronald Leary for time on the left side of the line. Bernadeau has the flexibility to play center, which should help his chances, but he’s not in a position to turn in a disappointing training camp.
WINNER: Justin Durant, LB
There hasn’t been too much buzz surrounding linebacker Justin Durant, but he’s arguably the biggest “winner” in Dallas. Wrote ESPN Dallas’s Todd Archer:
I was surprised Durant wasn't let go at the start of the offseason, but now Sean Lee's knee injury gives him a reprieve. I wouldn't say he's a lock the way Jason Witten is a lock, but if he performs well, I think he's the opening day starter at Mike linebacker.
It takes a unique situation to go from a likely candidate for release to a probable starter, especially when the player in question hasn’t necessarily done anything to earn the starting gig. Durant is the luckiest player on the Cowboys right now.
LOSER: Joseph Randle, RB
A few months ago, I thought there was a good chance that running back Joseph Randle wouldn’t make the final roster this year due to his inferior skill set. With the addition of Ryan Williams at the position, there’s an even greater chance that Randle won’t stick around.
It seems unlikely that the Cowboys will keep four tailbacks, especially since they need depth on the defensive side of the ball. Unless Randle can overtake Williams or Lance Dunbar, his hopes of making the team might be reliant on an injury to someone ahead of him.
WINNER: DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
On an episode of DallasCowboys.com’s Talkin’ Cowboys, ex-scout Bryan Broaddus labeled rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence as his defensive standout during OTAs. Everyone seems to be impressed with Lawrence’s progress thus far.
With Anthony Spencer still on the shelf, Lawrence has been a starter since the very first day of OTAs. The Cowboys are counting on him for meaningful production in 2014.
LOSER: Matt Johnson, S
It wasn’t long into OTAs before we witnessed what has become a common scene at Valley Ranch: safety Matt Johnson working with the trainers. Johnson injured his hamstring yet again.
It’s unfortunate, because Johnson has obvious potential. In terms of pure measurables, he’s probably the most athletic safety on the team. It’s pretty clear that Johnson is indeed injury-prone at this point, so it’s just a question of whether or not he can maintain his health long enough to at least make the roster.
At this point, you almost have to assume Johnson won’t make it out of training camp healthy.
WINNER: Dez Bryant, WR
Last month, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan previewed the Cowboys’ offense in an interview with 105.3 The Fan. On going deep more often in the passing game, Linehan responded, “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.”
That’s important for Bryant and Dallas, as quarterback Tony Romo has continually ranked near the bottom of the league in deep passing rate, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Linehan also mentioned the Cowboys will likely use Bryant in the slot more often, which should help him beat double-coverage. Expect a huge year from the fourth-year receiver.
LOSER: Cole Beasley, WR
Wide receiver Cole Beasley will probably end up being the Cowboys’ primary slot receiver this year, at least outside of the red zone. In the short-term, Beasley’s role probably hasn’t changed all that much this offseason.
Over the long run, though, you can’t like the prospects for a 5’8”, 180-pound receiver who suddenly finds himself in the middle of a crowded depth chart. Beasley might be able to fend off rookies Devin Street, L’Damian Washington and Chris Boyd this season, but the chances of him continually outperforming all three receivers are, like Beasley himself, slim.