Power Ranking Dallas Cowboys' 8 Best Moves of 2014 Offseason
Longtime starters were let go, more than a few promising rookies were drafted and coaching changes were made. Not every move Dallas made was a brilliant one this offseason, and several could have been prevented with better front office management.
That being said, this offseason seemed to have a theme to it. The Cowboys have made a handful of moves that have shown they are trying to get younger. By doing so, they are also attempting to end the salary-cap woes that have plagued their free-agency plans over the past few years.
These moves were ranked considering how each will affect on-field success as well as financial flexibility. The more beneficial a cut or signing was to making the playoffs or creating cap space, the higher it ranked.
With all these moves in mind, let's take a look at which were the most beneficial to the team.
8. Not Chasing Jason Hatcher
Jason Hatcher's departure from the Cowboys should be no surprise to fans who understood their team's salary-cap situation. The defensive tackle put together the best year of his career in 2013 and for that reason commanded more money than Dallas could spend.
Hatcher did record 11 sacks for the Cowboys last year, but he hadn't tallied more than 4.5 heading into 2013. It would have been foolish for the team to pay Hatcher given its cap situation and the impending new deals for DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant.
Hatcher told KRLD-FM (via ESPN Dallas) that "[the Cowboys] didn't show no signs they wanted me back."
It makes sense if the Cowboys didn't try their hardest to bring back the 2013 Pro Bowler. He was commanding too much money on the market, and Dallas has other players it needs to pay.
It might not be the most popular decision the team made all offseason, but it was a logical one based on the cap situation.
7. Re-Signing Anthony Spencer
It took some time, but the Cowboys were able to bring back defensive end Anthony Spencer in free agency. While he is still recovering from microfracture surgery on his left knee, Dallas needed the veteran experience Spencer brings.
The former first-round draft pick who missed all but one game last year was a Pro Bowl selection in 2012 after recording 11 sacks. Spencer recorded at least five sacks between 2009-2012 and put up career-best numbers in his last full NFL season.
With the subtraction of so many veteran players on the defensive line, bringing Spencer back helps create some small amount of stability. He has been with the franchise his entire career and is as familiar with head coach Jason Garrett as any other player in Dallas.
The business side of bringing back the Purdue product was far from a burden for the 'Boys. Spencer is playing on his third straight one-year deal this season, which is worth $2 million.
The veteran is familiar with the team and had a career year the last time he was healthy. Those two facts alone are worth a risk-free $2 million.
6. Promoting Rod Marinelli to Defensive Coordinator
The Cowboys had one of the worst defenses in franchise history last season. While Rod Marinelli was a member of that defensive coaching staff, he was not part of the problem last year.
Marinelli found and plugged in George Selvie as a starter. Selvie rewarded his defensive line coach's confidence with seven sacks in 2013. He also helped Coach Hatcher go to his first Pro Bowl last year. It's no wonder Marinelli now finds himself as the team's defensive coordinator.
Marinelli is one of the best defensive minds in NFL coaching today, and now that he has full control of the unit, don't expect another dismal Dallas D this season.
In 2012, his last season as defensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears, his unit ranked third in points allowed and first in takeaways. If the veteran coach can get his new squad to produce half as well as that 2012 Bears defense did, he'll be a hero in Dallas.
5. Keeping Monte Kiffin
It's no secret Monte Kiffin didn't have a great first season in Dallas. His defense was one of the worst in franchise history.
That being said, Kiffin and Marinelli brought the 4-3 Tampa 2 defense to Valley Ranch. It would be counterproductive to scrap the new scheme after one bad season. Keeping Kiffin on staff to support Marinelli isn't the best move in the world, but it's understandable.
Keeping Kiffin allows Marinelli to continue working with the man who showed him the Tampa 2 defense. It allows the players to continue to get comfortable with a relatively new face.
The Cowboys should have originally hired Marinelli to be the defensive coordinator and supported by Kiffin in the first place. It took the team a year of bad defensive play, but it seems it now know what roles best fit these two coaches.
4. Signing Henry Melton
Dallas certainly did more subtraction than addition in free agency, but landing defensive tackle Henry Melton was huge.
The team has seen the departures of Jay Ratliff, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher in the past year. In other words, most of the 2013 starting defensive line play for other teams now.
Melton eases the loss of those three players and brings an established, veteran talent to the Cowboys locker room. While Melton missed all but three games last season, he was a Pro Bowler the year prior. Between 2011-2012, the former Bear posted 13 sacks.
The Cowboys have indeed lost a lot of talent up front on defense, but Melton can create interior pressure on the line as much as a Ratliff or Hatcher. His leadership will come in handy with young names like DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford as well.
3. Selecting 9 Players in the 2014 NFL Draft
Jerry Jones and his staff had more than a few draft picks to play with heading into the 2014 NFL draft. While deals were made, the Cowboys still selected nine rookies, the most since 2009.
By letting big-name veterans go and investing in the draft, it's clear this team realizes it needs to get younger on the field and cheaper on the books. The Cowboys now have nine relatively inexpensive picks who can help add depth and replace former starters.
This draft class is one of the most well-regarded in recent years. Dallas made sure it got plenty of prospects from a deep draft. The one downfall to the Cowboys' draft was not addressing key positions like defensive tackle and safety until late.
Overall, the Cowboys made sure to stock up on picks and made more than a few smart ones when they were on the clock.
2. Drafting Zack Martin
The Cowboys made two smart moves with their first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. They avoided the temptation to draft Johnny Manziel and instead took a stout offensive lineman to protect Tony Romo.
Dallas has invested three first-rounders in the offensive line over the past four years. With the addition of Martin to Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, the team has a young talent at the guard, center and tackle positions.
Say what you will about owner Jerry Jones and his staff, but those are smart decisions.
Martin is a player who could become a Pro Bowl-caliber talent, and Dallas needs more players like that protecting its franchise player. Drafting the Notre Dame product was a safe and smart move.
1. Cutting DeMarcus Ware
Releasing DeMarcus Ware was likely one of the hardest decisions the Cowboys brass had to make this offseason. It was also one of their smartest.
Though he missed three games, Ware tallied career lows in tackles and sacks in 2013 with just 28 and six respectively. One bad season does not erase a probable Hall of Fame career, but Ware is 31 and was taking up a big chunk of salary-cap space.
If the Cowboys had chosen to keep Ware, it would have been a whole lot harder to lock up Murray and Bryant this year.
This move was likely made so Dallas could keep its core younger stars in place. If not for bad salary-cap management though, the team could have kept its seven-time Pro Bowler and locked up Murray and Bryant.
There are certainly measures that could have been taken in years past to prevent this hard decision from having to be made. That being said, the Dallas brass made the savvy choice to let Ware go in order to better the team in future seasons.