It is that time of year again. The MLB baseball season has officially begun, the NBA Playoffs are in full swing, and most importanly, the NFL Draft is just around the corner.
Okay, maybe that is a stretch. Even for some of the most die hard football fans, the NFL draft—like any other draft, for that matter—is largely a snooze fest
Still, it is one more " check-mark" in a long list of off-season activities, and the passing of the NFL draft lets every football fanatic know that the next season is now that much closer.
It is with that happy thought in mind that the writers of America's Table talk a little Dallas Cowboys football.
(Quick Note: Please feel free to suggest discussion topics for future installments of America's Table. Suggestions can be left on the writer's individual bulletins—links below—or on the America's Table bulletin.
Thank you for reading!)
With the draft quickly approaching (April 25th), what do you perceive as the Cowboys' biggest draft need? Second biggest draft need?
James Williamson: The Dallas Cowboys have drafted extremely successfully in the past few years (mainly due to the great Bill Parcells) and have made a lot of success at almost every position.
However, the Dallas Cowboys have only been so successful with offensive linemen. The only starting offensive lineman drafted by Bill Parcells is center Andre Gurode. The other linemen drafted are good lineman, but they aren't guys who would play in the Pro Bowl.
Last year, the biggest injury to the Dallas Cowboys was not losing Tony Romo for three games, but was the loss of starting left guard Kyle Kosier. In fact, every game he played in entirely, the Dallas Cowboys won. That includes a crucial game versus the Green Bay Packers.
Kosier was out for most of the season which led to Cory Proctor filling his shoes only partially. Flozell Adams was constantly having to lend aid to Proctor throughout the season which arguably led to Tony Romo not being protected in the game against Arizona where he broke his finger.
Some would say that the biggest need is in the secondary, but I feel that if Wade Phillips can reproduce what he did last year with the defense, which was a sacking machine, the pressure will be so much on opposing teams that the Cowboys may not need the greatest safety or corner back doing coverage because the quarterback won't have time to throw.
The Cowboys need to make this offense back to its deadly, "we're gonna come in and take you out" self. For that to work, they need an offensive lineman who can, if not rotate, easily come in if one of those men gets hurt.
The second need is definitely in the secondary. The Cowboys should easily be able to use its late picks for corner backs and safeties and pick good players. The two starting corner backs for the 49ers back to back Super Bowls were 3rd and 6th round picks. so the Cowboys can easily get another Orlando Scandrick (6th round pick from last year who has done very well).
The Cowboys are set at linebacker, defensive line, running back, quarterback, tight end, and special teams.
The last need should be receiver. Roy Williams has got to do what is expected of him or Troy Aikman will never let the Cowboys live it down. I would pick a really fast guy who has slipped in the rounds and put him on the practice squad to work on routes.
Andrew Nuschler: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—a team like the Dallas Cowboys has deep enough pockets to acquire high-end pieces once they become available through free agency. They’re like the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox in baseball except that the flow of big name players in the National Football League is much freer.
With that in mind, I’d say it makes the most sense to draft the pieces that other teams are loathe to part with regardless of what the particular weaknesses from the previous year may be.
In the NFL, franchises seem to be slowly coming around to the realization that, outside of a franchise quarterback, they most important guys might just be up on that front line. If your most important single piece is a fragile component like a QB, then it makes sense that the next most important pieces would be the earth movers up front.
If I were the ‘pokes, I’d grab depth up front unless some incredible athlete fell to me. It would allow me to protect Tony Romo even if a starter on the offensive line goes down and then I could pick up shiny pieces to fill holes via the open market.
Robert Allred: I’m going to have to stick with what I originally said in our first roundtable.
The Cowboys are good at quarterback, despite complaints from knee-jerkers around the world. Their running back stable is superb, tight ends are elite, and their wide outs need to be addressed, but in later rounds.
The front seven on defense is one of the best in the league, and their corners are young but talented.
The Cowboys main two weaknesses are in their offensive line and their secondary, particularly the safety positions.
I would probably go with a safety first, and follow that up with an O-lineman.
The Cowboys are about to move into their new stadium. A new stadium is seemingly the perfect time to add a few names to the famed Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor. If you could only pick one past Cowboy to be added to the Ring this year, who would you pick? Also, what current player has the best shot at joining the Ring of honor after their career is over?
James: The Ring of Honor. Ahh. I always loved that thing. what better way for fans to remember the history than to look up in the stadium and see those great names surrounding them.
It also can be used against the Cowboys though. Nick Eatman, a writer for the Dallas Cowboys, stated that he talked to some Hall of Fame voters and one of the things that is being used against certain Cowboys, who are up for Hall of Fame induction, is their exclusion from the Ring of Honor.
As first glance, it can be seen as a biased excuse, but if one thinks about it carefully then they understand the logic.
The Hall of Fame is for the greatest of the greatest of the great right? Well, how can a Dallas Cowboy be deemed the greatest if he hasn't even been found worthy enough to be called the greatest by his own franchise?
Every Cowboy in the Hall of Fame is in the Ring of Honor. That is not a coincidence.
I want Cowboys in Canton, so the one Cowboy I nominate to go in the Ring of Honor right now, so it can help his chances, is Drew Pearson.
Drew Pearson is still eligible for the Hall of Fame and with his credentials, the Ring of Honor could really help in getting him over the top into the finalist list.
The Cowboy most likely to go to Ring of Honor? That is like asking if Oreos go with milk? Its DeMarcus Ware. All he has to do is get ten plus sacks a year for the rest of his career and he'll go into Canton, Ohio and the Ring of Honor as easy as pie.
Andrew: I may be out of my depth here because all I know about the Ring of Honor is that you have to be good and there’s a premium placed on character (which makes Michael Irvin’s selection a little odd).
If I’ve got those main two criteria right, then I’d put Darryl Johnston in there.
His stats aren’t eye-popping, but Moose was a freakin’ fullback—how in the world could his stats be any better? Fullbacks have never been featured in any offense that I’ve ever seen in the NFL so we’re talking about a group that is underrated by definition in the current fantasy-crazed atmosphere.
But—take it from this San Francisco 49er fan—after cursing the obvious targets of those years (the Triplets, Jimmy Johnson, Jerry Jones, etc.), it was Moose Johnston and then Jay Novacek who drew our ire. Again, it was obviously guys like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin doing most of the damage.
However, Johnston came up with his share of huge plays on crucial third down conversions and was always critical to opening those huge holes into the secondary for No. 22. And, in the event the superb offensive line let someone slip through, getting through Darryl was no cup o’ tea.
As for best chance right now...I don’t know if any of these chumps has a shot. Seems to me that one criterion I didn’t mention was contribution to championships and, until these Dallas Cowboys pull their [expletive] together, none will possess that qualifier.
Maybe DeMarcus Ware if he stays with the Star long enough because he’s got enough talent to have the kind of career worthy of such lofty recognition even if he finishes without a ring. Plus he seems like a good character guy.
Robert: I can probably already tell you to defer to whatever James says for the first part of this question. His Cowboys—and overall NFL—history knowledge is much better than mine will ever be, and I know that when I read his answer, I will agree.
That being said, I think that at some point Jimmy Johnson has got to be in there. I know there is always the Johnson-Jones feud, which might keep this from happening any time real soon, but he is the man that made the Cowboys into the team of the 90’s.
Darren Woodson and Jay Novacek are also names that came to mind, but these are 90’s guys too. Again, please excuse my lack of history, but I am almost certain that James will make up for my shortcomings here!
As far as current players, the only lock for me as of now is Jason Witten. I think that DeMarcus Ware has a shot by the time all is said and done, along with Terence Newman and Tony Romo.
However, if any three of those players were to go down to a career ending injury tomorrow (knock on wood), they have not yet done enough to prove that they deserve that high of an honor.
I think that Jason Witten has already proven to be one of the best all around tight ends to ever play the game.
After having time to reflect on it, has your position on the Cowboys' move to let Terrell Owens go changed? Do the Cowboys need to look for another receiver to compliment Roy Williams, or can they make do with their receiving corps as currently constructed?
James: I've actually written articles on both of those subjects. If the reader wants to go further, then here are the links:
Roy Williams the Key Element to Dallas' Future Success
But, if you want the simple answers. Yes, my views have changed on Owens, and no I don't think the Cowboys need another receiver for Roy Williams to work with unless Williams does not become the player they need him to be.
Andrew: Has my position changed on getting rid of Terrell Owens? Surely you jest.
I think it would be insane to look for another big name/ego wide receiver to pair with Williams. For a while, everyone was desperate for two big threats to really top off an elite offense. But where/when has that worked well in the modern era?
I can’t think of any since Randy Moss and Chris Carter. There have been effective tandems to be sure, but once the egos start to compete i.e. Chad Ocho Sinko and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the whole thing seems to come apart at the seams.
Incidentally, that would be my simple assessment of TO—he’s a poison pill because his ego doesn’t allow for any others, but most big talent in the NFL comes with a big ego. So the one thing Owens needs to win a ring is the one thing he can’t coexist with, hence, no ring despite other-worldly ability.
Back to the question—it also seems that part of the reason Dallas deep-sixed Terrible Owens was to make Williams the focal point of the receiving game. Getting another “compliment” would defeat that stated purpose.
Lastly, I think WRs are the most overrated players in the NFL unless you happen to have Larry Fitzgerald. Short of Leapin’ Larry, you’re better off with a little less proven talent and a LOT less sideshow.
Robert: I am okay with the Terrell Owens move now. I still consider myself a T.O. fan, and I’m sure at times I will miss the guy, but I think in the long run this could be the right move.
It is time for this to be Tony Romo’s team, and as much as I like T.O., I am just not sure that could have happened with him here. He had too big of a voice inside of the locker room and inside of the huddle.
I always hear Michael Irvin talk about how, even though he was wild and crazy, Troy Aikman always had his ultimate respect. Whatever Troy said went as far as Irvin was concerned.
I don’t think that Romo had that same relationship with T.O.
Sure, I believe that Owens respected Romo as a player and liked him as a person, but when Romo got started, he was the young gun and Owens was the future Hall of Fame veteran wide receiver.
How was Romo ever supposed to really lead Owens?
I also still really like that the Cowboys are getting rid of the drama that came with Owens. I did not always think the drama was deserved or even necessarily T.O.’s fault, but regardless, it was there. Eliminating Owens gives the media one less negative Cowboys’ storyline to focus on.
Regarding bringing in another receiver, I think we should take a flyer in a low round on a receiver, but I don’t think it needs to be addressed via free agency or trade.
The way the Cowboys offense is shaping up, they are built to run the ball now. This really excites me.
As fun as the air-it-out offense is, I think it is more important to remain balanced. If the Cowboys can make running a real focus, then I think they have plenty of talented pass catchers to carry the load through the air.
The 2009 schedule has recently been released. What are your first impressions of the schedule, and how do you see the Cowboys faring against next years' competition?
James: The Cowboys late season will be the most difficult. They always struggle after Thanksgiving and with three division games, they need to win all of the first 11.
I'm not joking. If they don't, then they face a harder December. Of course, Dallas could show its true potential and defeat their opponents no matter what the circumstances are.
The NFC South will be tough while the AFC West should be cupcakes except for the Chargers.
My hope is playoffs, Super Bowl win, Eagle and Redskin fans shutting their insulting mouths, but I have my doubts unfortunately. The Cowboys have not given any fan any reason to believe they can do it all.
Andrew: My first impression is Dallas’s schedule is cake—outside of the National Football Conference East, which can’t be avoided.
The American Football Conference West should only have one good team, the San Diego Chargers. The Denver Broncos will probably need a year to recover from the Jay Cutler debacle (although, judging from his behavior, I’d say the Broncs are better off in the long run).
The Kansas City Chiefs will be better with Matt Cassel, but I think they’re a year away from really seeing dividends from that move. And the Oakland Raiders will be better as JaMarcus Russell was starting to come around at the end of last year, but they still need a lot more improvement from him before they’re ready to be contenders.
Ultimately, the NFC South benefited from an easy schedule and then beating up on each other at home. I don’t think those clubs were as good as we thought when the dust settled.
In any event, the Cowboys should be pretty rugged next year without the certifiable distraction of guys like Owens and Pacman Jones around so they should be able to handle the hand dealt.
I’d say that first game in Tampa Bay will be a rough one since it’s the first of the year, but the Bucs are a rudderless ship at this point with Jeff Garcia taking his skittish show to Oakland (unless you have faith in Brian Griese).
I wouldn’t be surprised if the only games Dallas lost next year were to division rivals since, on paper, nobody from the AFC West, NFC South, and the Seattle Seahawks should be able to hang with the ‘pokes.
The only possible non-NFC East hiccup I see is that game against the Green Bay Packers and a more experienced Aaron Rodgers...in Green Bay.
Robert: In short, this schedule is tough!
This is particularly true in the final five weeks, which is a part of the season that has been a tough stretch for the Cowboys for several years now.
The final five games (@NYG, San Diego, @ New Orleans, @ Washington, Philly) will make or break the Cowboys’ year.
If they can go 3-2 or 4-1 in that brutal stretch, I see the Cowboys in the playoffs. If they finish 2-3 or worse, they will probably need help to get in.
The good news is that the season starts off fairly easily. Their toughest two opponents before the bye week should be Carolina and New York, both of whom they have at home in their new stadium.
As such, I see no reason the Cowboys cannot head into the bye week at a 5-0 mark and get a little momentum working in their favor.
Do the Cowboys make the playoffs next year? Do they have a shot at a Super Bowl?
James: I've said it before, and I'll say it again. This team has the talent and staff necessary to go 19-0. They just need to stop the inconsistency. One day Romo throws for 300 plus and other times he throws two or three interceptions. Same goes with the defense.
Since they are not consistent, I cannot comment on either of the questions. They could get lucky and win it all or they could stink up the stadium and televisions worse than a sewer. I cannot predict this team and neither can anyone else. 19-0 or 8-8 is possible with this group.
Andrew: Yes and yes—with that kind of money, Jones’ willingness to spend, and the status quo of talent amassed, the Dallas Cowboys should always make the playoffs and always have a shot at the Super Bowl.
That’s why nobody likes them...
Robert: This is really a tough call for me. Naturally, I want to answer yes to both questions, but playoffs are never a guarantee, and the Cowboys have not shown yet that they have what it takes to be a true Super Bowl contender.
I will say this though. The Cowboys do have the talent to contend for both, if they can just put everything together.
If the Cowboys can keep their off-the-field drama to a minimum—something they failed to do last year—and the majority of their key players can stay healthy, then this team stands a chance.
I cannot fathom the injury bug biting them as bad as it did in 2008 next year, and the Cowboys management has taken the appropriate steps to “fix the locker room drama,” so my gut instinct (and heart, of course) tells me that the Cowboys will find a way to squeak into the playoffs, but probably as a Wild Card.
If they can do that, I see no reason that they cannot contend for a chance to play in, or even win, the Super Bowl. Before I get crucified for being a “homer,” I am not predicting this. I am just not ruling it out.
Unlike the AFC, who has only a handful of true contenders, the NFC is wide open for the taking, and has been for several years now. At this time of year, the Cowboys have just as good of a chance as anyone to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Just ask the Cardinals.
Short and Sweet: Who is the most valuable player to the Cowboys' chances next year?
James: I think it all boils down to two guys. Tony Romo and Roy Williams. Roy Williams needs to be the player they need him to be and Tony Romo needs to be the leader they need him to be.
Andrew: Roy Williams.
I know, everyone will say Tony Romo and, in truth, he is the most valuable player for the Cowboys. But I expect him to play well as long as he can stay healthy so I don’t see an ‘if’ there (other than the injury ‘if’ and that’s true for every player).
However, if Roy Williams can’t deliver on his considerable gifts and turn the loss of TO into serious addition by subtraction, Dallas won’t be the team it can and should be.
In other words, Romo will be great and, if Williams can keep up, Dallas should finally become the force experts always expect them to be.
Robert: If I was going to give a most valuable “unit,” it would have to be the offensive line. They, in my opinion, were the weakest link on the offensive side of the ball late in the season last year.
But if I am going to pick one singular player who is most valuable to the Cowboys’ success, it’s got to be No. 9—Tony Romo.
Without Terrell Owens, it is time for Romo to take the next step and make this offense his.
He also has to stay healthy (another reason the O-line is on my $#*^ list) because even though Jon Kitna is an upgrade over Brad Johnson, this team will still not go far without their starting quarterback.
I would keep going, but this answer was supposed to be “Short and Sweet.” Oops.