I spoke to a source over the summer, before camp started, and asked him what positions the Cowboys had atop their '09 wish list.
He told me two things:
A. Offensive line was top priority. Considering how poorly the backups played this year and how poorly this team has done the last six years drafting o-linemen, that's not surprising. One of the few bright spots of Jerry 1.0 was drafting Flozell Adams with a 2nd rounder in '98 and Andre Gurode with a 2nd in '02.
B. He then said, "look at the spots they didn't fill this year."
Let's go back to early April '08, when Dallas was bringing in prospective draftees. There are two unfilled positions that stand out from those Pro Days:
i.) ILB -- Jerod Mayo and Beau Bell were two players of interest. Mayo was one of the highest late risers. On April 1st a lot of mocks had him in the last dozen picks of the first round, where Dallas could consider him with the pick they used on Mike Jenkins. By draft day, he had rocketed into the top ten; New England took him 10th overall. Bell was taken in the early 4th by Cleveland.
ii.) FS -- Dallas brought Kenny Phillips and Tyrell Johnson in for looks. They might have taken Phillips at 28 but instead moved up three spots when Jenkins dropped. Jenkins had a mid-1st grade on the Cowboys' board and was considered too good to pass up.
Phillips fell to the Giants at pick 31 and Johnson was snagged by the Vikings at pick 43. Notice also that FS was the position of interest, not SS. Of course, this was before the team re-upped Ken Hamlin. Missing out on Phillips and Johnson probably moved Dallas to cut that deal with Hamlin.
Those needs have not gone anywhere. Safety is probably THE biggest defensive need, though SS may be the bigger need now. Or is it? You tell me. ILB may now be defensive need 1A, with Zach Thomas announcing after the game that he will not return in '09.
All Hail the New Fantastic Four
People who have been reading me since the old blog know I've been touting a yearly "Fantastic Four" to show how much the NFL churns in these days of parity and weighted schedules.
If you're not familiar, I've repeatedly argued out that the preseason annuals are mostly worthless because they often take last year's playoff field and perhaps promote one team who missed the playoffs into this year's field.
I went back to 2000 and found that from 2000 to 2006, 28 teams, a neat average of four per season, went from having losing records one year to the playoffs in the next. 2007 threw my formula off track, as only two sub .500 teams from 2006 made the jump.
This year, the Fantastic Four are back. All hail:
- Miami, who rocketed from 1-15 to 11-5;
- Atlanta, who jumped from 4-12 to 11-5;
- Baltimore, who slumped to 5-11 last year and finished 11-5 this time;
- Carolina, who zoomed from 7-9 to 12-4.
Take a hard look at the Packers, Seahawks, Rams, 49ers, Raiders, Jaguars, Bills, Browns and Bengals. As unlikely as it seems, four of these teams will be playoff bound in '09, if history repeats.
Picking Your Toys
Jimmy Johnson offered a scathing but accurate assessment of the current team on Fox's post game show, remarking the Cowboys, "have a collection of toys, but they don't have a team."
J.J. ain't coming back folks, but we can use that thought as the basis for a game. Let's assume old 'Jimmah is coming back. How would he operate? Answer these questions in the threads. I've got my own answers to these questions, but want to see your responses before I print mine.
1. If J.J. were given complete control tomorrow, who would he axe? Who would he keep?
Would he begin by cutting some players on the periphery, to get the others' attention? That was his style. Who are the Curvin Richards on this roster?
2. Who are the big names he would trade? If 2009 is an uncapped year, trades become a real possibility. Any Herschel Walker Lites on this roster? Guys you flip simply to create addition by subtraction?
3. Which big names would he keep? He held his superstars to a different standard, because they made plays. Who gets the wider berth on J.J. 2.0?
4. Which players would he motivate by tough love? Or no love? Think of how he drove Mark Stepnoski to distraction in the early '90s? Who are the players who would hate his guts, but play their guts out for him?
5. J.J. was also hard on his assistants. Who gets the quiet burn in the coaches meeting room?
The team, like it or not, isn't going to submit its roster and staff to radical surgery. But answering these questions should help identify who should be on the hot seat or trading block this spring.