There's a lot of water seeping into the ship that floats the Dallas Cowboys franchise. The lifeboats are being readied so that the passengers can get off safely. I say, damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!!!
The roster was somewhat of a fraud this season and the many and varied leaks proved to be too much for anyone to bail. The Place Kicker was a nice guy who just couldn't place kick. He's a kickoff specialist...whatever that is. The Free Safety was really not a Free Safety, but rather a dime CB. All of the DE's, for all the rhetoric on BTB about the role of the DE in the Wade Phillips defense making them good fits for the job (you know who you are!!), were exposed for being the JAGs that some of us knew they were and now most everyone has jumped on the bandwagon clamoring for an upgrade. Newman, like a caterpillar who turns into a butterfly, became Anthony Henry and had to give WR's a 10-yard cushion even in goal line situations. The right side of the O-line looked slow afoot as their big, aging bodies precluded them from being successful. The new #1 RB was not the game-breaker everyone hoped for and his hip tightness suggested we may again need to find a third head to that monster down the road. Add to that the fact that we know the 2009 draft was an atrocity and we have a long list of problems on our hands.
Here's the good news; First,Jerry hired Jason Garrett as the new Head Coach and is letting Garrett choose his staff. Here's the even better news; Jerry then called and asked me to take the position Dan Reeves was going to fill. I told him I wanted full control over player personnel and wasn't going to punch a clock (but I might punch Campo) and he agreed to my stipulation (except the Campo part). So, you can all rest easy now because I am here to fix this here leaky boat.
First things first, we have to consider the painful truths. This team is not going to significantly change every aspect of the roster that doesn't have a pro-bowler manning it and a young, future HOF'er backing them up. Dallas is going to go into 2011 with some players who we think are average at best and need to be "protected" at times by scheme or by substitution packages. Another fact of life is that you cannot FIXATE on a single player either in the Draft or Free Agency. To do so is to be oblivious to the fact that 31 other teams are trying to do the same things you are and many of them have the same needs; namely, rebuild their trenches and draft the next Peyton Manning, Ed Reed and Jonathan Ogden. You need to have backup plans for your backup plans.
Next, the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL Draft can be like oil and water for us fans. Although we like to concoct these wonderful starry-eyed (see what I did there?) mock drafts that show us drafting the best players available (which, as strange as it sounds, always seem to address our biggest needs) at each and every spot, Jerry and Co. always end up surprising and dismaying us with their non-standard view of who we need and where we need them.
Nonetheless, as I said, I'm ready to take my shot at the roster blueprint for the offseason (which I will modify as the new labor contract, Free Agency and the Draft get closer to being realities). So here goes;
I'm going to start by addressing the O-line through Free Agency.The right side of this line has looked like a jailbreak on most downs, regardless of who was under center. This is an area where Dallas has either failed to address the need or chosen unwisely when they did try. While I like Logan Mankins a lot, I don't see him being the guy that I will pursue first, only because of the price tag and the fact that the Pats are likely to tag him in order to get compensated. I think Dallas may pick an even bigger name on the defensive side of the ball to empty their account on (stay tuned). Instead, it is my belief that Dallas will (aka should) look to a guy like Davin Joseph, who is coming off of a foot injury but was playing the best football of any TB lineman before going to IR, as the answer to the RG spot that will likely be vacated when my Bigg hammer comes down on Bigg Davis. This guy isn't going to come cheap, but he's young enough and good enough to be there with Doug Free for several years as a young nucleus while the O-line is overhauled. If not Joseph, then Harvey Dahl, who is a mean SOB (don't you have to be with a name like HARVEY?), would be a good pickup too. I think the line can also be addressed in the draft during the second round. With the 9thpick in the second round, it's not unlikely to see some of the following; DeMarcus Love, Nate Solder, Joseph Barksdale, Darius Morris and Matt Roberts still around and any of them would make for a solid 2ndrounder on a team as ORT-challenged as Dallas. Unfortunately, Dallas would likely need to pursue a lower-tier veteran RT like a Langston Walker while the rookie learns the ropes. One more thing since I have been less-than-complimentary of Andre Gurode quite often. This draft is full of mid-round center talent any one of which could be the next Jim Otto. Okay, maybe not, but even if there are no Alex Mack's, there's still talent there. In my opinion, as I survey the rest of the NFL's great O-lines, this O-line will never be counted among that group until we find a Center who can be the cerebral nerve center for the front 5. I'll let Lissyyyyyyyyy dig deep on that if he wants to, but I'd look hard there in later rounds.
Next, I will address the D-line.Now I know people want to get right to the business of getting a safety and CB's like Prince Shakalakamakamura or Patrick (stiff-hips) Peterson or whoever, but that is a bad strategy. I don't think our draft position supports it. This is a class that is VERY rich with 3-4 DE prospects and there is a lot of confusion over who might be the best. That will play right into our hands. Given how the draft order is stacked, I don't see any outcome where Da'Quan Bowers (my favorite player in this draft), Nick Fairley AND Adrian Clayborn go in the first 8 picks. The one guy that looks like a lock up there is Fairley. The result? A draft windfall (again, see what I just did there? I know...so cool...like a breeze, right?) for Dallas. Any one of these guys could be an opening day starter and provide some pocket penetration that neither of the two current JAGs have shown. As if that isn't enough, I think THIS is where Dallas goes big in Free Agency (and I do mean BIG). Dallas has two Free Agency options here that make a ton of sense to the team's defensive future. First, I think they have to make a run at Haloti Ngata to play NT and move Ratliff to DE, if only because I think Baltimore will not tag him this season and my incessant harping on Ratliff's late season swoons have now been witnessed by MOST of you and you've come around to my way of thinking. I also think Ngata is in line to make big money and, although he is the one guy who totally deserves it (not like that doofus in Washington), Baltimore doesn't generally go there (see Adalius Thomas, Bart Scott, others). But I could be wrong and Baltimore could tag him or give him a long term deal. If they did, I'd have my backup plan in Aubrayo Franklin, a guy I have pined over for some time now. He's a poor man's Kris Jenkins (when Jenkins is/was healthy) and I think he's the kind of guy who could pair with Josh Brent to form a nice combo at that all-important NT spot for several years. So the new "3" in the 3-4 would be Ratliff, Ngata and Clayborn/Bowers or Rat, Franklin and Clayborn/Bowers. Compare that to this year's trio and I think we're set for several years at D-line.
Finally, Dallas needs to start rebuilding the secondary.While lots of people made derisive comments about Ken Hamlin in 2009, I wonder how many of those same people wouldn't have begged him to come back if they knew how poorly Alan Ball would play at FS this year. Let's face facts; Ball is a dime corner if he is anything. It's likely that Hamlin overcame the ineptitude of Dave Campo and had everyone lined up correctly more of the time than we will ever know. Regardless, we're moving on now. We've seen what mid-round safeties like Derek Cox, Thomas Decoud and others can do for their respective defenses. They aren't Ed Reed, but they help their teams and that, my friends, is about all we should expect here. Whoever those players turn out to be, whether it's someone like Brian Lainhart from Kent State (who I really like) or Quinton Carter from Oklahoma, is probably not an opening day starter. That means Danny McCray, this is YOUR life!!! I don't' see a Free Agent safety out there (yet) that wows me enough to go spend a ton of money on them, so the key is to start looking at CB's that might be ready to pair with Scandrick and Jenkins. BTW, I am assuming T-New is T-Gone (and yes, I still think Marcus Trufant was the better pick in that spot). So, looking at late round CB's like Dejon Gomes of Nebraska or Davon House of New Mexico State makes good sense.
A word on the draft.The 2011 NFL draft is likely to be the most drama-filled iteration of the event in many years if Free Agency does not take place in its usual timeframe because of collective bargaining roadblocks. The other thing about this draft is the presence of so many potential 1stround QB's (Luck, Locker, Mallett, Newton and now Blaine Gabbert). These QB's could end up creating some serious shuffling (aka trading up and around) by teams desperate for their next franchise player at that position. If that does indeed take place and we get an offer that makes sense, we could be in a position to trade down take a mid-to-late round O-lineman like Sherrod, Castonzo or Carimi and then be sitting with multiple second rounders to trade back up into the late portion of round 1 to get a Rahim Moore at safety (c'mon, did you think I was going to write this post without SOME homer-love for my fellow Bruin??? Did I mention he had 10 INT's as a Junior when the Bruins had a pass rush?) or the raw but immensely talented but very raw Allen Bailey at DE, who looks like the second coming of Bruce Smith. That would change our strategy completely and all bets would be off. Now, I normally don't believe in trading down in the post-Jimmy Johnson era because of countless errors by Lacewell, Ireland and Ciskowski, but this may be the year where we have to look at it because of the extenuating circumstances. So there is my disclaimer...but remember...I'm the boss, so I it's not like I needed one.
And that, my fellow Cowboys faithful is my first shot across the bow on how to get this roster headed back in the right direction. Yes, it's a leaky boat and there's much work to do, but it's not impossible. The good news is that I've turned in my resignation and have appointed YOU the new person in charge. I really only stayed in the job long enough to see the cheerleader tryouts up close and personal and could be a shoulder to cry on for the ones who didn't make the cut (it's amazing how much affection they need and I'm just glad I could be there...for so many of them).
Now, you can approve, modify or scrap the entire plan and provide your own. I'm very busy...
Take your best shot. :-)