I know we want to say it every year, but this year really is the most important off-season in quite some time for the Cowboys. There are a ton of decisions to makes, and there is a lot on the line. If we make good decisions, we can easily bounce back next year and make the playoffs. If make some poor decisions, we could be stuck with another bad year, and we could screw ourselves for the next few seasons. I know that free agency and the draft are obviously the two biggest ways to address our needs, but there is one other area where the Cowboys need to succeed.
The Cowboys MUST be able to evaluate the talent on their own roster. This is an off season where many changes will be made, but we have to be able to keep the right guys and get rid of the guys who need to go. This is much easier said than done. Michael Lombardi, former NFL GM and current NFL network analyst, says that evaluating your own talent is the hardest thing to do as a GM. This is why I wish we had a great personnel man at Valley Ranch. Our history of evaluating our own talent has been so frustrating as a fan. How is it that Tashard Choice is buried on the depth chart behind Barber? Choice does nothing but produce, but it seems that nobody at the ranch notices. Miles Austin was great last year, but it took an injury to Roy Williams for him to get in the starting lineup. After watching him perform in practice, nobody thought he was better than Crayton? Two years ago the coaching staff thought that Brad Johnson was a capable NFL backup (Garrett's call). How was Alan Ball made starting free saftey? Nobody saw him in practice and on film and thought, " this guy will struggle as a starter...we need to upgrade here." Also, we have gotten rid of guys like McQuistan who went on to get quite a bit of playing time for the Dolphins this year. Did anybody see the NFC defensive player of the week? Erik Walden, former Cowboy's draft pick was killing for Green Bay last week. These are just a few examples, and I'm sure I'm leaving some out.
I know that it is hard to do, and we will not be perfect at it, but we have to get it right in the off season. What do we have with the current guys on our roster? Who helps you win and who doesn't? I think the Cowboys need to factor in attitude in addition to the player's football skills. This team has seemed way too laid back and soft at times. This team always acts as if they have done something before they have done anything (remember the '08 season?). We need to get rid of guys with a sense of entitlement and fill the roster with hungry, hardworking players. Garrett is going to do his best to get the most out of these guys, but he needs to get some negativity out of the locker room first. A few bad apples can spoil the bunch. Williams and Barber are two guys that come to mind with their attitudes. MB3 had some great seasons with us, and I appreciate all he gave us. But it is time for him to go. He had to be the one to challenge Garrett's dress code in his first game. I'm so sick of him over celebrating for a 3 yard run. I'm sure there are a few other guys in the locker room who bring some negativity around this thing or try to undermine Garrett's leadership. We need to get rid of these guys, and we need everybody on board with JG.
We also need to be able to evaluate the young players on our roster. We might not have that many young studs ready to take over as starters (thank you '09 draft), but we do have youth on our roster, and we need to know what they are capable of. We have a ton of holes on this roster, so we won't be able to fill all of them in the draft or free agency. Hopefully, some of the younger guys on the team can step in to certain roles. Can any of the young guys start for us next year? Who knows...that's something the Cowboys need to figure out. Maybe some of them might develop into starters in a few years and could be key backups/ special teamers next year. What we need to do in the draft could change depending on what we think of these guys. For example, what do we think of AOA? We all loved him coming out of the draft last year, and we knew 2010 would be a learning year for him. Last year we thought he could develop into a starter at some point. Do we feel that way about him next year? Backup? Bust? We have no clue, but we have to hope the Cowboys make the right decision with him. If we decide he could be a good starter, that means that FS isn't as big of a need in the draft. Same with OL. We tend to think of the OL as a huge need (and I feel that it is too), but we need to know what we have in Sam Young and Phil Costa. Do they have any future in the league? Potential to start next year (probably not)? Potential to start in a few years and be a reliable backup next season? At this point we don't know, but how we evaluate them will affect our draft. If the Cowboys think very highly of guys like AOA and Sam Young, maybe our draft needs are different than what we think. What if the Cowboys are tired of Anthony Spencer who is entering the last year of his deal. Maybe they would love to look for his replacement in the draft. These are just some random examples I'm throwing out there, but you all get my point.
In summary, this off-season will consist of three phases : Free Agency, the Draft, and deciding which guys to cut or resign on our current roster. I feel like evaluating our own roster is one of the most important yet least talked about, and the decisions we make about our own roster obviously affect what we do in FA and the draft.
PS- Remember that free agency can't start until there is a new labor agreement in place. I hope this happens before the season, but it probably won't happen before the draft, so we probably won't know what FA we will sign until after the draft.