The 2011 NFL offseason was dominated by the lockout. It put a lockdown on player movement for much of the spring and summer, pushing many personnel decisions to late July and August (except for the draft). Once player movement began, the Cowboys were one of the "quiet" teams, mainly signing their own free agents and relying on their draft to fill the holes on the roster.
Once training camp/preseason hit, Dallas continued to work the waiver wire to find players they needed, even into the early part of the regualr season. While the organization was busy making moves, they didn't attract a lot of notice from the outside world. It was generally thought if the Cowboys were going to improve on their 2010 performance, it would have to come from new coaching and growth from guys who were on the team last year.
We couldn't have been more wrong.
New players have played a significant role in the Cowboys season so far, and their contributions are impressive. To wit:
Tyron Smith - Part of the new offensive line, the Cowboys look like they nailed it with their first round pick. Smith has been solid, with periods of excellence, and has minimized the growing pains normally associated with a rookie tackle. His upside for the future is huge, and he's already playing like a veteran.
DeMarco Murray - I, along with most of the Cowboys fanbase, was a little shocked when Dallas chose Murray in the third round. Even Murray admits he was shocked by the pick, thinking he was going somewhere else. Dallas may have gotten the bargain of the draft. These past four games for Murray have been hard to comprehend, his ability to execute in all phases of running back play is astounding.
Laurent Robinson - Unbelievably with a roster that has Miles Austin and Dez Bryant on it, Robinson has been the Cowboys most consistent threat at wide receiver. His stats are right there with Austin and Bryant, and has filled in admirably for each when injured. It's hard to think of the Cowboys offense in the first part of this season without Robinson.
Tony Fiametta - The Cowboys new and dangerous running game has obviously been a product of DeMarco Murray and better offensive line play over the last month. But don't discount the contributions of Fiametta, who has been exactly what the Cowboys needed. While the fullback is usually more multi-dimensional in this type of offense, Fiametta is only doing lead blocking for now, but boy is he doing that well. Watch a Murray run, then go back and watch Fiametta throw the block that springs him nine times out of ten.
Dan Bailey - Cowboys kicking woes? Yeah, we've lived with them for years and years, but has anybody been more automatic than rookie Dan Bailey since he missed an early-season chip shot? He's got
19 22 straight FGs made now, and almost everyone one is dead-center of the goal posts. And he's doing just fine on kickoffs, too. When he comes on the field for a kick, I no longer get that queasy feeling in my stomach.
Abe Elam - We don't talk about him much, but that's a good thing. Just think back to how much we talked about safety play over the last decade. Dallas has been undone by poor safety play for season upon season, but this year, Elam (along with holdover Gerald Sensabaugh) are doing just fine. Plus, he's helping implement Rob Ryan's scheme.
And let me throw in a few others:
Phillip Tanner - Sure it's a very small sample size, but the kid looks like he can play. In the few runs he's gotten, he looks like a powerful runner who will move the pile.
Montrae Holland - No one has suffered more abuse than Lumpy. Techinically, he's been a Cowboy before, so he wasn't a pure offseason pickup. But the Cowboys cut him, brought him back, and he's been playing good ball since his return. Lumpy has gone from loathed to loved.
Frank Walker - Okay, maybe a stretch, but with all the Cowboys injuries at cornerback, Walker has definitely helped. He got an interception yesterday, and he plays a lot of snaps in Rob Ryan's nickel package.
Take a look at that list. The Cowboys may have had a "quiet" offseason as far as the league was concerned, but it sure was effective. Kudos to the Cowboys organization for finding players at reasonable pricing that have come in and truly contributed.