After the painstakingly long off-offseason--how else should one refer to the frustrating 100+ day lockout?--football is back, and the brunt of the Cowboys roster moves and free-agent signings have been completed. In other words, school is out, and the grades are in! Let's see if Big D avoided some big D's in its offseason report card.
I know it's a long read, but that's the only way I could address the offseason with what I thought was a substantial amount of depth.
I'll keep this section as brief as I can. I could, and many people have, written lengthy fanposts assessing the Cowboy's draft. Aside from that, many pundits think it's complete hogwash to grade a draft before those players take the field. I'm not sure I necessarily agree with that, but I'll just assign a general pass/fail grade to this section anyway.
photo found via 310sportsmarketing.com
"Stand and deliver." It's a movie title, a great suggestion for both athletes and musicians, and exactly what the Cowboys did in the first round when they selected Tyron Smith. They may have attempted to see what value they could get for the number 9 pick, but in the end they took the young (younger than this 21 year old fanpost-writer!) freak-athlete tackle from USC. I'm glad they didn't get cute here with this pick--I've been quietly begging for years that the Cowboys address an offensive line that made even Al Davis look like a young-gun.
Smith will immediately step in and make a big difference on the right side of this line, replacing a heart-filled but oft-injured Marc Colombo. Hudson Houck was quoted as saying that if he could build the prototypical NFL tackle, it would look exactly like Tyron Smith. Smith is raw, and the only thing he lacks is experience and the know-how that comes with years manning the outside of an offensive line. Thus far in camp, Smith has shown he'll be a more-than-capable starter his rookie season, and his work-ethic will ensure he builds on whatever success he has this year.
There are some who didn't like this pick, citing reasons such as, "You don't select a right tackle with a top ten pick!" How many teams can say, with confidence, "I just picked up a guy who's going to be a bookend on our line for at least the next decade"? Few. Besides, I don't think the Cowboys could have gotten a day-1 starter, which they so desperately needed at tackle, at any other place in the draft or free-agency. Tony Romo can breathe a sigh of relief and know that, for the first time in years, there is no glaring-weakness along his offensive line. I know I swore off letter-grades for this draft, but the Tyron Smith pick gets an AAA+ grade from me (which is more than we can say about the federal government's credit rating).
Following the Smith pick, the Cowboys selected Bruce Carter in the second round. Cowboys fans everywhere had a collective moment of déjà vu with this pick, being told that, due to injury, their team had picked up a "first round talent" at inside linebacker in the second-round. I was out working on my horrid golf game with some buddies on day-two of the draft, and I must admit: my already weak drive didn't get any better when this pick was made. I think Bruce Carter is a great athlete and has the potential to be a wonderful starter, but this pick puzzled me. The only sure-bet at ILB this year is Bradie James. Behind him on the depth chart is a young stud in Sean Lee, who is no sure bet to stay healthy himself, an aging and diminishing Keith Brooking, and now another injury-prone young guy. The high-risk, high-reward gamble that Garrett made here, taking (another) injured linebacker in the second round rather than a Brandon Harris or Rahim Moore, killed my golf-game that day.
DeMarco Murray was a headscratcher for me as well, but as weeks passed, I saw just where he'd fall in on the depth chart and started to like the third round choice more and more. I think the David Arkin pick in the 4th round will turn into one of the great steals of the draft. He's raw, but so far he's looking incredible for a 4th round guard who came from small-time FCS Missouri State.
After the 4th round? Far too early to tell. It's questionable that the Cowboys didn't do much to beef up their defensive positions of need (safety and defensive end), but there were some really solid selections here. Pass.
When the lockout lifted, the Cowboys immediately got down to business to try and clear up some cap-room. Over the past 5 years, Jerry Jones has really done his team a disservice by not getting much return on the money he spent killing the Cowboys' cap-space. With the salary-cap being drastically lowered to just over 120 million, some space needed to be cleared just to get under the cap, free-agency aside.
Leonard Davis: Bigg has been a solid contributor on the Cowboys offensive line since he came here from Arizona in 2007. He's a "big" man, but unfortunately for the Cowboys, he didn't have a work-ethic that lived up to his nickname. He got lazy on the field in 2010, and his quality-of-play suffered so much that Coach Garrett evil pulled him from the starting line-up at one point. Though the depth he leaves in his wake leaves little to be desired (here's praying Arkin keeps improving), cutting Davis was a no-brainer. B+
Marc Colombo: This move was another no-brainer. For years, Colombo had been a solid-contributor and the heart-and-soul of the Cowboys' offensive line. With his knee problems, however, Colombo remained a huge liability, and was most-certainly NOT worth the cap space he was taking up--especially since Tyron Smith renders him an insurance-policy. It was simply Colombo's time. A-
Marion Barber: Marion Barber was a sure-bet to get cut. If there was ever a progress-stopper for the 'Boys, he was it. Because the coaches still believed in his fast-fading ability to be a hard-nosed runner, the talented Felix Joneswasn't given an opportunity to "start" until the second half of the 2011 season. With Felix Jones, DeMarco Murray,Tashard Choice, and Lonyae Miller in hand, Barber (for all he's done for this team in the past) is the highly-paid odd-man-out. A+
Roy Williams: Of all the cap-victims, Roy Williams was certainly the biggest name and perhaps the most controversial of all. Dubbed a "progress killer" by many Cowboys fans, the cutting of Williams gives an opportunity for
duds young guys like Ogletree to prove they belong on this team. While the number 3 receiver is only the 4th passing option on this prolific Cowboys' offense, I still question letting a talented (though underproducing) guy go with only some unproven gentlemen manning the 3rd receiver role in his stead--especially for the price. Cutting Williams saves the Cowboys some cap money this year, but they lose some talent at a position that before had no question marks, and it will cost them dearly in cap dollars when 2012 rolls around. I was hard on them here merely because of cap-room and the currently-unfilled void, but I could have been much harder. C+
Overall Grade: These cuts needed to happen, but I can't help but wonder if one or two of them were a bit premature. Would Williams or Davis have renegotiated their contracts to stay on for another season? Jerry killed our cap situation, and cuts needed to be made to save it... But we face the 2012 season with over $20 million in dead money because of these cuts. Not good. B-
Defensive End: Defensive end was almost as much of a concern as safety--not because of the quality of the starters, but because of the number of them. Igor "the Dancing Bear" Olshanksy was the only player who received significant play-time locked down for the 2010 season. The Cowboys signed a rock-solid Marcus Spears to a very manageable contract (the fear was that he would want to be paid Chris Canty money), so this move alone merits an A- from me.
Kenyon Coleman, another starting-caliber player and Rob Ryan man was locked down by the Cowboys to a manageable contract, which merits positive grades from me as well. I think he'll supplant Olshansky as the starter sooner rather than later, with Sean Lissemore pushing for more playing time as well.
Which brings us to Hatcher vs. Bowen. Hatcher underperformed what many Cowboys fans hoped he could be in the time he saw on the field in 2010. Bowen, however, showed flashes of greatness in rushing the passer in 2011, and wasn't bad at stuffing the run either. I dont' think Hatcher staying was a bad thing, but letting Bowen go? And to the Redskins?! Unfathomable. He'll play us in a very motivated way twice a year, when he should be playing for us in a very motivated way for 16 games. The fact that the Cowboys signed others to manageable contracts was their saving grace here. B-
Offensive Line: Doug Free signs a team-friendly contract that allows him to cash in a bit later. Kyle Kosier gets re-signed. Crisis averted. These are two guys that the Cowboys needed, and getting them both back, especially at a reasonable price, was a major sigh of relief. *A+
*(Editors note: it was pointed out to me by tanstaafl that giving Free's re-signing an A+ and Smith's drafting an AAA+ isn't exactly equitable--and I agree. I don't want to imply that Smith is better news than Free
Safety: I'm glad I'm young and healthy, because the safety situation coming into 2011 is enough to give any Cowboys fan fits and heart-palpitations. Alan Ball was absolutely horrible and lost playing free safety, and Gerald Sensabaugh wanted big money elsewhere. The two starters before FA acquisitions? An injured 4th round sophomore who had yet to go through an NFL offseason (Akwasi Owusu-Ansah) and Barry Church, an undrafted sophomore special-teamer. It's no small wonder Cowboys fans were dying the death-of-a-thousand-cuts as each day passed in free agency without a free agent signing.
photo found via www.dallascowboys.com
The front-office stared down each of their free-agents. They knew they were in cap-trouble, and the market-price for safeties was to pay more than the guy was actually worth. In the end, Jason, Stephen, and Jerry won out. Sensabaugh signed his third-straight one year deal, worth $2.5 million. Abram Elam signed a contract for the same length and amount. Honestly, any free safety that contributes at all is a marked improvement over simply fielding 10 guys on defense, as it seemed the Cowboys did last year. Elam knows Rob Ryan's system, and he'll be a stable-contributor in the defensive backfield. My one concern is that next offseason, we'll be playing the safety dance that we did this year: both starters (Elam and Sensabaugh) will be free agents, and again we'll be hunting for safeties--but this time, it'll be with $20 million in dead-money. Scary. This fact alone forces me to downgrade a potentially higher grade to a B.
Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins to Eagles: Say what you will about the Nnamdi sweepstakes, it was a part of the Cowboys' offseason. They made a serious push to get the best free-agent cornerback we've seen in quite a few years. He would have made a consistent addition to the Cowboys' secondary, and he came at a price tag that was much cheaper than what many originally anticipated. Even so, the Eagles swooped in (no pun intended) at the very last minute and, in a twist-of-fate moment, locked up Asomugha. The presence of Asomugha may have made the cap a little tighter, but Jerry asserts that it would not have rendered us incapable of signing safeties. Honestly, I wish the Cowboys could have either kept one of these guys from going to Philly or driven up the price. Instead, the Eagles get the two biggest names of the offseason, and one at a relative bargain. Hard to stomach having to play them twice a year, but perhaps it's better than paying both. B
Overall Grade: The Cowboys passed on some pricey free agents, but two of the bigger names went to their division-rivals, and they let one young budding star in Stephen Bowen go to yet another rival team as well. The took care of the safety situation (for another year), though they put off the inevitable. They shored up some areas of weakness for some areas of consistency, and banked on their already-present talent to produce in a big way. For a solid, yet unspectacular free-agency, the Cowboys get a solid, yet unspectacular B.
The Cowboys felt they already had a lot of talent on the roster, so they only needed a few solid-yet-unspectacular free agency, RKG signings. They accomplished just that. For sticking to merely filling the gaping holes on their roster, I have to curve their grade up ever-so-slightly. They did what they needed to do, and picked up some solid contributors this offseason. The prospects look good with a new coaching staff, a retooled offensive line, a defensive-line disaster averted, and a new face manning the safety position. However, the Cowboys dug themselves into an even worse cap-hole in 2012, which really hurt their grade. All things considered, the Cowboys earned themselves a solid B+. Not bad.