Not since 1999 have the Cowboys finished with an 8-8 record and the situation can't be more different. Sure, Larry Allen was playing at his prime level, the Flo was in the flo of his youth, Emmitt still had fuel in his tank and Woodson is still sorely missed. But going into the 2000s the bright spots were too few to make things happen and Dave Campo had 3 years of using smoke and mirrors to manage 15 wins as a whole.
That team had Aikman, but an older Aikman that was protected by a post injury Erik Williams, by an old and breaking down Stepnoski, by some Guards and Flo.
The record is the only thing that's comparable between those team, that team's arrow was pointed down, the current version still has too much talent to be pointed anywhere but up. They have holes? Of course, you can't have the kind of season that they had without 'em, the season of "The good, the bad and the ugly".
The Front Office has a handfull, but they also have the money for Free Agency and a Draft that has a lot of talent and in positions of need, like Guard and CB. So, out of boredom I have a rumination of thoughts:
- Young bookend Tackles playing at high levels, Free had a rough first half of the season that was evident in pass protection and run blocking, but started to come along as the season progressed. Didn't played at the level of his previous year. The replacement of Houck and a true offseason make me think that he's going to come back. Tyron Smith had his rookie moments, moments in which he didn't showed NFL strength or completely fooled by a smarter and quicker opponent, but as a whole he was the best OLineman for the Cowboys in 2011 (which isn't saying much, but...).
- Romo playing like Romo.
- There isn't a lack of good receiving options. If someone would have told me before the 2011 season, that Miles would have injury problems for the whole year and that Bryant wouldn't take that much of a step up over his previous season, I would have said that Romo and Witten were in deep. Laurent Robinson is priority número uno among the in-the-house Free Agents.
- DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones. Back in May of last year I wrote this post: Koolaid? Cool, please; and a couple of months ago this one: The Schematic Advantage of Good Execution on the Run. I don't think that the plan is going to change, they have a couple of Tackles that can drive and zone block and a couple of backs that can run in both.
- Ratliff, the DLine and Ryan. We saw some of the good of what Ryan brings to the table with his schemes. At least a couple of Ware's sacks, once for Spencer and once for Hatcher came in plays where they had nothing but air in front of them. In the case of Ware that speaks volumes of the confusion created by the amount of movement in Ryan's Perpetually in Flux D.
- Sean Lee showing why the team thought so highly of him a couple of years ago. Coverage? Check. Run Support? Check. Toughness? Check. Pass rush? Ok, he has homework in this area and a full offseason to work it out.
- Mike Woicik. The one thing that can be said against the acquisition of one of the best conditioning coaches in the League is that improvements aren't inmediately noticeable. I'm expecting to notice improvements in 2012.
THE BAD AND UGLY?
Too much to be solved in one year, breakdowns in pass protection and run blocking (especially in the middle of the Line), inconsistent pass rush (Ware is a beast, what's inexcusable is that as a whole the team could barely bag the QBs more times 22.5 - 19.5), breakdowns in coverage (LBs, CBs and Ss), inconsistent run support, inconsistent tackling fundamentals, injuries (due to poor conditioning, bad luck or what?), etc.
Looking at all that, I can't help but say this: I don't want to be in Garrett's shoes. Not today and, especially, not tomorrow. There's going to be a lot of revisionists in the next couple of years looking back to what he did in his first 2 years as Head Coach to be worth it. And he has to do a lot of things, including the continued purging of the veterans on the team, the addition of new blood and the development of the the younger guys. One thing working in his favor? He has money to spend, between $20 and $30Ms depending on the veterans receiving the ax.
We're lucky of being fans, we can make the wrong plans and nobody (hopefuly) will remember them:
- Laurent Robinson. But, what's the right price? The guy may not come out of nowhere, he was considered talented enough to warrant a 3rd Round pick and now it's obvious that he has talent. But how much would you offer him. I'm looking at Greg Jennings. A deal similar to his would be what I would offer him and I think that he would take it. 4 years - $26.885Ms that includes $11.25Ms signing bonus and $6Ms in incentives and performance escalators throughout the 4 years. With this kind of deal after 2 years you can walk out and no harm is done and at 28 he would still be at an age for a bigger deal.
- Anthony Spencer. Almost Anthony. 6-7 sacks is what I think of him. If Ware is LT, Spencer is Carl Banks and I think the world of Banks (who, BTW, was selected 3rd Overall in 1984!). But, what's the right price? Robert Mathis is a better pass rusher, but Spencer is more versatile, better against the run and plays in coverage. In 2006 Mathis signed a 5-year extension of $30Ms, that includes $8.1Ms signing bonus and close to $12Ms in additional bonuses, incentives and performance escalators. If you get him to sign for that, I'm all for it.
- Abram Elam. It speaks volumes of what I think of the Free Agency market and the (lack of) talent in the Draft.I'm thinking Bernard Pollard kind of deal in Baltimore (2-year for $2.735Ms) and he's the same kind of player, replaceable.
- Mario Williams. Super Mario. Last season I made myself be heard about the need of a more consistent pass rush... I'm still there. His situation in Houston is complex, his injury meant that Connor Barwin had to take the next step and Brooks Reed was forced in. The result was a success in both instances and it would be stupid to bench either of them for Mario. If you have 3 pass rushers you have to use them. With 2 OLB positions and Barwin and Reed fitting better at OLB, it means that Williams would be forced to be a 5-tech DE. Dallas can offer the same and more. 5-tech DE, 3-4 and 2-4 OLB, 42 DE, 2-man front DLineman with Ware outside him, etc. The thing is: how much is right? A clone of DeMarcus Ware's contract is what I would offer him: 7-years for $79Ms, that includes $20Ms of signing bonus and $2Ms in other bonuses. Ware was 27 when he signed the extension, this year Williams will try to blow out 27 candles. I like it when things make this kind of sense!
- Jason Allen, CB. Solid veteran (29 years old), big, physical. Won't cost much and can do some of the things that the Cowboys DBs struggle with, they aren't that physical. Money? Comparable to Rashean Mathis of Jacksonville, in 2007 he signed a 5-year contract of $25.5Ms with close to $9Ms in signing bonus and other bonuses. Allen is older than Mathis when he signed his deal, so I'm guessing a deal closer to 3-years but similar in numbers per year.
- Barrett Ruud, ILB. Another solid veteran (29 years old). Smart and good athlete. Good in coverage. Used to call the Defense in Tampa Bay. Tennessee signed him to a 1-year deal last year, started the season strong but got injured and benched. Keith Brooking kind of deal 3-years and $6Ms.
Top 3 Rounds Draft prospects:
- David DeCastro, G. Makes me think Larry Allen? No. He isn't even in the same zip code when we talk about power, DeCastro does seems to be better on the move, though. Makes me think: bigger Kyle Kosier. As a rookie I can see him being as good as the Kosier of 5 years ago, which was REALLY good. And him being bigger means that it's going to be harder for DLineman to put him in skates. After a year of NFL training, look out, Steve Hutchinson kind of potential.
- Stephon Gilmore, CB. Big and physical kind of CB, smart, instinctive, most of his experience comes from playing in zones. Less talented but similar to Malcolm Jenkins, who the Saints first used at CB and now plays at FS.
- Peter Konz, C. Right there with Maurkice Pouncey, Alex Mack and Nick Mangold as the best Center prospects to come out of College in the last 10 years. Noticeable thing, they are all taller than 6-4. Height isn't that much of a factor when the OLineman can bend his knees and maintain balance.
- Alfonzo Dennard, CB. Short but strong, a ton of experience in press man, developing kind of player as he isn't sound in his technique. High upside kind of guy, but may require a year of development.
- Dontari Poe, DE. I'll be paying attention to the Senior Bowl and Combine for his performance and athletic numbers (vertical jump, 10 yard dash and bench press).
- Bruce Irvin, OLB. Same as Poe.
- Chase Minnifield, CB. Like Dennard a player that isn't sound in his technique.
- Ben Jones, C. Needs work but more than a capable starter at Center in year one.
- Amini Silatolu, G. Small school prospect, used to play Tackle, but is a Guard prospect in the NFL. Strong and nimble athlete, can do it all. Developing kind of guy.
- Leonard Johnson, CB. Compact and tough, quicker than fast, more of a nickel kind of guy at first.
- Donnie Fletcher, CB. Tall and quick which is a rare combination and speaks of good hips, limited in speed.
- Kevin Zeitler, G. Good run blocking guard, in drive and zones. Developing player in pass protection, can ride skates if bull rushed and isn't well planted.
- Trenton Robinson, FS. Short but nasty, can run and change directions like a CB. Rough.
- Shaun Prater, CB. Similar to Johnson.
- Akiem Hicks, DE. Similar to Vaughn Martin, the Chargers took him in the 4th Round after playing College Football in Canada. Hicks is the better prospect, though, moved to Canada after his recruitment by LSU was the subject of an NCAA investigation.
If you ask me now, this top 3 Rounds would make me very happy:
1) Peter Konz.
2) Chase Minnifield.
3) Kevin Zeitler.
Yeah, I like Wisconsin's OLineman.
Wanna add your pet cats?