Trying To Guess The Off Season Strategy Of The Dallas Cowboys

KD has made a very good point about how things are kind of slow around here, at least as far as trying to find topics for entertaining and informative articles. It's that time of year when we watch the calendar, waiting for the next key date to see what the Dallas Cowboys are going to do to try and fix their problems for last year and get back into the playoffs where the Good Lord and the laws of the universe intend them to be.

So while we wait for the NFL combine and free agency to roll around, and suffer through having the New York Giants and the New England Patriots play in the Super Bowl, we parse and dissect and analyze and discuss. All of it is at best informed guesswork. But heck, we all love to play GM and/or coach for the team.

This is one time when having a couple of outspoken figures like Jerry Jones and Rob Ryan out there gives us some interesting fodder for our imagination. Taking the comments OCC looked at from RR about looking only at defensive backs and the previous statements from Jerry and Stephen Jones about the overall roster, I think we may be starting to get an idea of the strategy the team is going to use in the next few months to put together the 2012 version of the Cowboys.

I may be wrong, of course, but why should I let that stop me?

See if you think I am on to something after the jump.

With RR stating his priority is on the secondary, and JJ making comments about the front seven being the strength of the defense, it is starting to appear that the speculation about players such as Quinton Coples, Michael Brockers and Nick Perry coming to the Cowboys may be somewhat pointless. I don't put much weight on speculation that the statements coming from the GM and the coaches are a smokescreen. Perhaps I am naive to take them at their word, but frankly I just don't see them putting that much effort into deception. If I am mistaken, we'll find out soon enough, but for now, I am going on the assumption that they mean what they say.

If the first pick is going to be on defense, then it looks to be someone like Dre Kirkpatrick, Alfonso Dennard, or Mark Barron. (I am using the draft prospect ranking from CBS as my point of reference here and those guys currently cluster near the 14 slot.) This may change significantly after the combine, of course, but I would bet that if the first round pick goes for a defender, it is going to be a DB, just like Rob said.

The alternative would be a guard or center, under the logic that protecting Tony Romo is going to be key for the team. But since I don't know how that bit of prioritization is going to be handled, I will just say that I would expect the first three rounds to be used to solve the OL and DB issues, and maybe a couple of more picks beyond that.

That means that the team has another approach in mind for the defensive front seven. Either they have some targets in free agency, or they plan to go with the players on the roster after a full off season to coach and train them up, or some combination. I think the main plan is going to be to develop the existing roster. The Cowboys have four young players on the D line, Sean Lissemore (24), Josh Brent (23), Clifton Geathers (24) and Robert Callaway (23), who was stashed on the practice squad. And in the linebacking corps, you have Sean Lee (25), Victor Butler (24), Bruce Carter (23), Alex Albright (24) and Orie Lemon (24). That is a bunch of young guys, and I think the coaching staff has seen some talent there it thinks can be developed. Carter is mentioned as one of the Cowboys 25 and under to be watched by ESPN Dallas, and I like the indications of a youth movement. Now, the argument about just how valuable the off season is going to be for developing players is still going to come up - but I have been hearing some new information about that.

The rules of the new CBA are just now getting sorted out and clarified. I mentioned in an earlier post that the players are allowed to use the team training facilities, although not under direct supervision by the coaching staff. However, each player has been provided with an off season conditioning program that is strongly recommended for them. Also, the Dallas Cowboys do have an official off site training and conditioning location, where the staff has been given information on the program the Cowboys want the players to follow. The only thing still being worked out under the CBA is how much contact the staff at off site facilities can have with the team coaching staff. Not whether they can contact them, apparently, but just how much. Also, many of the outside trainers have some experience on NFL staffs.

This essentially seems to mean that the players now can be training and conditioning for the entire off season, and doing it in a way that closely conforms to the team strength and conditioning program. Given the statements from JJ and RR, I infer that this means that the team thinks it has players already on the team that will allow them to put a better defensive front on the field next season.

The opposite of the youth movement is aging players. Keith Brooking (72, I think) is almost certainly at the end of his career, and Bradie James (31) is getting there, too. DeMarcus Ware (29) obviously is not a concern yet because of his age, since he is still one of the premier pass rushers in the league, and it seems likely that Jay Ratliff (30) still has a year or two left in the tank, as do Jason Hatcher (29) and Marcus Spears (28). Kenyon Coleman (32) may or may not, but that question does not have to be answered right now. His future, and Spears', will likely be decided in OTA and/or camp.

Anthony Spencer (28) is a bit of an uncertain quantity as a free agent, but I am suspecting more and more that the team will resign him if the price is not too high. I think he is fulfilling his role in the Rob Ryan defense better than many think. If there is any upgrade coming in the pass rush, it may be in free agency, but it does start to sound like the team is not all that unhappy with what it already has to work with.

Since I'm talking about ages here, this is another argument for the focus Rob has on defensive backs. Terence Newman is 33. Frank Walker is 30. Abram Elam is 30. Older usually means slower (definitely with Newman) - and slower and defensive back are not two things that go together well.

So Rob's comments make a lot of sense to me. The team has at least three DBs that need upgrade (and Alan Ball could count as a fourth, although he may still have a chance to stay with the team as a backup). The free agent crop does not look terribly promising, particularly at safety (not that the draft is much better there). But the cornerbacks do look good for the draft, so this could be to the secondary what last year's draft was to the offensive line.

Speaking of the offensive line, I have already said that I expect to see at least one pick go that direction, as the team has to decide what role, if any, Montrae Holland, Kyle Kosier and Derrick Dockery have. I would not be surprised to see two picks used here during the draft, depending on what moves the team makes in free agency.

There is also one other question to be answered, and that is how will the team replace Jon Kitna? I do think Stephen McGee may stay with the team, (Jason Garrett seems to like him, at least partly because he does well as the scout team quarterback). The team may look to free agency, and it may even look to trade for a current backup with some NFL experience (not an older guy, but a younger one with some developmental potential) if it is something reasonable, like a late round draft pick. Just some kinda informed speculation, but I am waiting to see what moves the team might make in that area. I am starting to think they are not looking to draft a quarterback this year, but you never know what might happen in those late rounds.

So there is some rampant speculation for you. I look to see the first four or five picks go to fixing the secondary and O line. Then in late rounds the team will be able to do some BPA or perhaps project drafting. And right now, I think many of the faces on the defensive front seven may be familiar to us next year. The offensive line is going to get some help, likely through both free agency and the draft, and the offensive skill positions are largely set, pending how the Laurent Robinson situation is resolved.

That's my theory. Today, at least. Who knows what I'll think after a good night's sleep?

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