Ok it's time to get a bit controversial -- even get in a few folks faces -- metaphorically, of course.
There is no Herschel Walker trade that's going to take this franchise from being the definition of mediocrity since 1997 when it comes to wins and losses (not talking fan bases, media coverage, or stadium size here). There is no blowing up the core of this franchise and starting over, no matter how painful this offense has looked since the Giants game. Besides, how'd that work out for the Denver Broncos in trading/cutting Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall? Not so great for Josh Daniels and the Broncos a few years later, but it's starting to look good for the Bears.
Besides, if BTBers are going to criticize Jerry Jones for thinking he can take a bunch of JAGs and just one top 100 draft pick and turn them into a Super Bowl winning offensive line, then it's only fair BTBers ditch their our own illusions of repeating the trade of our lifetimes in the modern, rapidly evolving NFL. In other words, it's time to stop daydreaming about trading away our franchise QB or pass rusher, or one of our top two receivers (and no, until he returns to 2011 form Dez Bryant is not going to net even the two third rounders that the Dolphins got for Marshall, and we're not trading away Jason Witten with his recently busted spleen either). No young prospects we may get for the later than you think round picks that would be conceivable for our offensive core is going to dull the pain of losing for multiple seasons while this franchise tries to replace the key pieces.
Read a cold hard look at the 'blow it all up and start over' meme after the jump.
WHO DO YOU WANNA TRADE? YOU CAN'T REBUILD TRADING AWAY THE FUTURE!
First of all, who do we have on this roster that other teams would really love to have? Let's start on the defensive side of the ball. There's Sean Lee, a stud who should be about to make his first Pro Bowl. We're not trading him. Bruce Carter is showing signs he could be almost as good as Lee, which is pretty darn good if not quite Pro Bowl level. Both along with Carr and Claiborne are basically the core of our young and talented defense that should give every Cowboys fan hope if not for this year, then for a deep playoff run in 2013 followed by a Super Bowl win in 2014.
Looking at how much faster Rob Ryan's defense has been ‘fixed’ or at least solidified compared to the slower pace of improvement for the offensive lines and the regression of our receivers, I’ve had to move my timetable for a return to greatness back by a year or more. But this is not a problem unique to Dallas’ and the Boys recent decade of o-line drafting ineptitude -- Green Bay’s defense in particular has shown flashes of improving to 2010 form while the o-linemen at Lambeau have unquestionably regressed.
WHY WE CAN'T MOVE ANY OF OUR DEFENSIVE STARTERS THIS YEAR
Looking at our stock of talent, of course, there's Demarcus Ware, the most consistent pass rusher in the league. At 30 years old the Cowboys have started managing his snaps -- something perhaps the Boys should've done before his scary neck stinger suffered during the 2009 season against San Diego but didn't have the backup talent behind him or a reliable enough secondary to do under Wade Phillips.
In any case, Ware isn't going anywhere since no team can afford his contract, not even the hard luck Dolphins or Colts who still have a fair amount of cap room (and I see Indy making a bid for Purdue product Anthony Spencer's services next spring). So whether we could get a first or a second for Ware from a contending team like the Patriots or Ravens before the deadline is irrelevant. We’d just be trading away 30% (if you count drawing double teams, really 50%) of our pass rush without any replacement in sight. And would Ware take a massive pay cut just to win a ring with a team other than Dallas? No way.
Anybody else on defense who would net a high draft pick? Jay Ratliff at his age and with his injury problems? Our younger defensive linemen who’ve yet to shine? Spencer who's on the last year of his deal and could be had in free agency without a draft pick? Or Mike Jenkins, who is the only reason our secondary won't fall apart if (heaven forbid) one of our three starting corners goes down this season?
In my mind, trading Jenkins at this point (especially after the injuries at safety) would be an admission that this team is already throwing in the towel for the playoffs. When you consider how the mighty have fallen across the NFC in the guise of the Green Bay Packers or even our own up and down division rivals, which would be inexcusable at this point. I am NOT making excuses for Dallas by pointing to other teams struggles, merely being what many of the gripers claim to be -- a realistic fan.
THE LEAGUE WIDE AFFLICTION OF BAD OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
It’s time to take a sip of what sexylilkitty and ScarletO are having and realize the Cowboys are not god-awful in spite of two melt down games out of four played this year. They’re simply not good at blocking right now in a very parity-driven league full of mediocre to poor offensive line play. And the bad o-line play is being exacerbated by a flat salary cap. ScarletO has estimated that if every team stacked their o-lines with top 10 picks or free agents like Carl Nicks, they'd need a $200 million salary cap -- or more. The solution I’ve proposed is to turn the practice squad into an inactive reserve so teams can cultivate more o-line depth in case of injuries. The league has already made the IR rule more flexible too to hold out hope that at least one offensive linemen injured in the preseason could come back for a playoff run. But other commenters, some of whom have spent much more time around real pro scouts than myself (which is to say, more than zero) say this would only further dilute the talent pool and lead to more hapless Jamarcus Webbs getting victimized for four or five sacks a game.
Clearly, the solution to that problem is not to blow up the offensive or defensive talent you have -- even if it’s getting older (look at how well the Bears 'old' defense has come together after years of knowing where the other guys are going to be on the field -- gambling on jumping routes is much easier when you can trust your safety help and have no running game to worry about). The solution is to change how you draft and how you groom offensive linemen, which necessarily involves many games on a steep learning curve.
THE 2010s ERA OF SWARMING, TWEENER DEFENSES
As I’ve observed in the previous FanPosts, it’s dawning on people as they survey how many sacks previously good lines like the Packers gave up that we may be shifting from the 2000s era of the Playstation quarterbacks to the 2010s of ridiculously athletic (rather than massive up front, i.e. like the Ravens), swarming defenses. If that’s the case, teams are going to be even less inclined to trade high draft picks for a franchise savior or playmaker at one position, unless they’re completely desperately for a quarterback like the Redskins were in 2012. Instead they’re going to want to be on the receiving end of the picks bounty, the better to build a contending defense like Jeff Fisher is doing in St. Louis even if you whiff on a pick or two.
CAN THE NEXT EMELIANENKO PLAY BLOCKING TIGHT END?
So long as a team has good pass rushers and solid to exceptional corners, you can afford to whiff on drafting wide receivers, backs, tight ends, interior defensive linemen or linebackers here and there. Contrast this with the seemingly wild imbalance in the ratio of talented offensive linemen around the league to fast-rising defensive linemen and you have a recipe for the whole league rethinking how it approaches the draft. Indeed, it will be interesting to see if the practice squad/roster size rules aren’t changed how teams will go about developing a pipeline of ‘dancing bears’ outside of the existing collegiate ranks, where o-line coaching appears to be poor. Instead of pining for the days of the Cowboys being able to fleece other teams in trades ala Jimmy Johnson, perhaps BTBers should help Jason Garrett take a page from Tom Landry finding talent for the NFL in other sports. Maybe the Boys should seek out the bigger Aussie rules players for blocking tight ends to help our tackles. Or massive Russian defensemen hockey players or MMA fighters who could bulk up to play tackle or center -- I'm quite serious.
THE 2013 DRAFT - THE TRADE OFF BETWEEN FIXING THE OL AND KEEPING THE DEFENSE GOOD TO GREAT
Would I love to have two first round picks in 2013 and a high second to solve the safety (since Barry Church got hurt), outside linebacker and center/guard problems all in one draft? Sure. Would I entertain offers to move Miles Austin for a first? You betcha. But those offers won’t come, and we all can agree as to why. Even for QB desperate teams like the Chiefs or QB needy teams like the Bucs or Raiders, the question is why trade for a soon to be 33-year-old Tony Romo when they could draft Geno Smith out of West Virginia or Tyler Wilson (as late as the middle of the 1st) out of Arkansas instead?
INCENTIVES NOW ALL POINT TOWARD "FRANCHISE HOPE" ROOKIE QBs
Nobody’s saying any rookie QB is going to be better than Romo out of the gate, not even Andrew Luck, who’s had big wins but also beat downs this year. But from the perspective of cap space, the future and even selling seats in Oakland or Kansas City Geno Smith would be better, as we’ve already seen with the RG3 phenomenon in D.C. The Redskins may not be a good team yet but they're no longer terrible and now have a chance nearly every game Robert Griffin III starts, just like Romo gives us a chance to upset the Ravens in their house this weekend.
So other than a quasi-plausible trade for Miles Austin (and again, even the Dolphins chose to go with the bad receivers they have instead of trading for someone this year, which tells you all you need to know about how much teams value a previously marquee position) -- who’s left to trade for picks to start over? Nobody. The only truly plausible trades this team could perform are those it already has shown hints of doing this bye week --- i.e. moving Felix Jones for a mid-round pick before GMs conclude the Cat’s career may be done and seeing what Lance Dunbar can do as our change of pace back/return man.
So ditch this talk of quick fixes, it’s all getting tiresome. ROM
E O wasn’t built in a day and neither will a Cowboys championship, which I STILL believe we will see before a 37-year-old Tony Romo retires (even if Ware or the Senator won't be on the field to hoist the Lombardi). If this same team were playing our 09’ or 10’ opponents I don’t think we could squelch the Super Bowl talk around here at 3-1. But the league changed, our competition simply got tougher, and now we have to change with it.
The good news is with our talent at linebacker and corner we're already halfway toward building a championship defense, we just need more secondary depth, more pass rush from Spencer's spot and more rush from our linemen up front. Since outspending the competition under the salary cap is out, adding more scouts, more eyes and ears at LeCharles Bentley’s school for offensive linemen, more guys off the street who might help us, and more out of the box thinking in terms of positional tweeners/athletes, ranging from Barry Church SS/LB types to Tyrone Crawford DT/DE players who make the 3-4 or 4-3 base formation debate largely irrelevant.
I may not think that Jason Garrett can correct enough of the mental errors to take this team to the playoffs this year. But I do think he’s capable of making the changes necessary to make us a contender in 2013. And wasn’t that the knock on a certain cerebral head coach of the Dallas Cowboys back in the early 1970s, that he was always coaching next year’s champion?