Free agency is far from over. Despite the early flurry of acquisitions, the Dallas Cowboys still have some things to fill in. In particular, the two notable losses by the team, Laurent Robinson and Martellus Bennett, leave the team with some question marks in the offensive skill positions. The team will be looking to find answers for those questions through more signings and/or the draft.
But maybe there is another answer already in place. In an article at the mothership, Josh Ellis (who I seem to be getting a lot of ideas for articles from lately) brings up the idea of using the good old "I" formation more.
There's depth uncertainty at tight end and wide receiver following the loss of Laurent Robinson and Martellus Bennett in free agency. While the Cowboys could very well address those needs through free agency and the draft, the offense's "best 11" at this very moment would be in the "21 personnel" grouping.
To indulge in a bit of nostalgia, think of Emmitt Smith following Daryl Johnston into the hole, or Troy Aikman going play action to Michael Irvin, Alvin Harper, or Jay Novacek out of the same formation. Now sub in DeMarco Murray, Lawrence Vickers, Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, and let your imagination run loose.
A closer look at the idea after yon jumperoo.
The key to the idea is getting the "best 11" on the field. Just to review for a minute, the 21 package referred to is two running backs and one tight end. As Ellis points out, while Dallas had Bennett and his exemplary blocking skills on the roster, along with a very effective wide receiver in Robinson, there were very good reasons to go with the 12 package, putting one running back behind or alongside Romo with two tight ends. The next best option was the 11 personnel set, which had three wideouts. These two sets put Dallas' best offensive talent (counting Bennett in his blocking role) on the field.
Now, even with no additional signings, the 21 alignment puts your best players out there. Last season gave us a look at what the team had when DeMarco Murray and Tony Fiammetta were both healthy. With DeMarco coming back from his injury and looking to be back at or very near top form, and with Vickers likely to have fewer health problems than Fiammetta, the team has a solid running threat.
But the formation does not just offer a running game. It is also a great formation for the play-action pass, since the defense will have to account for that run, leaving more one-on-one opportunities for the wide receivers. The Cowboys have the benefit of unpredictability. It is the classic chance to take what the other team gives you. Romo makes his read and can audible if needed. If the other team puts eight in the box to keep Murray in check, he can go over the top or hit his security blanket, Witten, coming across the middle. And Felix Jones is just as effective, with his ability to get out of the backfield in a pass pattern or taking a handoff if the defense is playing to stop the pass.
This can have effects on the strategy for the draft and the rest of free agency. With this as a possibility for the team's bread-and-butter formation, there is not as much need to find an immediate answer at the third wide receiver or second/third tight end position. This, I think, puts the team in a better stance to go for best player available. The offensive line can be shored up, the defense can get some line help or more depth in the secondary, and Dallas will still have a very potent offense. It could even bring a player like Trent Richardson into play in the off chance he should fall to fourteen in the first round, since it would give outstanding depth and the ability to keep putting fresh legs on the field. It also might allow them to look at a Michael Floyd, with the same effect.
It is also a great approach for the hurry-up offense. The team does not have to change out personnel as much, and can handle just about anything but third and very long well with this one set, making it harder for the defense to change their player packages out.
With the options for replacing Robinson and Bennett being whittled down (Adam Schefter tweeted that Ted Ginn Jr. has re-signed with the 49ers, taking one possibility off the table, although not one I was ever big on), the classic I formation may be the future for the Cowboys' offense. If executed well, that could be a good thing.