Tony Romo's leadership and talent is a key to the success of the Dallas Cowboys for the immediate future. But his career won't last forever, and the solution for that is likely to be on the agenda after this season.
In Part 1 of this look at the long range strategy of the Dallas Cowboys, I talked about the partnership of Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett and some of the things I think that they have accomplished so far. I also alluded to the fact that the concept they have is for an ongoing process that will have the team in a constant building mode, where the team is not just constructed to win in the current season, but is also constantly bringing in new players to keep the team successful year after year.
The team has taken significant steps to correct the issues that faced Jason Garrett when he took over in the middle of the 2010 season. But every year there are new challenges. While I am very optimistic about the 2012 campaign, there are some things that need to be looked at for the following years. I believe that Stephen and Jason have a long range plan for those issues. Of course, I cannot read their minds, but I do think I can come up with some pretty reasonable projections of what they will be looking at after the coming season draws to a close.
In this installment, I'm going to talk about the offense. I will go through and look at each of the different units, right after the jump.
Offensive line. Perhaps no part of the team has seen as much work as this. The 2011 draft was largely dedicated to fixing this, as was a good part of 2012 free agency. While it is too early to say things are solved, there is a good basis for saying that it does look good. With the flipping of Tyron Smith and Doug Free, starting tackle seems set. The interior of the line seems much more in flux, but the news out of the first week of OTA is encouraging. The silver lining to the Mackenzy Bernadeau injury is that David Arkin is getting work, and Bill Nagy is now getting a look at center. If things don't go totally awry, it looks like the only thing that is still in question is depth at tackle. The team seems to have a lot of faith in Jermey Parnell, but he is such an untried quantity, that this may be something for next year, unless one of the UDFAs steps up and proves a pleasant surprise.
The large number of O linemen carried on a team does offer a good opportunity for the churn that JG5000 is fond of. If the team can come up with good starters and three or four reliable backups, they can always keep looking for more young bodies each year to find improvement. This does not work as well with all positions, but with many linemen having the ability to play two or even three positions in a pinch, this should not be a panic situation once that solid foundation is laid. The team seems to have made huge strides in that direction.
Wide receiver. The two starters are set, but with the loss of Laurent Robinson, the surprise star in the third slot, the team has nothing but question marks after that. The good news is that there is a passel of young players, both rookies and veterans, who are vying for the rest of the wideout slots. I am one of the people who is fairly confident that the team is going to be able to find a solid third receiver, or perhaps go with the committee approach. One name that keeps coming up is Andre Holmes. He seems to be emerging from the background, and Jerry Jones and the coaching staff all seem to have some good things to say. I mention him just as an example for how the team does not seem overly concerned about the answer for that third receiver/backup to Dez Bryant and Miles Austin question. And of all the positions on the team, this is the one that can most be helped by the churn factor. There will always be competition for the last slot or two, and the Cowboys seem to be doing a pretty good job of making sure that the competition is good.
Tight end. Here is the first real issue, as I see it. The incumbent starter is one of the two current players on the team that will certainly be attending an induction ceremony in Canton, Jason Witten. The question is how long does he have left? And with the departure of Martellus Bennett, the team has no assured third tight end. John Phillips seems certain to fill the second slot, but the only candidates for that last position are sixth-round pick James Hanna and UDFAs George Bryan and Andrew Szczerba. Unless someone emerges as a long range answer this year, and I really am not very confident in that, I think this will be one of the priorities for next year.
Running back/fullback. I think the team is comfortable with the top two RBs, DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones, and think that Lawrence Vickers is going to do a good job leading the way. But judging from the reactions in the war room during the draft, the team was planning on taking Cyrus Gray until he was plucked ahead of them in the sixth round by the Kansas City Chiefs. The evidence is that Jason Garrett is going to depend on a good running game in his offense, and, once again, unless Phillip Tanner or one of the UDFAs emerges as someone who can step in should Murray or Jones go down, this will likely get some more attention next year.
Quarterback. Here is an interesting case. Tony Romo is the man, and deservedly so. The Cowboys acquired Kyle Orton in free agency, and now have a backup that will ensure a relatively small drop off in performance if he is needed, at least compared to the majority of NFL teams. But the third position is one of total uncertainty. Stephen McGee inspires scant confidence as having a future, and the only other possibility is Rudy Carpenter, not exactly a sure thing. There is a lot of speculation that if McGee does not suddenly blossom (unlikely) or Carpenter does not turn out to have significant potential (again, not a high probability), the team may not even keep a third quarterback on the roster, given what Orton brings to the table.
This would look to be the number one priority going forward, finding an heir for Romo. He may well have years of high level play ahead of him - but relying on him, no matter how much faith the team has in him, is not the best course of action. Just look at what happened to the Indianapolis Colts when Peyton Manning went out due to neck problems. I, for one, don't want to see the Cowboys selecting first in the draft, unless it is with someone else's pick.
The good news is that the early analysis of the 2013 draft class shows a number of highly regarded quarterback prospects. On the CBS website, there are nine signal callers rated as first- or second-round picks. It's a quarterback-rich class and the Cowboys could be players in it.
That is how I think the brain trust at Valley Ranch is looking at the offensive side of things. The top three priorities going forward are quarterback, tight end, and running back, roughly in that order. The great thing is that none of these are things that need to be done to succeed this year. All are things to work out for the future, and one or more of them may resolve itself with the emergence of someone unexpected, such as Lance Dunbar at RB. The big thing, the thing that makes me have so much optimism about how my favorite team is being run, is that they are manageable problems that can be taken on with some planning and foresight.
It sure beats the snot out of what we were looking at a couple of years ago.
Next up, a look at the defense.