After the disappointment of an 8-8 season for the Dallas Cowboys in 2011, it's easy to forget that as late as week twelve last year, the Cowboys held a one game lead over the Giants in the division and sported a 7-4 record. One of the reasons for the subsequent 1-4 record to close the season and lose the division lead were the injuries that kept piling up at key positions. More specifically, the lack of depth to compensate for those injuries.
The NFL is a war of attrition, and injuries are a part of the game that no team can avoid. That's where roster depth comes in. At the end of the season and in the playoffs, more often than not it's roster depth that makes the difference between winning and losing. Sure, if your team's superstars all remain healthy, then depth isn't much of an issue, but for most teams, depth is a real issue.
The Cowboys seem to have taken this lesson to heart this offseason. If you take a close look at at the Cowboys free agency activities this offseason, you'll see that outside of Brandon Carr, Lawrence Vickers and perhaps Nate Livings, none of the free agents brought in are assured a starting spot. But almost all of them would make some pretty good backups.
Every year, Pat Kirwan, now with CBSsports.com, examines the NFL depth charts right before training camp begins to identify the teams with the best depth. This year, the Cowboys make his list of teams with the best roster depth in the league.
In this year's edition of his look at roster depth across the league, Pat Kirwan identifies ten specific roster positions that are critical for roster depth. The list includes some pretty obvious things like depth for the offensive skill positions (a backup QB, a number two running back, a number three receiver, a number two tight end) but also depth along both offensive and defensive lines, secondary depth (fourth CB, third safety) as well as depth on special teams depth, an area that is often overlooked.
Our own rabblerousr also looked at the Cowboys offseason activities earlier this week, but took a different approach. Instead of looking at roster depth, he approached the offseason moves from a draft perspective, and argued that the Cowboys did a superb job identifying and filling holes that left them free to choose the best players available in the draft without any "must haves".
While you can always argue the quality of the backups the Cowboys have, they certainly look good for a lot of the ten roster positions that Kirwan thinks are critical.
The Cowboys brought in arguably the best backup QB in the league (Kyle Orton). With DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones they have two able running backs. Kevin Ogletree was brought back as the nominal third wide receiver and faces stiff competition for the spot, but like backup tight end, this is probably one of the weaker depth positions. Two guards were brought in to solidify the interior of the line, and while the quality of the eventual starters will be heatedly debated for some time yet, there is some depth there. The defensive line looks so stacked that a couple of starters from last year might be let go, cornerback looks as deep as anywhere in the league if Mike Jenkins stays and the competition at safety for a roster spot is one of the toughest on the team.
Overall, that seems to be better than what most other teams have, at least according to Kirwan:
Kyle Orton may be the best backup quarterback in the NFL and Dallas always puts a premium on that position. Heck, the head coach was a Dallas backup quarterback. Orton alone has to put the Cowboys in the top five teams. Dallas doesn't have the depth of the Patriots, Steelers or Bears but they do have some key backups to go along with Orton. Felix Jones, Pat McQuistan, Marcus Spears, Dan Connor, Orlando Scandrick and Michael Jenkins are a solid group.
That assessment puts the Cowboys in fourth place in Kirwan's top five, just ahead of the Lions.
How do you feel about the Cowboys' depth this year?