This is the final edition of a 3 part series on how we may be witnessing the very early stages of a new Cowboys - let's not call it a dynasty, but a window being opening. In Part 1 we explored how the Cowboys have the youngest collection of high-caliber skill position players in the NFL, creating a new core that can last for 10 years. In Part 2 we looked at how the front office may be playing a 'long game' that can net the Cowboys many more draft picks than other teams to fill out its roster. In Part 3 we will explore how factors around the Cowboys could help place them on the launching pad for post-season success.
Bill Parcels was famous for refraining that the goal of a team needs to be just getting an invitation to the tournament. Many fans and media members agree with this line of thinking, pointing to the 2007 Giants team that bested the undefeated Patriots as evidence that it doesn't matter the seeding, getting into the playoffs and then "getting hot" is all you need to do.
Homefield advantage matters in the NFL. Las Vegas has put a number on the value of playing at home, it's 3 points. When you have a big game you want it to be in your home stadium and what game could be bigger than a playoff game? Unfortunately, if you are a wildcard team you are forced to endure 3 straight road games to get your shot at the Superbowl. In the last 10 years there have been 20 teams that made it to the Superbowl. Out of those 20, a mere 3 teams have been wildcard teams.
If the Dallas Cowboys want a good chance of making it to the big dance simply getting into the tournament isn't enough.The Cowboys want some home field advantage - they want to win the division. What are the long-term prospects for winning the division? Let's look what the competition's Superbowl windows look like for the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons.
Superbowl Window: Where's my cane? Is Matlock on tonight?
Many are used to thinking of the Eagles are a young team with youthful faces in Desean Jackson and LeSean McCoy but the truth is they have an old core. Mike Vick, Jason Peters, Jason Babin, and Namdi Asomugah are already over 30 years old with Trent Cole rolling his odometer over to 30 mid-season. As the Redskins seemingly re-discover every year, teams full of 30+ year old vets look good on paper but fall apart during the season. Indeed many comments from Eagles fans are immediately familiar to Cowboys fans. Namdi Asomugah just had a hard time last year and is poised to bounce back (just like 2011 Terrence Newman) and sure Mike Vick has taken a lot of injuries but he still has a lot of tread on those tires (just like 2010 Marion Barber). The Eagles put together this 'dream team' to make a now-or-never run at a title. 2012 has to be the last year that they can count on this group playing at a high level. When we're forecasting for 2013, 2014, 2015 the Eagles are at risk to have shaky coverage, a leaky left tackle, a pathetic pass rush, and a brand new face at QB.
Superbowl Window: We’re going all in this year! What do you mean we're 7-9?
The only thing worse than having a 'dream team' that's going all in on one year is to go all in for zero years. As if Dan Snyder's management wasn't enough to keep the Redskins misfiring, two fateful decisions have slammed the Superbowl window shut on the Redskins before it even opened. The first is the Robert Griffin III trade. The cost of adding the Baylor QB is that the Redskins will have no 1st round pick in 2013 or 2014. Ask yourself, how would the Cowboys look today without Tyron Smith or Morris Claiborne? Orlando Scandrick at RCB and a UDFA in the slot, Doug Free staying at LT and Pat McQuistan at right tackle? That sick feeling in your stomach from that thought will be the Redskins' reality over the new few years. Redskins fans might note that the draft isn’t the only way to add talent and ask about the possibility of improving their team through free agency. But what they don’t realize is how wrong they are. Adding injury to injury, the dark cloud of Rodger Goodell shut down that possibility in the second fateful decision of this off-season. With the removal of $35 million in cap space from the Redskins, they are left without the capital to lure free agents to their team. The Redskins cannot add high quality talent through the draft and they are hampered from adding it through free agency. Robert Griffin III may be a good QB but not even Tebow magic could turn 5-11 into a division champion on its own. More mediocrity ahead in 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Superbowl Window: We can only hope more of their players will Plaxico Burress themselves
If a team is so good that it wins the Superbowl, why do so few teams repeat? The reason windows close on these Superbowl champions is due to age and free agency. Typically Superbowl champs have a disproportionate amount of key players in their primes. On the one hand this is a good thing as it means the players are playing at the highest level of their careers enabling a championship victory. The downside, however, is that there is nowhere to go but down and we’ve seen this recently where teams like the Colts and Steelers lose their bite. The Giants are, annoyingly, not fitting into this trap. On a ‘normal’ team, the aging of Osi and Tuck would signal the closing of the window but, damnit, they’ve got a guy named Jason Pierre-Paul behind them that is every bit the terror of the aged veterans. Indeed the Giants have a very healthy mix of veterans and 1st contract players giving a nice even age distribution throughout their starting lineup.
The second killer to superbowl champions is free agency. The players on a superbowl team get overvalued and the 31 other teams conspire to lure away key pieces with insane contracts. Cowboys fans know something about this with Laurent Robinson getting taken off the roster by Jacksonville Jaguars stupid money. With the Giants, the free market came in to take Brandon Jacobs, Mario Manningham, and Aaron Ross. Again, though, the Giants are well positioned to handle this situation. The team feels even better about Terrell Thomas returning from IR to replace Ross, Manningham was an afterthought in the receiving game to Nicks and Cruz, and they spent their 1st round pick on an RB upgrade. Looking forward, the team has almost all its players under contract until at least the 2014 season, giving it ample time to sign extensions, massage the salary cap, and keep the team together.
Unlike the old Eagles and “all
or for nothing” Redskins, the Giants are well positioned to contend over the next 5 years.
The great news here is that with the Eagles set up for a decline and the Redskins able to only play spoiler in the division, the Cowboys have a great opportunity to step up and take leadership on the NFC East over the next 4-5 years. It is true that the Cowboys will face a stiff challenge from the Giants but this isn’t the AFC West here, this is the BEAST we’re competing in! Besides, let’s not overstate the threat of the Giants. Even with the flawed 2011 “Terrence Newman Cowboys” team we were one completion to Miles Austin away from stealing the division title.
Things are looking very good for the Cowboys long term. As we peer towards 2013, 2014, 2015 and beyond we see a team that will have a very young core of skilled players (LT,WR,CB), who works the long game to add unique advantages such as extra draft picks, and who will be offered the opportunity to seize division championships as the jumping off points for Superbowl runs. Tthis is the beginning of a new era of Cowboys supremacy.