Heading into the offseason this year, it wasn't exactly a secret that the Cowboys needed help in the secondary. And the Cowboys weren't shy about confirming it. At the Senior Bowl end January, the Austin Chronicle' s Alex Dunlap quoted Rob Ryan, who briefly outlined his focus:
"I’m only looking at DBs. Nothing else. DBs."
For a team to be this open about its strategy is a little unusual. Unless it was all part of a carefully constructed strategy of subterfuge, obfuscation and skulduggery of course. In Rob Ryan's case, it obviously wasn't, as he got himself lots of shiny new toys in the secondary with two draft picks and two free agent pickups.
That leaves Jerry Jones, who also addressed the press during the Senior Bowl, where he was remarkably clear about the direction the Cowboys were going to take from a personnel point of view. More chicanery and duplicity from the owner himself?
After the break, we review what Jerry Jones told us he'd do almost six months ago, and what the Cowboys actually ended up doing.
Jerry Jones on the core Cowboys personnel:
"Personnel is not an issue in my mind overall relative to us having a good team next year. I think we're going to have - an do have - a core base of personnel that is going to get us there. And again, I say that because I like where were coming back with at our skill positions on offense."
What the Cowboys ended up doing: Outside of Brandon Carr, the Cowboys didn't bring in any big-name free agents, an indication of their belief in their 'core base of personnel'. Names like Mario Williams, Calais Campbell, Carl Nicks and other big-name free agents haunted this and other boards for months, but ultimately the Cowboys' free agency strategy was about adding players to increase competition on the roster and complement the core personnel they believed they had.
However, Jones was careful to talk only about the offensive skill positions in the quote above, and addressed the offensive line separately:
Jones on the offensive Line:
"We've got tackles who will do better and we'll look and see what we'll do with some of the young guys in the middle of our offensive line.
In personnel, we may have gotten a little overzealous with some young players in the middle of our offensive line. We have to make sure that not only do we give them a chance to grow and progress but that we also have in there the kind of protection we want in the middle for Tony.
I'm into not squandering the prime years of Romo. So we want to make sure we give him every opportunity. And protection is one of those opportunities. And we'll work hard on that in the offseason.
We like Costa, now. But it's a question of combinations in there. If you look at size, if you look at things like that you've got to be careful before all of them are like that, size wise or experience wise, as opposed to having 40% of them like that. So it's more about the mix in there."
What the Cowboys ended up doing: At the end of February, the Cowboys announced that they would move Tyron Smith to left tackle and move Doug Free back to right tackle for the coming season. That didn't come as much of a surprise.
What did come as a surprise for some is that the Cowboys' analysis of their O-line issues pointed to the play of the guards as the main area of weakness last year, and not necessarily the center position. "We like Costa" Jones stated in January, and not much has changed in that assessment since.
The Cowboys brought in two free agent guards, but despite multiple quality free agent centers being available, the Cowboys decided to stick with the man his teammates and coaches call 'Bulldog'. And even though it's become quite the fashion to rail, rant and rattle on about Costa's shortcomings (pun intended) the Cowboys today look like they think Costa can be their guy.
Also, another development that went quietly unnoticed: On the first day of the draft, the Cowboys signed backup tackle Jermey Parnell to a three-year contract with a $1 million signing bonus. Next time you draw up a 53-man Cowboys roster, put Parnell's name down in ink. That signing bonus is a big clue right there.
Also, Jones makes a point about how the young guys in the middle of the line all look fairly similar: Costa (6-3, 316, 24 year old), Kowalski (6-4, 301, 23), Arkin (6-5, 307, 24) and Nagy (6-3, 299, 24) all look interchangeable, and it's not unlikely that at least one of these guys will not make it out of camp.
Jones on the Skill Positions:
"We're not starting out at quarterback, we've got a competitor there. We like a lot of the skill people that we've got around him."
"We think receiver is a real strength position of ours and we've got a couple of younger guys that we're real proud of."
What the Cowboys ended up doing: They resigned Kevin Ogletree and brought in Danny Coale via the draft, and despite losing Laurent Robinson, they appear content to let the young guys battle it out for a roster spot. The latest word is that Andre Holmes may have a leg up in the competition, and you can't help but like the Cowboys' receiver line-up if Holmes wins out:
Lots of things can still happen in camp, and having nine receivers battle it out for three roster spots should provide for an interesting camp. Notice how Jones said he's proud of the 'younger guys'. Jesse Holley is already gone, and it's probably going to be really tight for Kevin Ogletree as well.
Jones on the Secondary
"I feel good about Scandrick, I feel good about a player like Jenkins. It's not a given, but it wouldn't be a surprise for [Abe Elam] to be on the team.
Over in the secondary we will likely get better and we will very likely get new faces over there. How many, I can't tell you, but we'll have some new faces."
Rob Ryan got his shiny new toys in the secondary.
Jones on the Defensive Line
"We had a couple of young guys that played pretty good in the interior [defensive line] that we're excited about.
Our front is one of the strengths of our team."
What the Cowboys ended up doing: They didn't change much in a unit that they and many observers consider a "particular strength of the team (Football Outsiders)". The Cowboys brought Anthony Spencer back, albeit only for a year, and they drafted Tyrone Crawford.
Jones on the Defense in general
"We will get younger [on defense]. Now that's not to say we won't bring in a veteran or two, but we'll get younger."
What the Cowboys ended up doing: Good bye Keith Brooking (36), Abram Elam (30) and (30). Good luck Kenyon Coleman (32) and Marcus Spears (29)?(33), (31),
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