Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
What good is the end of a season if you can't hand out some e-hardware?
Hopefully, the sting of last Sunday night's loss has subsided to a dull throbbing for most Cowboys fans. We've already started dissecting the carnage of the 2012 season, as the incomparable O.C.C. has broken down each of the position groups and how their members fared during the year.
Knowing that there won't be very many Cowboys involved in any post season award banquets, I think we should take the time to honor a few of the players that brought us joy, highlights and some good times over the course of the campaign. Without further ado, here are my 2012 Cowboys award winners.
Offensive MVP - Dez Bryant
Bryant was one of the league's biggest snubs in the Pro Bowl popularity contest. I'm even suspecting there was some Mara-Goodell haterism at play that they didn't want to have him involved in the dog & pony show because of the offseason whirlwind he found himself in. The stats can't be denied though. Bryant set career highs in every category in his third year, fulfilling the "third-year wideout" prophecies to a T. Despite a slow start that included uncanny drops and a fractured finger that will require surgery, Dez caught on.
92 receptions, 1382 yards, 12 TDs including one in seven straight games from Week 9 through Week 16. Bryant clearly cemented himself as the clubs Number One receiver moving forward.
Defensive MVP - Anthony Spencer
A second-straight contract year push from the former first-rounder. Spencer was everything except a sack artist in 2011 and he decided to go ahead and finally add that to his repertoire in 2012. To go along with his career high 11 sacks (1/2 sack behind DeMarcus Ware), Spencer led the team in solo tackles and assists. He was second in TFLs and those achievements are before we get into the nitty gritty of the advanced stat world.
Spencer was Pro Football Focus' top ranked 3-4 OLB for 2012. His +23.0 cumulative grade was buoyed by an outstanding 57 stops (keep offense from gaining 40% of necessary yardage on 1st, 60% on 2nd, 100% on 3rd/4th). He was fifth in the league in pass rush productivity, a metric that weighs sacks, QB hits and pressures against rush attempts.
Honorable Mention: Sean Lee
Rookie of the Year - Morris Claiborne
Welp, who else was I gonna go with, Matt Johnson? Claiborne and third-rounder Tyrone Crawford were the only two rookies that got burn the entire season and Claiborne started from day one. Claiborne didn't shine as much as he mostly avoided having really bad days (vs PHI w/ 5 penalties and vs WAS with bad tackling). Cornerback is by far the hardest position on defense to transition to in a rookie year and the fact that he wasn't targeted repeatedly says a lot.
Was he worth two draft picks in his rookie year? Probably not in Year One but you don't draft a player just for a single campaign.
Newcomer of the Year - Nate Livings
Cowboys fans were wondering what in the world Jerry was thinking when he didn't grab Carl Nicks or Ben Grubbs and instead chose Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau as his free agent guard solutions. Well, they were half right. While Bernadeau struggled for most of the year, Livings was at least really good in the run game and decent at pass pro. Could Livings turn into the cheap signing hit like Kyle Kosier was a few years ago? Maybe.
Livings is better when he gets his hands on the defender immediately and isn't built for screens and pull plays, but he does perform what's in his wheelhouse pretty well.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Carr
Comeback Player of the Year - Not Applicable
This should have been DeMarco Murray or Sean Lee... but you kind of have to stay "back" once you come back. Le Sigh.
Disappointment of the Year - Doug Free
Free had a really bad 2011 at left tackle. Really bad. Free's 2012 made his 2011 look pretty damn good. Free gave up 6 sacks and a mind-boggling 15 penalties on the year. It was thought that the move back to the right side would fix whatever ailed Free, including the back injury rumor from '11 that now seems like wishful thinking. To make matters worse, Dallas renegotiated Free's contract, meaning that a decent contract now became detrimental in the salary cap world because of signing bonus acceleration.
Free gave up 42 (forty-two!) QB hurries, 6 sacks and 4 QB hits. Romo dropped back 587 times with Free at right tackle meaning that he basically screwed up 1 out of every 10 pass plays he was involved in.
Chew on that.
Honorable Mention: Tyron Smith
Specialist of the Year - Dan Bailey
Bailey finished the year with a 93.5 kick percentage, going 29 of 31 and hitting all 37 extra point attempts. His only two misses were both from over 50 yards. The funny thing is, this doesn't even come close to describing how accurate Bailey is; every kick seems to be right down the middle of the uprights. I named him "Split'Em" Bailey early last season and he's done nothing to disprove the nickname. He nailed three game winning kicks in four of those situations, proving he has that extra-elusive clutch gene.
Coach of the Year - Matt Eberflus
The Cowboys entered the 2011 season with one certainty in their 9-man linebacking corps; Demarcus Ware is really good. The Cowboys will enter the 2013 season (if they re-sign Spencer) with the best linebacking group in the NFL. In his two seasons with the club, Eberflus has surgically removed the Almost from Anthony, attached "future All-Pro" to Sean Lee's name and made folks wonder if Bruce Carter will end up better than all of them.
When Rob Ryan was brought in to coach up the Cowboys defense, he swore by Eberflus and you can see why. Hell, he was able to get street body Ernie Sims to not be a liability in the middle after the Cowboys were smited with the worse injury bug ever. It's a good thing that assistants under contracts can no longer be poached unless it's for a head coaching job or Dallas might be searching for his replacement.
Honorable Mention: Joe DeCamillis (Oh, so we blame him for Felix fumbling and Dez catching kicks over his head, but he gets no credit for Dwayne Harris' returns and Bailey's kicks?)
So, there you have it folks, my 2012 Cowboys awards. How do you feel about them?