Overall, one of the reasons I have been so optimistic about the Cowboys prospects in 2013 is because there is a LONG list of things I have been very enthusiastic about. Not all has been perfect, however. There has been one thing in particular where I continue to wonder -- what are they thinking? If they fixed it, I think the team would have a shot at going all the way to the Super Bowl this season. And it still could be fixed, which only makes it MORE maddening.
Even so, with all the great things that have happened, I've picked Dallas to go 11-5 and win the NFC East.
Enjoy the list, and add your own.
MOVES (and other things) THAT I HAVE LOVED
1. Firing Rob Ryan. A bad fit from the beginning; the blowhard has never led a good D. Good riddance.
2. Making Jason Garrett a walk-around head coach. I wrote a highly rec'd post on why this is good for Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys. Increases his authority and focuses him on what he does best -- team building.
3. Dez Bryant's intense focus on becoming the best WR in the NFL. Romo to Bryant could become an unstoppable offensive force, requiring teams to spend so much effort against it that everything else in Dallas's offense will work. And they still won't stop Bryant.
4. Hiring Monte Kiffin to run the D. The 4-3 is a much better fit for Dallas's personnel, and Kiffin will mold it into a top-10 D in year 1 and every other year he's here. Not just in points, but in yards allowed. He'll also lead a turnover renaissance in Dallas. It has already begun in preseason.
5. Hiring Rod Marinelli to coach the rushmen. If you worried about Kiffin's age or energy levels, reuniting him with Marinelli should dispel those concerns. His guys will get after the QB and he also knows how to coach turnovers.
6. Drafting Travis Frederick and keeping him at center. The Oline remains the achilles heel of the Dallas offense. The Beard gives us a solid presence in the middle, and he's quickly assumed a leadership role in making line calls. Nabbing an extra 3rd round pick with the deal was a bonus.
7. Sean Lee is healthy again! What a difference he's going to make.
8. Demarcus Ware is healthy and added 10 lbs of muscle. Look out for D Ware. The great DE's like Reggie White and Bruce Smith had fabulous years after turning 31. Ware might set a new standard.
9. Bruce Carter is back! And he's playing the perfect spot in Kiffin's 4-3. He's going to be a difference maker.
10. Extending Tony Romo. Not the best contract for a guy of his age. But it had to be done. Please, please give Romo a better O-line so he can work his magic under less pressure.
11. Barry Church is back! SS was a nightmare for us last year with McCray and street free agents trying to fill in. Church gives us much better coverage to go with solid tackling skills.
12. Miles Austin's hamstrings are good! Dallas may have finally figured out how to keep the racehorse that is Miles Austin from burning himself out. A healthy Miles is going to make teams pay for shading to Dez's side all the time. He probably won't reach his career high of 1,320 yards and 11 TDs, but I see him passing his second-best year of 1,041 yards and 7 TDs.
13. Lance Dunbar's got juice! Even with more RB competition, Dunbar established himself as the change-of-pace #2 guy early on. The 47-yard dump off pass and run against AZ was a thing of beauty (except for the fumble and the foot injury). Reaching the edge on backfield runs will also stretch the D. He's going to be a dangerous weapon.
14. Hiring Bill Callahan to call plays from the booth. Callahan introduces some unpredictability into the Dallas O. His pre-season committment to the run helped us in both wins without sacrificing the vertical passing attack. The new wristband system has speeded up play calls. Look for our points ranking to finally catch up to our yards ranking with a more efficient offense.
15. Keeping Anthony Spencer. Having to tag him again wasn't the best, but this is much better than what the alternative would have been, especially now that Ratliff is on PUP. We haven't seen his impact as a DE yet, but he's going to be stellar rushing the passer all the time.
16. The development of Ron Leary. It remains to be seen if he can stay healthy for 16 games, but it's great to see a younger more mobile guard with good power on the line. Given the injury to Livings, Leary's progress has helped avert what could have been a disaster.
17. Getting Doug Free to accept a pay cut and a new attitude. Free has shown dramatic improvement at tackle, and didn't embarrass himself at guard. If he stays at tackle, he'll probably be a better fit than Clabo or Winston would have been. He may actually finish out his contract in Dallas.
18. Benching D. Murray for fumbling and missing a block in the dress rehearsal game. Mistakes and turnovers have plagued Dallas for years, and they've usually been committed by the starters. It's about time for Garrett to send a message that there will be consequences. One can only hope it takes.
19. Extending Sean Lee's deal. Had to be done. Contract offers some protection to Dallas if he can't stay healthy. Knock wood that he will.
20. Keeping Jerome Henderson and Matt Eberflus, adding Gary Brown for RBs and Derek Dooley for WR and Frank Pollack at OL. Henderson and Eberflus are great coaches, and the new guys are beholden to Jason Garrett. Might be the best coaching group since the Jimmy Johnson days, but they'll have to prove it by making the playoffs and winning there. Rich Bissacio is the lone question mark.
21. Getting Terrence Williams in the 3rd round. This guy was one of the best receivers in college last year. He gives us a deep threat that will make teams pay for rolling their coverage to Dez, Miles, and Witten. Only time is needed to perfect his chemistry with Tony Romo.
22. Finding George Selvie and Nick Hayden. Without these guys, the DL depth would be a crisis. As it is, these guys should be able to provide enough rotational support to keep the D intact.
23. Finding Holloman in the 6th round. With 2 interceptions already and a near sack-forced fumble, this guy looks like a playmaker.
24. Signing Will Allen at safety. A perfect free agent fit. Knows Kiffin's scheme. Cheap and servicable as a starter for a year. Graded much higher than Sensabaugh by PFF last year.
25. Signing Justin Durant for SAM. Another solid placeholder signed at a modest cost. Much better than the Connor signing in 2012.
26. Moving Kyle Wilber to DE. Looks like a much better position for him than OLB. Turns what could have been a draft bust into a useful backup.
27. Drafting Joseph Randle. Doesn't have the speed of Murray or Dunbar, and Jonathan Bates doesn't like him for that reason, but he finds the holes, is durable, and seems capable of leading the running game if Murray gets dinged up again. I expect we'll see a lot of him if the team can establish decent leads.
28. Drafting JJ Wilcox. There was some opportunity cost of taking Wilcox in the 3rd round, but Dallas needs a starting safety to replace Will Allen by next year, and given Matt Johnson's early propensity for injuries, they needed some competition for that job. Early returns have looked promising.
29. Drafting BW Webb. CB depth is essential as we've seen with Mo being hurt in the preseason. Webb is still a rookie, and looked overmatched early, but his pick off Cincy's starters showed perfect positioning and awareness, and unlike Scandrick, the hands to catch the ball!
30. Cutting Lawrence Vickers. I wrote a long post arguing why I thought Dallas would keep him given all the plays run out of 21, 22, or 23 personnel. The problem was that Vickers didn't really boost the running game last year like Fiammetta had the year before, so this became a logical cost-cutting move.
31. Finding Brandon Magee and Jeff Heath. Dallas has done tremendously well as finding talent in the UDFA ranks. These are the two most likely to make the team, and if they do they will fill valuable roles.
32. Signing Dante Rosario. With the decision to jettison Lawrence Vickers, it was critical to have a TE who's blocked out of the backfield. We'll see how Rosario does in that role. The good news is he's an experienced pass catcher. This presumes he makes the roster over a better blocker like Andre Smith.
33. Cutting Gerald Sensabaugh. Sensi rated as the 65th safety last year by PFF. Cutting him made way for Will Allen, and saved the team money. A wise move.
MOVES (and other things) THAT I HAVE HATED
1. Not ponying up an extra $1M to sign Brian Waters (or not moving early enough and with enough money to convince Brandon Moore to sign). Waters would be the best free agent signing for Dallas in many many years given how much he would upgrade the right guard slot over using Mackenzy Bernardeau or Doug Free there. He would instantly be Dallas's best O lineman. I don't think the failure to make this move will cost Dallas a playoff spot, but it could keep us from being able to handle SF's or Seattle's D lines in the playoffs, if we play them. Given all the fantastic things that the team has done this offseason, and the lip service paid to needing to continue upgrading the line before and around the failed Moore signing, trying to sign Brian Waters on the cheap and failing rightfully qualifies as INSANE.
Waters may be 36, but with Pro Bowl appearances in 2010 and 2011, helping both the Chiefs and Patriots into the playoffs and the Pats into the Super Bowl, he would be a DRAMATIC upgrade, going a long way toward shoring up the biggest weakness on the team.
2. Drafting Escobar in the second round. I don't hate Escobar. He may even provide Red Zone and move-the-chains value this year. And he may develop into a competent starting-level TE if he outlasts Jason Witten. But he came at a very high opportunity cost, when Dallas is in desperate need of quality depth for the aging D Line. Spencer and Hatcher will be free agents next year, and Ratliff is likely to be cut, leaving 3 D line starting positions open and not a lot of money to sign replacement free agents next year. I think Escobar was a luxury that Dallas could not afford.
How much worse, for example, would our tight ends be if we had Witten, Hanna, Rosario, and Smith? With Smith, we'd actually have one good blocker, and Rosario could handle the pass catching role if Hanna can't.
That's actually the only beefs I have until final cut downs to the 53-man roster. If they decide to cut Matt Johnson, I think this would be a mistake, and would list it as #3. if they keep Alex Tanney instead, I will add that as #4.