The best Cowboys writer on the internet (in my opinion, for what it is worth), OCC just published a post referencing the PFF grades for qualifying Cowboys players. What jumps out is the dearth of talent Dallas has at critical positions.
Assuming that winning is the goal of NFL franchises, players that have the greatest impact on winning a game should be in the greatest demand. Using what the top five players at each position get paid in order to determine the demand placed on players according to position, the following order of importance is established:
|Position||2013 Franchise value|
|QB||$ 14.64 million|
|DE||$ 10.98 million|
|CB||$ 10.67 million|
|WR||$ 10.36 million|
|OL||$ 9.66 million|
|LB||$ 9.46 million|
|DT||$ 8.31 million|
|RB||$ 8.08 million|
|S||$ 6.80 million|
|TE||$ 5.96 million|
|K/P||$ 2.93 million|
The following are the top Cowboys players from the 2013 campaign:
|2013 Cowboys Positional Rankings
Tight end is the position that is in the lowest demand within the NFL outside of kicker or punter. Either there are a great number of tight ends on the market, affecting demand through high supply, or tight ends have very little impact on winning or losing.
The top performing player on the Cowboys according to PFF grades is a tight end. While Witten is an outstanding person and player, he has little impact on wins and losses.
Defensive tackles rank 7th out of 11 positions delineated by the collective bargaining agreement. While Hatcher had a great year, his impact was below average on wins and losses. Furthermore, it is doubtful that he will be wearing the star in 2014.
DeMarcus Ware will also likely be elsewhere in 2014 unless he chooses to accept a pay cut. The average salary of the top five defensive ends is just under $11 million. Ware is scheduled to make $16 million in 2014 and is outside of the top five defensive ends in production as well as determined by PFF.
Sean Lee's position is roughly in the middle of the salary demand range, as linebackers are the sixth highest paid group. The player ranked just below Lee, Murray mans the 8th most demanded position.
The greatest issue with Lee and Murray is that neither seems to be able to play 16 games due to injuries. Neither player has played 16 games in a season since entering the NFL.
Despite the great expectations, Dez Bryant barely made the cut as an elite player with the Cowboys. He has had injuries the last two years that have affected him but not removed him from the field. The WR position is the second most important position on offense, behind only the quarterback.
Whether blaming Bryant for underperforming, the quarterbacks for failing to get him the ball, or the offensive philosophy/coordinator for not utilizing him correctly or enough, Bryant's performance needs to be in the 90th percentile, rather than barely achieving the 80th percentile.
The offensive line, ranking in the top half of positions that impact winning, is well represented, with Smith and Frederick making the top 20 percent of all players playing their position. Free, Bernadeau, and Waters were graded as players of NFL starting quality. It seems obvious that this is a strength for the Cowboys moving forward.
Conversely, there are no cornerbacks to be found on the Cowboys that rank within the top third of the league. Thanks to a banner season by Scandrick, ranking him within the top 40% of the NFL, Dallas avoided having nary a cornerback ranked within the top half of the league.
Cornerbacks only rank second in importance behind defensive ends. Dallas will likely enter 2014 without a quality defensive end, a quality cornerback, and a quality defensive tackle unless a prodigy is found in the draft. If form holds, Sean Lee will miss some games due to injury, leaving Dallas with Scandrick, Church, Carr, Selvie, and Wilcox as slightly below average players starring as the Cowboys' best defensive players...again.
Here are other players OCC has reported as ranked per PFF:
|2013 Cowboys Positional Rankings
Despite being paid higher than the average of the top five quarterbacks in the league, Romo barely made the top 30% of signal callers in the NFL. As the position most intimately associated with winning, it does not take much imagination to extrapolate why Dallas has been 24-23 under his leadership the last three seasons.
Combining Tony Romo's no more than starting quality performance with a defense littered with below average NFL talent, it is almost amazing that Dallas has been no better, or worse than a .500 team since 2011.
Many of the players listed as underperformers and red flags are relatively young, and may improve in the off season, but nothing is guaranteed. The cautionary tale of Carter and Hanna, who appeared to have turned the corner in 2012 but played horrendously in 2013 should be highlighted.
Williams had a solid rookie season, but needs to develop as a route runner and improve his hands. Claiborne needs to stay healthy and improve his performance. Leary may be replaced by Waters or an incoming rookie if he fails to improve.
It is doubtful that Miles Austin will return. As with Romo, Ware, and Carr, Austin is overpaid for the pathetic productivity provided in 2013.
Bloated salaries with miniscule outcomes is a theme with the 2013 Cowboys, as Spencer and Ratliff could be added to that list. It is a good thing that the GM has a strong relationship with the owner of the team.
The money wasted on underperforming or missing players precludes the acquisition of quality depth, which in turn magnifies players missing time due to injury. Missing on an entire draft, and adding but a few players in the subsequent draft robs the team of young, cheap talent.
It is difficult to understand how this team is constructed. The least valuable position has the best player. The most important position makes money commensurate to a franchise quarterback but performs outside of the top ten (12th).
The second most demanded position is manned by an overpaid, over aged, and underperforming defensive end that will either agree to a pay cut or be playing elsewhere in 2014. Orlando Scandrick, who has a habit of coming up small in big moments is the best player in the third most essential position on an NFL football field.
Injury ravages the linebacker positions and starting running back annually. There is only one receiver ranked in the top 60% of the league as per PFF, and there are 21 other receivers that are ranked higher than Bryant in the league according to PFF.
Heading into 2014 Dallas will likely lack a top ten quarterback, a defensive end of starting quality, a cornerback in the top third of the league, and a wide receiver more productive than what is found on more than half of the teams in the league. There will probably not be a starting quality defensive tackle nor a starting quality safety playing for the Cowboys entering 2014. The team will have an excellent linebacker that will miss games due to injury, and an elite running back that will join him on the bench for stretches of the season.
Fortunately, Jason Witten is consistent and will play through almost any malady and Dan Bailey is consistent! I am certain that will be what Jerry will be peddling after Bailey signs a $40 million contract for 5 years...