What Do The Cowboys Have To Replace This Year?

It's a big void to have to fill, but not the only one facing Dallas. - Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Taking a different look at the needs Dallas is trying to address.

The Dallas Cowboys are getting their first look at their draftees, UDFAs, and a bunch of other guys who are hoping to beat some long odds and earn a paycheck in the NFL. There is a lot for the team to do this year, with the loss of players like DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. But the names involved only tell part of the story.

I got to thinking about the fact that Dallas went through a bunch of players last year. The big story was the seemingly endless parade of defensive linemen they had to try, but that is not the only place the team has to find some replacements. With several players already gone from last season, I thought I would take a look at how many actual snaps the Cowboys have to replace.

I used Pro Football Focus to get the number of snaps taken by each unit, and then multiplied those snaps by eleven to be able to look at any given player's contributions. I think I got all the adding and stuff correct, but I apologize in advance if any numbers are off.

We all know the team has issues with defense. One of the telling things about the numbers I came up with was that the defense spent way too much time on the field. As best I can tell, the offense took 1,025 snaps total in 2013, while the defense was on the field for 1,175 snaps, or exactly 150 more plays. Those nine extra plays a game add up over the course of a season. It represents at least one more drive, on average, for the opponents to score. That in itself is a clear confirmation that the defense could not get off the field enough, and the offense couldn't stay on it.

I then added up all the snaps that were taken by players who are already gone. These represent plays that Dallas has to find someone to take, regardless of who winds up starting or as a backup. It does not count plays that will likely be lost as veteran players lose their roster spot to rookies or free agents. It is just the minimum that has to be covered. (The number of snaps here represents all eleven positions on the field at a time.) I also broke out the three defensive units.

Total Off. Snaps 11,275
Snaps Lost 961
Percent of Total 8.5
Total Def. Snaps 12,925
Snaps Lost 3,217
Percent of Total 24.9
DL Snaps Lost 2,602
Percent of Total 20.1
LB Snaps Lost 414
Percent of Total 3.2
DB Snaps Lost 201
Percent of Total 1.6

Some details in these numbers:

  • Most of the offensive snaps lost are for Miles Austin and Brian Waters. They total 877, or 7.8% of all the snaps the team has to replace offensively. The rest is pretty much bits and pieces. That makes the selections of OT/OG Zack Martin and WR Devin Street as the only offensive players taken in the draft supremely logical. The Cowboys have now most likely covered the only significant losses on offense.
  • The draft also matched up almost exactly with the needs on defense. By round, position and sequential order, Dallas took 2-DE, 4-LB, 7-DE, 7-LB, 7-S, 7-DT, 7-CB. When you include the four free agent DL that have now been signed (with the addition of Amobi Okoye), then you see how the priorities were addressed. The Cowboys may have said they were not drafting for need, but it would have been hard to align draft picks and need more clearly than they did.
  • The 20.1% lost snaps just on the defensive line really hammers home what Dallas lost when Ware and Hatcher left. Regardless of how well they could have been expected to play this season, they left a literal gap that the team had to place a big priority on filling.

So the team has basically filled those holes, assuming they have enough rookie and free agent talent in place. Now anyone else they lose will hopefully be to upgrade the quality of play. For instance, one player who is going to be challenged heavily for his roster spot is Nick Hayden, who took more snaps than any other rushman, but who also had very bad reviews (Pro Football Focus gave him the second-worst grade of all nose and defensive tackles in the league). That would strictly be to upgrade, which is better than signing someone just to fill the position. 2013 saw the Cowboys doing exactly that. Because they were having to deal with so many marginal players on the D line, they were having to do it the entire season.

Now they have the positions filled. Instead of just trying to get enough players to field a team, the Cowboys can focus on getting the best team on the field that they can.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB
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