It’s time to look at the roster in detail in anticipation of the upcoming free-agency period followed by the draft. I’ll be doing a series of these evaluations over the next weeks broken down by position.
Before I get into it, I’ll explain how I approach this process. I do look up some statistics on the players but I don’t provide a list of them for each player and I don’t base my evaluations solely on stats. Sure they play an important role but stats can be twisted and manipulated in all kinds of ways to show what you want them to show. I know some people are fans of the new stats developed in the last few years that turn football into something resembling baseball, where stats are king and are used to a degree that I’m not totally comfortable with - football is such a team sport that individual stats are not the whole story. I don’t discount them out-of-hand, but they are only a component of my evaluations.
I try to rely more on what I saw in my film reviews. To me, watching the tape of players in game situations is the truest way to evaluate their performance. I also rely on what I’ve seen in training camp over the past couple of years.
I try to keep my personal biases, positive or negative, from affecting my evaluations. This is the hardest part. Everybody has their own ‘pet cats’ that they’ve grown attached to and that they’ve been advocating for on the blog or on message boards. Sometimes it’s difficult to go back now and basically say ‘I was wrong about player X.’ I’ll try to overcome that hurdle the best I can.
I’ll also remind everybody that it can feel like I’m personally attacking one your ‘pet cats’ and that can cause some very strong reactions in the comments. I know that is to be expected but I just wanted to say it’s nothing personal against your guy, it’s just my best evaluation based on what I saw during the season.
At this early point in the offseason schedule I won’t be advocating cuts, benchings or replacements because we don’t even know what free-agents will be available for the Cowboys to pursue. I don’t like to say I would cut player X without having a serious replacement in mind that I think would improve the team. I might make recommendations or suggest an alternate plan on occasion, but for the most part I’ll try to leave that path as open as possible until we know exactly who is going to be available to us in the offseason.
On to the evaluations. I’ll start with the QB position, because that always seems to be the logical starting point when discussing a team’s roster.
Starter: Tony Romo – We do know one thing about Romo, after signing the big contract during the season, he will be our starter for years to come. There are so many things that Romo does well that it’s hard to believe that he isn’t an elite NFL QB. He has the kind of leadership and charisma that inspires his teammates to believe in him and play for him. He has shown on multiple occasions that he can turn a bad situation into a positive one on the field and that keeps the team believing they’ll win the game no matter the score. This is a very big quality for a QB to have and Romo has it. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s there nonetheless. Physically, he has what it takes. He can make all the throws that are required of elite QB’s and his legs and improvisation skills allow him to make plays that a lot of QB’s can’t make. He did a better job this year with ball security and his big-play ability is something all QB’s covet. He also matured in the area of managing a game and reading the defense, although he probably will get better in this department just based on game-experience as his career progresses. Basically, Romo has most everything you’d want in a starting QB.
But there’s a problem. For two straight years Romo’s play in Dec/Jan has not matched his play in Sept/Nov. It’s hard to pinpoint the reasons why, but in the crucial stretch runs of a season he hasn’t performed to the level that we’ve expected. Maybe it is just youth and game-experience and that can only come with time. Outside influences like bad defensive play in ’06 and the thumb injury in ’07 could have played a part. As the QB and the leader, he must overcome whatever obstacles are put in his way. The true measure of a QB is how he performs in the most important games and so far Romo has had very mixed results in those situations.
As much as I like the kid’s skills and moxie, I’m suspicious of the late-season letdowns. I’m still a huge fan of his play and still believe that he will prosper in the playoffs and lead this franchise to greater glory down the road, but until he does it, questions will surround him. He has to be able to consistently perform at a high level throughout the entire season and into the playoffs instead of starting fast and finishing slow.
Brad Johnson – Since he hardly played there’s not much to evaluate this season. Going back to his history, his reputation is a game-manager. He’s the kind of QB who won’t provide the spectacular play, but supposedly won’t hurt you by making mistakes. His arm-strength is questionable, especially as he ages, and his mobility is limited, to put it kindly. He’s the kind of guy who you tell: get the ball in the hands of the playmakers and get out of the way. He’s also a guy who is definitely at the end of his career and can’t be counted on to replace Romo in case of a long-term injury and expect the same results. In a stop-gap situation, say a couple of games, he could keep the team afloat. But the Cowboys probably need to start thinking about the future and develop a backup QB who could take over the reins in case of disaster.
Richard Bartel – The only thing I know about Bartel is what I saw in the two weeks of training camp. He’s a big kid with a big arm, and he loved showing off that arm by throwing deep regularly in training camp. He never met a bomb he didn’t like. He has a long ways to go until he’s ready for serious time in an NFL game.