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Dallas Cowboys Offseason: Looking Forward By Looking Back, PFF Style

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Marcus Spears reacts to seeing his name at the bottom of PFF's team grades for the third time in four years
Marcus Spears reacts to seeing his name at the bottom of PFF's team grades for the third time in four years

Like most of you, I'm constantly inspired by BTB's front page writers. Luckily, I'm in a position where I can turn that into a little front-page somethin' of my own. So, in the wake of Tom's speculation about the Cowboys' offseason plans and KD's missive on on the roster churn since the thrilling yet oh-so-disappointing 2007 season, I thought I'd combine the two, looking back to look forward. Inspired by O.C.C.'s recent look at Dallas' 2011 AV figures, I'll do so by taking a look at some numbers.

What I'd like to do is use Pro Football Focus' final player grades from the last four seasons. The guys at PFF, as most of you know, grade each player on each play, coming up with per-game and season totals, in a variety of categories. For offensive players, these are Pass, Rush, Pass Block, Screen Block, Run Block and Penalty. Most of these categories are self-evident: offensive linemen, for example, don't receive Pass or Rush grades, and most skill position players receive 0.0 screen block grades. From these, we can get a pretty fair understanding of how an individual player performed.

Today, we'll look only at their cumulative season totals. For each season, I've listed all the players, on both sides of the ball, who received final marks "in the red"--in other words, who graded out below -1.0 for the season. What I'm interested in is to see how many of these players a) continued to receive "red" grades; b) were cut from the roster; c) continued to remain on the roster and d) if so, why and for how long. I've clumsily fashioned a table for each year, with offensive players in the left hand column and defensive guys on the right. After each table, I'll interject a couple of random thoughts.

Ready? Check out Rabble's Tables after the jump...

NOTE: Players cut after the season are marked in bold and with a red background; rookies are marked with an asterisk* and do not have a background shading, all others have a yellow background and are marked in italics (because many of them had to duck in order not to get cut).

2008:

2008 Offense 2008 Defense
Terrell Owens -1.3 Anthony Henry -1.2
Marion Barber -1.7 Tra Battle -1.4
Deon Anderson -1.8 Roy L. Williams -1.6
Brooks Bollinger -2.1 Marcus Spears -2.3
*Martellus Bennett -2.5 Keith Davis -2.5
Tony Romo -2.8 Terence Newman -2.8
*Tashard Choice -3.0 Tank Johnson -2.9
Marc Colombo -5.4 Pat Watkins -5.1
Tony Curtis -7.2 Greg Ellis -5.9
Kyle Kosier -7.4 *Mike Jenkins -8.3
Roy E. Williams -9.4
Flozell Adams -13.4
Brad Johnson -13.4
Cory Procter -19.7

A few thoughts: after the 2008 season, the Cowboys purged a significant portion of their defensive deadwood. The only "in the red" players they retained were first-round draft picks, with either the talent or the big contract that justified keeping them around. On the other side of the ball, the team's offensive line woes were clear. Just as clear was the organization's decision to go with their stable of big uglies for at least one more campaign--a decision that paid off, as we'll see below. Oh, and Roy E. Williams makes the first of three appearances on this list of bottom-feeders.

2009:

2009 Offense 2009 Defense
Martellus Bennett -1.2 Steve Octavian -1.5
Flozell Adams -1.6 Marcus Spears -1.6
Roy E. Williams -8.3 Ken Hamlin -2.2
Orlando Scandrick -3.6
*Victor Butler -3.8
Bobby Carpenter -8.2

A few thoughts: the 2008 offensive line did indeed bounce back--for one year, at least. The only O-lineman in the red was Flozell, who was summarily released. As might be expected from a 2009 campaign in which the "Boys got off the playoff win schneid, there were a lot more "green" performances than "red" ones...with two notable exceptions. In a plus year for the entire organization, Roy E. Williams and Bobby Carpenter managed to earn significantly lower scores than anybody else on the team. Not surprisingly, Carpenter was released in the offseason; shockingly, Williams was not.

2010:

2010 Offense 2010 Defense
Tashard Choice -1.2 Brandon Williams -1.2
Kevin Ogletree -2.0 Jason Williams -1.5
Roy E. Williams -2.5 Jeremy Clark -1.9
*Phil Costa -3.3 *Bryan McCann -2.4
Marion Barber -3.8 *Barry Church -4.4
Miles Austin -6.8 Terence Newman -8.4
Stephen McGee -6.8 Alan Ball -9.6
Jon Kitna -8.7 Mike Jenkins -10.8
Marc Colombo -34.1

A few thoughts: The most obvious is that Marc Colombo's grade is horrific--and makes it obvious why he had to be released and Tyron Smith brought in (Smith, by the way, earned a 13.7 grade from PFF, for a total positional improvement of +47.8. Pretty good). Other than Colombo, however, the various heads that rolled due to Dallas' offseason O-line purge weren't "in the red." In fact, looking at this, the unit that received the most consistently low grades was the secondary. Lo and behold, this is precisely the unit that plagued the team in 2011. While I agreed with the offensive line purge at the time--and still do--this makes me wonder what might have happened had they rolled with the likes of Davis and Gurode for one more year, and focused on upgrading the secondary last season (I'm not sure this was financially feasible; due to the CBA negotiations, Dallas had a rare opportunity to cook the books, and get rid of some bad contracts, and did so).

The Cowboys bid goodbye to a couple of 2009 draft busts in Brandon and Jason Williams. Gentlemen, we hardly knew ye...

Finally, after three straight years on this ignominious list, Roy E. Williams was released. At last.

2011:

2011 Offense 2011 Defense
Kevin Ogletree -2.5 *Alex Albright -1.1
Stephen McGee -3.4 *Bruce Carter -1.7
Derrick Dockery -3.8 Marcus Spears -3.6
Tashard Choice -4.7 Bradie James -4.1
John Phillips -5.5 Frank Walker -5.1
Kyle Kosier -6.0 Abe Elam -5.3
Tony Fiammetta -7.6 Alan Ball -5.5
*Bill Nagy -9.0 Orlando Scandrick -5.6
Phil Costa -9.7 Keith Brooking -7.9
Doug Free -9.9 Terence Newman -9.1

A few thoughts: Clearly, Dallas continues to have offensive line problems: four of their five starters finished "in the red." Ouch. However, other than Phil Costa (and perhaps Kyle Kosier), I don't see any of the guys at the bottom of the offensive list being cut, due either to contract status or potential upside. The defensive side of the ball is a different story, however: I could see (and expect to) all the defensive guys other than the two rookies and Scandrick soon becoming ex-Cowboys...including Marcus Spears, who makes his third appearance in four years on this rollcall of infamy.

General thoughts: The Cowboys have had real trouble at backup quarterback in recent years. Other than 2009, when Tony Romo played every snap, they have had at least one quarterback on this list, and twice (2008 and 2010, seasons in which Romo missed time due to injury) managed to place two. And we wonder why the Cowboys brass wants to upgrade the offensive line!

After making the list his first two years in the league, Martellus Bennett has upped his game--so much so that, in 2010 (with a +13.1 grade) and 2011 (+7.8), he finished with the fifth-highest offensive marks. In 2011, he--gasp--graded out higher than Jason Witten. This is largely due to his superior run blocking; if, as expected, the Cowboys make no effort to re-sign Bennett, they will be hard pressed to replace his production.

And: I'm not pleased to see Scandrick's and Jenkins's names appear on these lists multiple times....

So, BTBers, what do you make of 2011's Hall of Shame? Assuming you were the GM and these were your self-scouting grades, how would you formulate your offseason plan?