Things have settled down after an epic week of free agent acquisition by the Dallas Cowboys. After a very solid and exciting start, a bit of pessimism emerged among many of the commenters here at BTB, which is a sign that things are back to normal. After the past decade and a half of frustration, especially the last two seasons, it is to be expected that many search diligently for the dark clouds and not so much for the silver lining.
But I am not discouraged in the least. I feel like the Jason Garrett era is just now coming into its own, and I find almost all the indicators are pointing straight up. The Cowboys organization has taken a very forward-looking approach, both in the short term setting up for the draft and in a longer view. A strategy has clearly emerged in my view that leads me to think that success is coming soon and that it will stay with the team for a while.
The last word has possibly not been said in free agency, although the team is now in a position to let some bargains come to it. The first week's aggressive approach was highly successful. Now patience is the key. But the main focus now shifts to the draft, and the team has found a comfortable perch in the catbird seat.
You know where to go next.
Of all the people on the Cowboys staff, Rob Ryan has to be the happiest, with Jerome Henderson right behind him. The secondary got one huge upgrade in Brandon Carr, and a significant step up in Brodney Pool, a player both Rob and Jerome are familiar with and that the team has had on its radar since the 2011 pre-season. Add in Dan Connor as a potential starter at ILB, and at the least a highly capable backup, and the defensive side of the ball is in much better shape for the coming season.
Offensively, things are a bit murkier. Two of the signings were very good. Kyle Orton is a player that could start on several teams, and is arguably the best backup QB in the league. I was a bit surprised at how quickly the team came to terms with him. I find myself wondering if he is looking at this as a long term plan to get another starting job. He will be 32 when his three-year deal runs out, and with what will hopefully be a very limited amount of wear and tear on him while watching Tony Romo, he will still likely have several productive years while in his prime. Perhaps he even sees himself as getting a few years as Tony's successor, but more likely he would hope to sign with another team to finish his career.
That brings us to Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings. With the subpar performance at the guard position last season, many were hoping for a significant upgrade there. Instead, we got two players that have gotten less than overwhelming reviews at their previous teams. Many here have questioned what exactly is going on with these two acquisitions.
I think a couple of things must be in play. First, I have to think Bill Callahan and Wes Phillips must have been on board as seeing these two as people that they can improve. With the way the team has approached the free agent search this year, it is clear, particularly in the Pool signing, that the coaching staff is all working very closely with the scouting department and trying to put players in place that can challenge the current roster. Kyle Kosier has already been displaced. Bernadeau and Livings will push some other names off the squad, but only if they are indeed an improvement. I don't think we will see a repeat of the Alex Barron debacle. The best option will start, determined by performance.
The second thing I think is going on is that the team is looking to see if David DeCastro makes it to fourteen on draft day. If not him, perhaps Kevin Zeitler or Kelechi Osemele will be high on Dallas' board in the second round. I think Livings in particular is an insurance policy, but not one that the team has committed to as the final answer. Given the fact that offensive linemen tend to need more time to develop, Livings may be seen as a necessary bridge, especially if DeCastro is not available.
The draft, which is particularly strong in cornerbacks, now can be used for depth and the future. The team will truly be able to look at BPA. But going with the best player is a bit of a flexible concept as you get deeper into the draft. After the first two or three rounds, it becomes a little harder to clearly point to what player is absolutely the best at that point, and the team would be expected to lean towards need a little. This is not at all a bad thing. I think the draft is going to be exciting and productive for Dallas, and now my only issue is that I don't want to wait.
There is also another aspect of the free agency that has been discussed here at BTB already, and that is the youth movement. These were not free agent signings to help find one or two missing pieces for next year. These were signings that clearly are meant to help out long term. All of the new Cowboys replace someone older, and could be around for three or more years if they work out on the field. This is a free agency to build a long-term winner.
This is clearly a well thought-out strategy. With the possible exception of a center, because of the limited options out there, I do not think there is much chance of the Cowboys bringing in an old veteran this year or in the future. The draft is just going to make the team younger, and this is the way I expect things to continue under Jason Garrett. The roster will always churn at the bottom, and the days of hanging on to players a year or two too long are probably behind us. The back-loaded contracts seem built to make the decision to cut declining talent easier.
I'm not alone in thinking that. Clarence Hill of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram also has a similar take.
But if you want to know whether the Cowboys have improved, the answer is yes.
Not only are they better in personnel but better in their shrewd decision-making, which should prove even more fruitful in the long run.
It was a record-setting haul for Dallas this year in free agency. It may well have tremendous impact on the team for years to come. And I am feeling very, very good about it.