Dallas Cowboys fans have seen free agency turn into a very quiet time for their team. The only meaningful moves made under the extremely tight salary cap limitations facing the team have been signing Anthony Spencer to his franchise tender to play defensive end under Monte Kiffin's 4-3 defense and re-signing linebacker Ernie Sims to what most likely will be a backup role. This has led to some angst among those who are concerned about all the needs the team has to fill.
Notably lacking have been any signs of concern from either owner/GM Jerry Jones or head coach Jason Garrett. And in looking at recent remarks from both, I could not help but develop a feeling that there is another reason.
I think both of them believe that the bulk of the team they will take into the new season is already in place. While they will be drafting to find players that can come in and help, with possibly a couple of immediate starters, or at least players who can step up during the season, I think they are planning on finding almost all the first team players on both sides of the ball and most key backups among the players already on the roster.
This team is not in a rebuilding mode. The coaching staff went through that already, but the roster is not likely to feature a whole bunch of new names coming out of training camp. Don't be surprised if all but maybe a half a dozen players this fall are not already employed at Valley Ranch.
Let me put the pieces together for you. First, during the NFL Owners' Meeting, Garrett talked about how this is now his team. He did talk about the draft, but at least part of it was in the context of continuing the now infamous process of building the kind of culture he wants. And given that he just took over the team two and a half seasons ago, he has gone a long way towards doing that.
Only 16 players, including just seven starters, are left on the roster from the team that Garrett took over in 2010.
Add to the fact that almost all of the new coaching hires have ties to Garrett in some way or another, and it looks like he may finally be getting a team and staff around him that matches what he wants. (Obviously, I have long discounted the reports about emasculation and such.) If he had indeed gathered a group of players together that fit his desired mold (and kept the ones he wanted to like DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten), then it stands to reason that he has some faith in them.
Jerry Jones was dropping some hints that the team is at least hoping that they will be able to go with existing starters in his typically convoluted comments about RT Doug Free. I realize this is a very unpopular concept with many here (although not all who come here are totally opposed to the possibility), but our preferences are not really the point here. Jason Garrett is coaching the team, and as long as Jerry Jones is happy with what he is doing, that is how things are going to be.
There has been some possible friction involving how Tony Romo is to be used, and what has caused some of his problems, but Garrett treats this as an issue that is very much solvable. But barring a major breakdown, Romo will be the quarterback with a new deal that should be in place quite shortly. And while at the Owners' Meeting, Garrett also addressed several other players in ways that indicate they will be a part of what he sees as the solution this year.
- He praised Dez Bryant's efforts on field and in maturing overall.
- A bit surprisingly, he theorized that the injury problems that have dogged Miles Austin are because he has too much work ethic. He said Austin needs to back off a little on his extensive workouts to protect the hamstrings.
- He is optimistic about Barry Church coming back.
- Comparing them to Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, he expressed a belief that Kyle Wilber and Matt Johnson could play major roles after being hobbled by injury their rookie seasons. He thinks the 2012 rookie class will make much bigger contributions this year overall.
- He feels Mackenzy Bernadeau was coming along as the season progressed, and he also talked about how impressed he was with Ron Leary. David Arkin's name came up, but it sounds more like he was setting a firm deadline this year to decide if he could stick or not.
Garrett did emphasize the importance of the draft this year and talked about getting some help from a few low cost free agents (which is all the team can manage, anyway), but the sense I got from his comments is that these are just ways to improve the team, not salvage it. And one stress he places on the draft: Continuing to build on that culture he wants to have. If a player has some character issues or a questionable work ethic in college, don't expect to see them on the big board at Valley Ranch.
So if you are eager to see new faces come in and take starting jobs with the Cowboys, you might want to brace yourself. There is a very good chance that all 22 starters on offense and defense will be names already under contract. Barring the "I" word, I think at the absolute most you could see three starters who come in as draftees or free agents: SAM linebacker, one offensive lineman, and a safety. And almost all the backups are also likely to be people you already know.
It is not a revolution, after all. It's a process.