If you've been following the Cowboys over the last few years, you've probably come to understand that the Cowboys have always been pretty straightforward about their offseason plans, both with regard to free agency and the draft.
Jerry Jones for example likes to hold court aboard the Cowboys team bus either at the Senior Bowl or at the Combine, and in a kind of state of the union address, likes to outline what the offseason plan for the Cowboys looks like. And apart from the fact that Jones often talks circles around himself, there is very little subterfuge in what he says.
Remember how the Cowboys said before the 2015 draft that running back was not an urgent need for the team? Very few believed them, and most observers continued to mock hordes of running backs the Cowboys way. And when the Cowboys didn't draft a running back those same observers bitterly chastised the Cowboys for doing exactly what their owner had said they would do.
Undeterred by the setback in the draft, the Friends of New Running Backs immediately set their sights on trading for or otherwise acquiring veteran running backs like Adrian Peterson (remember that never-ending string of headlines?) but Jerry Jones again patiently explained that a veteran running back wasn't a priority at the time. Very few believed him, until the Cowboys signed Darren McFadden. Incidentally, McFadden has more yards from scrimmage than any other free agent RB who changed teams in 2015.
This year, the Cowboys don't have to wait until January or February to talk about the offseason, and both Stephen and Jerry took to the air this week to give us a heads up about what to expect this offseason.
Stephen Jones sat down with Mickey Spagnola to discuss various topics this week, and you can find a video of the conversation on DallasCowboys.com. If you skip to the five-minute mark of the video, Stephen Jones explains what the Cowboys' plan was and is at QB.
"There was a philosophy in place with Jerry, myself, Jason and Scott that we wanted to go young and find some young guys that are coming along that can be here and ultimately maybe step into Tony's shoes. Unfortunately that didn't work out. We probably should have done what we've historically done, which is go with the Kitnas, go with the Ortons, go with that type of proven backup in case something does happen to Tony."
"That's going to be No. 1 on our list, how do we do that better in the future."
"As far as Matt Cassel is concerned, you have to give the guy a lot of credit. He came in here, he worked hard, but he came in here late. And whenever you step into an offense, and you don't get a full offseason with it, you don't get a training camp with it, then you're certainly handicapped. I feel for Matt, and obviously our team, because he's certainly had to learn on the run, and that's been a little bit of a struggle for him. So we certainly have to throw that into the equation when we evaluate how he's doing. At the same time, we'd like to see progress. I think that's going to be real important over the next three games. Hopefully we'll see improvement, in our offense and in his play and in his leadership."
While it's good to see that the Cowboys will probably look to find a "proven backup" for Tony Romo (even if that guy may end up being Matt Cassel - should he pass his final three-game audition), it's a little disconcerting that the "go young" route seems to have been summarily dismissed.
In the NFL these days, there's an expectation that a QB drafted in the first round needs to be an immediate starter, but since when have the Cowboys bothered with expectations? The Cowboys are in a position where even if they draft a guy with their first pick, that guy doesn't need to be a starter right away. They have the truly unique luxury of taking a guy they like and methodically building him up as the future starter for as long as Romo is still playing.
Over the course of his playing career, Romo has often been compared with Brett Favre. Why shouldn't the Cowboys emulate what the Packers did with Favre and Rodgers, where Rodgers sat behind Favre for three years before taking over as the starter? Carson Wentz for example would be just the type of guy who would fit such a scenario perfectly. And if you have a potential franchise QB in your sights, there really is no such thing as drafting the guy too high.
Not to be outdone by Stephen, Jerry Jones opened up on 105.3 The Fan on Friday morning to talk about the free agency in 2016. After establishing that the Cowboys aren't really facing any constraints in free agency from a salary cap perspective, he talked about the potential situation at running back, where Jones believes Darren McFadden can be the lead back next season.
"I don't think you take any player and preclude adding another player with him or behind him. We're going to use him just like we used him this year," Jones said. "And hopefully we'll have him earlier and won't have to be as conservative with him worried about some injury, a little soft tissue area that he had out of camp, hopefully we won't have to walk on egg shells, but have him like we're using him now. And certainly we'll want to have other backs, we'll have (Lance) Dunbar back, but we'll want to have other backs that play a role."
If the Cowboys believe they have their lead guy is McFadden, does that mean more disappointments for the Friends of New Running Backs? Apparently so, as Jeffrey Kahn of 247sports explains:
McFadden signed a two-year contract with the Cowboys in March of 2015. If the front office believes he can be the guy next season, it seems unlikely that they'll try to sign a big-name free agent running back. It also seems unlikely that the Cowboys will spend their first-round pick on a running back. What appears to be most likely is that the Cowboys will use a mid-round pick on a running back.
We don't yet know where the Cowboys will pick in the draft, but it will likely be a high pick. We can probably rule out a first-round pick on a running back, and even a first-round QB seems pretty unlikely. That's probably going to make half of the gazillion mock drafts you'll see between now and the draft useless.
But it's going to make free agency interesting, even if the Cowboys won't be going after the top names. So you can forget about Lamar Miller, Doug Miller, or Chris Ivory. And you'd do well to re-acquaint yourself with some of the mid-tier veteran QBs that are going to be available. How do names like Chad Henne, Drew Stanton, or Matt Moore grab you? No wonder finding the right backup QB is the #1 offseason priority.
It ain't gonna be easy.