We have already faced it as Cowboys fans, 2015 has been nothing but a series of horrific events piled on top of each other with no room to breathe. The hits have just kept coming and it has left everyone filled with despair this holiday season. Though we have come to grips with the harsh reality of the NFL, I wonder what this offseason will look like in the wake of what at best could be an 8-8 season but most likely a sub .500 finish.
Locker Room Cleansing
First and foremost, the Cowboys will have to point their sights at their own locker room and re-evaluate who needs to stay and who needs to go. Let's first look at the usual suspects:
Greg Hardy- It's taken quite some time to put this one into perspective but this experiment by and large has not worked in the favor of this locker room. Multiple excursions and sit-downs with players and coaches and it just seems as though this has overstayed it's welcome. Of course, with five games left in the season, there is no real reason to cut bait right now. However, once the offseason begins, Greg Hardy will be looking for a pay day. His agent will smartly try and get the Cowboys to make an offer for him but I would wait. The baggage that he brings with him has to have some effect on the atmosphere at Valley Ranch, how could it not? The ability to dominate games is there, Hardy is a premier pass rusher, but it may be best to continue to build without him.
Brandon Carr- He was never going to live up to the amount of money they paid him and unless he comes cheaper, they may cut him altogether. With Byron Jones drafted and Orlando Scandrick on the mend, there are plenty of ways the Cowboys could go at cornerback. There will be a few good players available in the draft and possibly a free agent or two that could solidify the position. There are just not enough returns coming from Carr that warrant his roster spot in the coming season(s).
Morris Claiborne- This is an interesting topic because though Claiborne still has durability concerns (missing two games this season), he has been one of the better players in the secondary. When he has played this year, he hasn't been perfect but he has played well enough to have Jones as utility player. Claiborne may be looking for a change of scenery once 2016 begins but if they could get him on a reasonable deal, it would allow for them to feel more confident heading into free agency and the draft.
Doug Free- Free is still under contract having signed a three-year deal last season but the Cowboys are going to see what they have in Chaz Green. Free is the obvious weakest link on a pretty solid offensive line and is one of the older players on the team. He seems to still be bothered by nagging injuries and just can't move at the same speed as his younger counterparts. This offseason, they will need to make a decision on Free and it seems like the perfect time to get younger there.
Contingency Plan At Quarterback
The Cowboys will be faced with a lot of questions regarding the quarterback position but maybe not so much about Tony Romo's job. This will be an offseason where the backup and heir apparent to the Cowboys' throne becomes the theme of a long offseason.
Matt Cassel- So far, he's lost all four starts with five games left to play. The Cowboys like having a veteran signal caller on the roster and Cassel fits that criteria. However, he was sent to the third string in Buffalo before traded to Dallas. It's likely that Cassel will hang around through the offseason because who's really better than him that will be available in the offseason? On this roster, it's certain that Cassel will probably be no better than the third option because the Cowboys need some youth behind their aging star.
Johnny Manziel- All aboard the Manziel-hype train to Dallas. This will undoubtedly flood the discussion of Cowboys' contingencies this offseason. It's already begun and it will not slow down until Cleveland makes a move or doesn't. We have seen Manziel make plays in this league but we have also seen him be careless with his off the field behavior. Though we as adults and some of us still young ones have made many of the decisions to throw inhibitions to the wind, NFL quarterbacks are held to higher standards. We really don't know what Manziel is as a quarterback in the NFL yet. All we know is that Jerry Jones likes him and his moxie whereas the others in charge may not want the headache.
The 2016 NFL Draft: The Cowboys will have options in the draft to get a young gun on the roster as well. The big three that everyone is raving about are Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook.
Evaluating The Coaching Staff
The coaching staff in Dallas has to be evaluated as well though nothing may come of it. Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli should all be safe but what about some assistants?
Frank Pollack- The offensive line has been coming together in the past several weeks but could the slow start lead to Pollack looking elsewhere? A lot of discussion has been made about the Cowboys missing Bill Callahan. Well, he's not coming back to Dallas. It'll be interesting to see if the Cowboys look for another line coach or continue on with Pollack.
Jerome Henderson- Garrett absolutely loves Henderson but his secondaries have under-performed for the past several years now and maybe Marinelli may want to make a change. The evaluation process never ceases and if there is a better secondary coach out there, the Cowboys will know it. Though the players take well to Henderson since he was a former player himself, they aren't doing enough. Coaches coach and players play so methinks the talent on the roster needs an upgrade before we start firing assistants.
Rich Bisaccia- He's been a solid coach since he came to Dallas but his name is always brought up when coaching vacancies occur. The Cowboys scouting department failed to deliver him an adequate replacement for Dwayne Harris and he failed too in that regard. Chris Jones has arguably been among the best punters in the league this year. Dan Bailey is as consistent as ever and may make his first Pro Bowl this season. Either way if Bisaccia does depart, it's probably for a bigger opportunity elsewhere.
How To Maximize Romo's Final Years
The Cowboys still have a quality quarterback under center but now more than ever is the time to maximize that. It's time to rewind the clock back to 2014. Throw all the chips in this offseason.
Upgrade at running back- Darren McFadden is putting together a pretty nice season but he's still a better backup than starter for this team going forward. The Cowboys need to draft a running back and consider taking one as high as the first round. Ezekiel Elliot or Derrick Henry or just an adequate bell cow that can carry the load as DeMarco Murray did and help the Cowboys and Romo out significantly. They ignored the issue this offseason and until McFadden got going it was a problem. It's still a problem, McFadden is aging and has had durability issues his entire career. The Cowboys have to make sure they are able to grind away games as they did in 2014.
More Receiving Help- Dez Bryant is a beast as we all know but why not take a flyer on another big receiver that can be dynamic in this offensive system? Maybe Brice Butler is the guy if he can get healthy enough to warrant keeping him active for a game or two. Terrance Williams seems to not be good enough without Dez Bryant active and Tony Romo throwing him the ball. Devin Street has been a gigantic disappointment though Derek Dooley thought he could be a real asset to the team. Jason Witten is getting older but still playing well enough, though tight end could be another help-needed position for the team. Tony Romo doesn't need a lot to make receivers look good but it may help to have one more true threat behind Bryant.
Keep Building Defense- The Cowboys used a lot of resources on their defense this offseason but it takes a few years to build a contender. They don't have that much time though so a few more quality additions via the draft or free agency could go a long way into getting an elite defense rolling. The Cowboys defense of 2015 have played pretty well at times but they need safety help, corner help, and even some more pass rush help. More than anything, they must learn to close out games. Dallas will have some options this offseason even if they have to make some tough decisions on players of their own.
Truly more than anything, we're always interested in the discussion. What say you about the Cowboys impending offseason and where do they start?