It happens every year. When the regular season ends, 12 teams focus on how they can reach the Super Bowl. The other 20 teams focus on how they can improve their 53-man roster over the offseason, whether that being through the draft or through free agency. The Dallas Cowboys enter an interesting offseason, in a position that is actually much similar to the one they were in last year, despite finishing last season with a victory in the playoffs.
Yes, the Cowboys finished with a 4-12 record, a complete opposite of their 2014 regular season record, but the talent is there for a deep playoff run in 2016. With a star-studded offensive line, a healthy Tony Romo to go with a healthy Dez Bryant, and a defense that is budding with young talent, the Cowboys are one of the most intriguing teams in football. However, that doesn't mean they don't have holes.
Let's compare the best talent in the draft with the best talent in free agency. Because the salary cap plays such a big deal in the NFL today, teams have to build successfully through the draft and add pieces in free agency. The Seattle Seahawks have made that clear. The good thing for the Cowboys is that they have drafted quite well over the past few years. Let's take a look at some directions the Cowboys could go with their first-round pick.
The cornerback position is one that has continued to be a problem for the Cowboys. In 2012, Dallas thought they got it right when they moved up to draft Morris Claiborne and signed Brandon Carr in free agency. Instead, both moves have backfired. Four years later, the Cowboys find themselves with a few decisions to make. Byron Jones performed tremendously in 2015, but the idea of him transitioning to play free safety just makes too much sense. Orlando Scandrick will be back in 2016 from an ACL injury.
Because Carr is set to make $9.1 million next year, the Cowboys could designate him as a post June 1st cut and save $9 million in the process. This decision would add dead money in 2017, but the reality is that Carr isn't worth what he's getting paid for and if the Cowboys are all in for 2016, then this move would be necessary. Claiborne's rookie contract is up and while he did play better in 2015, the Cowboys would be wise to let him walk and go separate ways.
Free Agency best candidates: Trumaine Johnson, Sean Smith, and Brandon Boykin.
Draft best candidates: Jalen Ramsey (Florida State), Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida), and Mackensie Alexander (Clemson).
Verdict: Free Agency
Again this goes with the 'all-in' mentality the Cowboys would and should have for the 2016 season. Out of the three prospects, I like Ramsey the most, mainly because of his expertise in man as well as his versatility and fluidity. However, it's no secret that rookie defensive backs struggle. Knowing that, the Cowboys should look to sign either Johnson or Smith. Both fill a void and both won't be that expensive. If the Cowboys want another slot cornerback option, Boykin makes sense.
While Randy Gregory didn't have a sack in his rookie campaign, it should be said that he was extremely impressive in spurts. DeMarcus Lawrence came on towards the end of the season, which is a real good sign for the future. The Cowboys will have a decision to make with Greg Hardy. I have been in favor of Hardy not returning. Hardy had three sacks in his first two games, but he finished with just three in his last nine games. The Cowboys may also lose Jack Crawford, as the 27-year-old had the best year of his career. Regardless of what the Cowboys do with Hardy and Crawford, Dallas needs more pressure.
Free Agency best candidates: Derrick Shelby and Adrian Clayborn.
Draft best candidates: Joey Bosa (Ohio State).
Verdict: Free Agency
Depending on how Bosa tests, I don't see him fitting what Rod Marinelli wants in his edge rushers. According to NFL Draft Scout, Bosa is projected to run a 4.72 40-yard dash. Footbology's Marcus Mosher talked about the Cowboys' recent draft trends and how they prefer defensive ends who are extremely athletic. Let's compare Ryan Russell (Cowboys' fifth-round pick in 2015) to Bosa. Russell ran a 4.57 40-yard dash, while Bosa is projected to run a 4.72 40-yard dash.
Regardless, I think Bosa will be a great player, but I think the Cowboys don't need to invest a first-round pick in a defensive end like Bosa. I believe it's the interior of the defensive line that is the problem, which is something they can invest in later. Luckily for Dallas, the defensive tackle class is extremely deep.
Shelby or Clayborn makes sense for the Cowboys, as both could come in and play a a role in some sub-packages. Either one wouldn't be that expensive, which is something that may attract the Cowboys. By bringing in one of these guys and letting Hardy walk, the Cowboys save a media circus and will finally be able to see what they have in their defensive end duo of the future in Gregory and Lawrence.
What happened to Dez Bryant in 2015 was a shame. The all-world receiver wasn't really healthy all season and it showed. With a full offseason to recover and getting snaps again with Tony Romo, I fully expect the two to get back to what Cowboys fans have been acclimated to in the past few years. However, opposite of Bryant is and has remained a problem. Terrance Williams is a nice option in some sub-packages, but he also goes invisible at times, which is why the Cowboys could and should look to either free agency or the draft to make an upgrade here.
Free Agency best candidates: Marvin Jones and Travis Benjamin.
Draft best candidates: Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss)
I'm really excited to see what the Cowboys do over the offseason to improve the wide receiver position. On one hand, free agency has two unique players in Jones and Benjamin. Both are known commodities in the NFL and both could end up hitting the open market. Jones provides a good combination of size and speed for a No. 2 wide receiver. Benjamin is seen mainly as a deep-ball guy, but he's a sneaky wide receiver that showed that he could perform with below-average quarterback play in 2015.
The reason why I said draft here is quite simple. Adding a guy like Treadwell to an-already dangerous offense just makes a ton of sense. The Cowboys have the pieces for a dynamic zone-blocking running scheme. By adding a guy like Treadwell, who can go up and bring down the football and make plays in the run-blocking game as well, the Cowboys would get another blocker as well as another play-maker for Romo to work with. If the Cowboys don't end up liking any of the quarterbacks, Treadwell is a viable option in the first round.
It's pretty simple. When Romo played in 2015, the Cowboys went 3-1, that one loss coming against the 15-1 Carolina Panthers. When he didn't play, they were 1-12. Despite how talented the Cowboys' roster is, all Super Bowl hopes hang on No. 9's body. Romo has now had four major injuries, three of which were the same left clavicle injury. It's sad to say, but the Cowboys have to start planning for the future and they won't have a better chance to draft their quarterback of the future than in this year's draft.
Free Agency best candidates: Zac Desert, Robert Griffin III (if/when available), and Colt McCoy (if/when available).
Draft best candidates: Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch, and Carson Wentz.
The answer to this question is simple. It's not often teams find their quarterback of the future in free agency. That said, the easy answer here is draft. However, Griffin III provides an interesting scenario in the way that the Cowboys could take a chance on him if he becomes available. Nevertheless, I have been a big fan of Goff. But because the Cowboys are the coaches of the North squad at the Senior Bowl, the same side Carson Wentz is on, something tells me there could be a fascination with the North Dakota State wunderkind.