As fans of the Dallas Cowboys, we try to stay positive. When projecting for the 2016 season, many Cowboys fans are taking the view that this team is going to be more like the 2014 team, and less like the 2015 team. What happens, though, when the projections are looking forward; instead of using the past to predict the present, what happens when you use the present to predict the future?
That's what ESPN did in an annual exercise they like to call Future Power Rankings. While it may be a click-bait exercise in the dead period to drum up some interest, it's still fun to play along. Well, it would be fun if they didn't hammer the Dallas Cowboys future prospects. What they do is rank each franchise's prospects for the next three years based on five factors - roster, quarterback, coaching, draft, and front office. To accomplish this they use three NFL "experts" in Louis Riddick, Field Yates and Mike Sando.
When first reading the article, frankly I expected the Cowboys to rank somewhere in the 10-15 range. On the positive side they have a young and fantastic offensive line, I have a hard time understanding how NFL experts underrate this on a constant basis. Without a decent offensive line, almost all else becomes impossible. On the negative side, Tony Romo has had injury issues so it's hard to confidently project him over the next three years, but if he is healthy then the Cowboys are one of the best offensive teams in the game. On defense, yes, they are not elite, but as we have shown repeatedly on this site over the last few weeks, they are decidedly middle of the pack, not bottom-feeders.
So I figure ranking the Cowboys in the 10-15 range for the next few years was reasonable. Ha! ESPN hands them a brutal ranking of #26.
High point: The strength of the Cowboys' roster is its offensive line, a direct reflection of the front office. The front office dynamic is unlike any other in the NFL with owner Jerry Jones also serving as the GM, but the personnel department has shown that sometimes the best decisions are the ones you opt not to make. Jones famously wanted to draft Johnny Manziel in 2014, but the other front office members, namely son Stephen, swayed him toward guard Zack Martin. Martin has been an All-Pro performer from nearly his first snap in the league. This front office will continue to build the Cowboys' roster going forward. -- Field Yates
Low point: It has been said by many that the Cowboys have one of the most talented rosters in the entire NFL, and that much of their lack of success has been because of ownership meddling, coaching incompetency or injury/bad luck. Here's the truth: With Tony Romo now 36 and coming off an injury-riddled season, the Cowboys have no real succession plan at QB. They have severe deficiencies at pass-rusher for a variety of reasons (injuries and character misevaluations). They have major injury/longevity/character concerns at linebacker. And they simply are not good enough in the secondary, with Byron Jones being the only player who excites me long-term. To summarize: The Cowboys' roster is more hype than substance. -- Louis Riddick
What could change: Stephen Jones' role in running the team should only continue to grow as Jerry Jones enters his mid-70s. As Field alluded to, the younger Jones' influence has been positive, by all accounts, but the Cowboys could quickly become a team in transition as age catches up with cornerstones Romo and Jason Witten. Romo's ability to play a full regular season and postseason is in serious question at age 36. That makes the Cowboys a volatile team over the next couple of seasons. -- Mike Sando
For reference, even the Philadelphia Eagles, a team in transition that has mediocre veteran quarterbacks and a high draft choice quarterback that we'll have to see perform before we can make any real evaluations, rank higher overall (#24) and in the quarterback category. So basically what they are saying is there is no way Romo can stay healthy. Otherwise they are saying that Sam Bradford/Carson Wentz are a better option on the field than Tony Romo. Seriously?
Kevin Seifert, another ESPN writer, saw the Cowboys evaluation like this.
A common NFL narrative suggests the Dallas Cowboys have turned an administrative corner as executive vice president Stephen Jones' influence expands. Roster talent has grown in at least some areas, especially at offensive line, and there are some genuine stars on the roster from receiver Dez Bryant to quarterback Tony Romo to rookie tailback Ezekiel Elliott. But the Cowboys fared poorly throughout these ratings, finishing No. 21 or lower in terms of roster, quarterback, coaching and draft. Overall, the Cowboys were considered the 26th-best prepared team for the mid-term future. This seemed harsh, but not necessarily wrong when you think about the age of Romo and tight end Jason Witten, and a largely patchwork defense. The biggest issue is Romo's age (36) and durability combined with the utter lack of a succession plan. The Future Power Rankings project counts on highly productive quarterback play from other aging stars, but it's difficult to expect that for Romo. And in this case, conventional wisdom should be challenged.
Okay BTB, are we just deluding ourselves? Are the Cowboys in trouble going forward? Is counting on Tony Romo to stay healthy fool's gold? Or are these guys just totally out of line with their rankings? In the end, it really doesn't matter, it will all be decided on the field, but here in the dead period, let's give it a debate.