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Cowboys’ Championship Quest: Why Is The Dallas Cowboys’ Offense Better Than Its Defense?

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Like the GEICO commercials, everybody knows that the Dallas Cowboys offense is the engine that drives the team, while the defense is constantly maligned. But why is that?

Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

My last two articles broke down the the strengths and weaknesses of the Dallas Cowboys 2016 roster on offense, defense and special teams. In this article, I’m going to compare the resources that the Dallas front office has devoted to the two units to explain why the offense is so far ahead of the defense at this point.

Salary Cap Resources Are Heavily Tilted Towards the Cowboys Offense

Referring to the table in my article on the offense, and the table in my article on the defense, let’s look more closely at the money devoted to each position group.

Quarterback: $23,350,000
Offensive Line: $21,540,000
Wide Receiver: $19,380,000
Tight End: $10,480,000
Running Back: $8,400,000

Offensive total: $83,150,000 on the 2016 cap.

Defensive Backs: $28,965,000
Defensive Line: $12,395,000
Linebackers: $12,170,000

Defensive total: $53,530,000 on the 2016 cap.

The Dallas Cowboys are spending 55% more in 2016 cap dollars on their offense than their defense. For that kind of spending imbalance, one would hope the offense would be a lot better. This is only going to get more imbalanced as the offensive line gets re-signed and their full cap hits go on the books.

Draft Pick Resources Are Also Tilted Towards the Cowboys Offense

Looking at the Cowboys’ 2016 roster by the number of picks on offense and defense in the various rounds of the draft, free agency, trades, and UDFAs yields the following results.

Source Offense Defense
Draft 1st rounders 5 2
Draft 2nd rounders 1 1
Draft 3rd rounders 3 3
Draft 4th rounders 2 4
Draft 5th rounders 0 1
Draft 6th rounders 1 2
Draft 7th rounders 1 1
Free agents 4 9
Trade 1 0
UDFAs 7 2

The most significant thing here is the five first-round picks on offense versus two on defense. When you consider the draft trade chart, which values first-round picks much higher than players taken lower in the draft, the offense has:

Ezekiel Elliott, 4th, 1800 points.
Tyron Smith, 9th, 1350 points.
Zack Martin, 16th, 1000 points.
Dez Bryant, 24th, 740 points.
Travis Frederick, 31st, 600 points.

Offensive total for first-round picks: 5,490 points. The defense has:

Mo Claiborne, 6th, 1600 points.
Byron Jones, 27th, 680 points.

Defensive total for first round picks : 2,280 points.

Comparing these two groups, the team is building itself around the offensive players, with three of the five receiving second contracts, and a fourth likely to receive one next year. While on defense, the top pick has been rated a bust, though he did sign a “prove it” second contract and may finally be ready to play better.

Many of the other draft rounds are similar on offense and defense. The difference is also more pronounced because two of the highest picks on defense — Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, both second-round picks — are suspended.

The Cowboys Offense Is Home Grown, the Defense Has More Free Agents

On the offensive side of the ball, the only free agent likely to see much playing time is Alfred Morris, unless Darren McFadden returns and plays. The others three are all backups — Mark Sanchez, Rod Smith, Joe Looney. Brice Butler is the only current player the Cowboys traded for. The other 20 offensive players were either drafted or picked up as UDFAs, meaning they have only played for the Cowboys.

On defense, its a much more mercenary group. Of the eight defensive linemen in the current 53, five of them are free agents — Benson Mayowa, Jack Crawford, Cedric Thornton, Terrell McClain, and David Irving. There are two more at linebacker — Andrew Gachkar and Justin Durant — and two more in the defensive backfield — Brandon Carr and Dax Swanson. That’s nine out of 25, or 36%.

The Cowboys Have Done Far Better With UDFAs On Offense Than Defense

It has not always been heavy resource allocation that has helped the offense. There has also been a bit of luck. This can be seen most clearly by the success Dallas has had with offensive undrafted free agents, or UDFAs.

Tony Romo, La’el Collins, Cole Beasley, Ron Leary, Lance Dunbar, and Lucky Whitehead all play either massive or significant roles on offense. Contrast this to the defensive side, where only Barry Church and Jeff Heath reside.

The selection of Dak Prescott as a compensatory fourth-round pick, if he turns out as well as he’s looked so far, is another huge plus on the offensive side. Orlando Scandrick, who was picked in the fifth round, is the only notable low-round draft pick on the defensive side.

Nearly All the Pro Bowl Players Are On the Cowboys’ Offense

These are the Cowboys on the offense who have been to at least one Pro Bowl:

  • Tony Romo, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant

On defense?

  • Sean Lee

And Lee only made it as an alternate this last year.

The Dallas Cowboys Offense Is Led By Its Big Men, the Defense Is Led By Its Smallest Guys

I raised this point in my last article when looking at the salary allocation by group, but it’s worth repeating. On the offensive side, the offensive line has received the most money and highest draft picks. On defense, it’s the defensive backs that have the two first-round picks and most of the defensive cap allocation.

If games are won in the trenches, Dallas needs to find a way to strengthen its defensive line and front seven.