This is going to be a quick little article that touches on five reasons to be optimistic about the Cowboys’ 2017 prospects, and five reasons to be pessimistic about them.
Five Reasons To Be Optimistic
Dak Prescott and Ezekiell Elliott Year Two
As stellar as Dak and Zeke were as rookies, they are both going to be better in year two. Dak is certainly committed to improving his game, and will no doubt be able to do so. He will need to because the Cowboys will face tougher defenses this season.
Ezekiel Elliott is unlikely to rush for many more yards, as Dallas will be hesitant to overuse him, but could be used much more as a receiver in 2017.
It really helps that Dallas will be keeping all the major coaches, most of whom have been with the team since the 2014 breakout season, or longer. If you look at the successful teams in the NFL, most of them have this kind of continuity.
Defensive Line Stronger
DeMarcus Lawrence is much more likely to repeat his eight-sack year of 2015 than his one-sack year of 2016. Maliek Collins will have had an offseason of strengthening work. David Irving is likely to become more consistent, as is Benson Mayowa. Cedric Thornton should be better. Charles Tapper could improve the edge rush. Stephen Paea had his best seasons under Rod Marinelli. Damontre Moore might surprise. Even Tyrone Crawford could have a better season. The Cowboys will also draft at least one new lineman, and possibly two, and they might not be done in free agency.
Jaylon Smith Will Play
Whether he plays with a brace or not, he’s likely to be a major improvement over Anthony Hitchens and Justin Durant, who did an admirable job at middle linebacker last year, but were not difference makers. Damien Wilson should also be improved. Smith gives the defense at least the potential for another Sean Lee-type impact player.
Whether they spend it this year, or use it to improve the Cowboys in 2018 and 2019, the infusion of cap space gained by trading or cutting Tony Romo (or having him retire) is a boon to the team.
Five Reasons To Be Pessimistic
Defensive Backfield Thinner and Less Experienced
With Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox already gone as free agents, and Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne unsigned, the Cowboys have lost and have the potential of losing a lot of experienced defensive backs that Pro Football Focus ranked the best backfield at the end of 2016. The offseason is not over, but it’s hard to conceive that the Cowboys will be better in the backfield in 2017, even if they draft really well.
Offensive Line Holes
The retirement of Doug Free and the loss of Ron Leary to free agency means Dallas has to replace two-fifths of the best line in the NFL. They already have La’el Collins and Chaz Green, who could fill these roles, but Collins seemed to backslide in 2016 even before he got hurt, and Green hasn’t been able to stay on the field. There aren’t many free agent options to improve this situation, nor does Dallas have much money to do so. And if Dallas turns to the draft, does it really want to use much draft capital on the line when the defense needs the help much more? With the line being the strength of the team, what kind of ripple effects will even a slight drop off have?
This season Dallas plays a first place schedule instead of a last place one, meaning they get the Packers and Falcons. They also play the NFC West and AFC West, which have much better defenses than the AFC and NFC North did last year, and whom they went 8-0 against.
Later Draft Picks
Instead of picking near the top of each round, Dallas picks at the bottom. Plus, the Cowboys have no compensatory picks. There’s no way Dallas can match the impact of the 2016 draft, and even one or two misses could be disastrous.
Possibly No Return on Tony Romo
Though Dallas can hold out for some time, it’s possible that no team will be willing to send Dallas anything for Romo, forcing Dallas to eventually release him, or having him choose to retire.
Where do you stand on the optimism/pessimism spectrum at this point?