During the first three years that Jason Garrett was coach of the Dallas Cowboys, the team was the epitome of mediocre. With three-straight 8-8 seasons, you could almost set your clocks to what type of season the team would have. But then, things started to veer off track considerably. Each new season brought ups and downs as the team then had four-straight years were they would experience a win total that was at least four games different than the season prior. This included a two-season stretch (2015 and 2016) where the win total difference was eight and nine games respectively. Fans have been treated to quite the roller coaster ride in recent years.
During the down seasons, there have been a handful of contributing factors - primarily the absence of some key players (Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, Sean Lee, and Tyron Smith), but there is also another element that correlates quite well with the type of season the team has - the draft.
Most of us have been pleased with how the Cowboys have been drafting in recent years, but some drafts have been better than others. When you break down the last four drafts, it’s surprising to see how accurately they depict whether the team has had a good season or bad season. Great drafts = great year. Bad drafts, not so much.
In 2014, the Cowboys finished 12-4 and won a playoff game. Their draft haul previous to that season included Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Anthony Hitchens. That’s two All Pros and a quality linebacker. All three of these players are looking to cash in on a new contract this offseason. Granted, Lawrence didn’t break on the scene until this last season, but Martin was an All Pro right out of the gate. In fact, it was the first time the Cowboys had a rookie who was an All Pro since Calvin Hill pulled it off 45 years prior in 1969. And Hitchens had a great rookie year as he filled in for Sean Lee who was lost for the season when he injured his knee in training camp.
In 2015, the Cowboys finished 4-12. The players they drafted that year have fallen considerably short of expectations. First-round pick Byron Jones has been solid, but failed to wow us after a great combine performance. The team completely whiffed on Randy Gregory as the dice roll they took on him appears to have crapped out. And third-round pick Chaz Green didn’t get a real opportunity to shine until this season, but when his number was called - he disappointed in a big way. Not many fans have an interest in seeing him on the field again.
Then, there was the epic draft of 2016 which just so happened to help the team to a franchise-tying best record of 13-3. Both Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott battled it out for rookie of the year with Prescott edging him out. However, it was Zeke who earned All Pro honors while Dak joined him at the Pro Bowl. Third-round pick Maliek Collins also had a great rookie season for the team as did sixth-rounder Anthony Brown. All four of these players had down years this season compared to their rookie year, but the 2016 draft class was still a great win for the Cowboys front office.
That brings us to last season. For many fans it was a mixed bag when it comes to the draft. While first-round selection, Taco Charlton, had a lot of fans disgruntled, the team redeemed itself on Day 2 with quality picks in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. It was a so-so draft so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the team had a so-so season, finishing with a 9-7 record.
The influx of new rookies added to the team shouldn’t sway the pendulum that much when it comes to determining whether or not they’ll have a good season. There are certainly many other factors involved, however, it just so happens that how well the team drafts in each of the last four seasons falls in line with how well the season turned out. The extra boost or lack thereof from the rookie class has proven to have an impact.
So when Stephen Jones says he believes that how the Cowboys handle the offseason will have a big impact on what the team can do this upcoming season, he might be right as rain.
“We’ve got to continue to improve. We’ve got a big couple of months coming up, the next three months between unrestricted free agency, between the draft. (Vice president of player personnel) Will McClay, our coaching staff, (Cowboys owner/general manager) Jerry (Jones) and I, really got to roll up our sleeves and improve our football team. And if we do that, we think we’ve got a great opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl championship.”
Now, building up the hopes and aspirations of Cowboys fans for a confetti-dropping finish has been a common thing for Papa Jerry, but Stephen is rather wary of letting those types of things come out of his mouth. However, if this corresponding pattern holds true again, the upcoming draft is huge. Let’s hope the Cowboys can knock it out of the park so they can enjoy the spoils that have followed.