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Why the sky is not falling and fans just need to breathe when it comes to the Cowboys offseason

It’s a long offseason, and the team has a lot to do, so it’s not really surprising they haven’t gotten all those canards linearly aligned yet.

Dallas Cowboys v Indianapolis Colts
It’s too early for the depression.
*Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The season is over for the Dallas Cowboys. They have completely messed up with their own players and will lose DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and everyone else who is even close to having their contract expire. Free agency will only yield a backup lineman coming off of double knee surgery and a parking attendant to be named later. No first-round pick means they might as well not even turn in any names and just focus on getting Lincoln Riley in to replace Jason Garrett after the season craters. This is all fact, because social media says so.

Don’t get wrapped up in it all. Take a deep breath, calm yourself, and accept that not everything will go right while also knowing that the team has also had some notable successes in the past. This was also out there in the interwebs (which shows social media isn’t always wrong).

One problem is that some well-established truths tend to be forgotten this time of year. Let’s look at some things that need to be kept in mind to maintain some sense of perspective.

This is the lying season

Earlier this week saw the conclusion of the time where the biggest lies are generated in the greatest quantity, the NFL Combine. It is a confluence of team executives, staffs, and player agents where misinformation and misdirection becomes akin to wartime propaganda as the teams and those representing the potential new hires and coming free agents all seek to manipulate things to their advantage. To use an example that does not involve the Cowboys, there were multiple and conflicting rumors about quarterback Kyler Murray. Some said he was the new favorite to be taken first overall, with the Arizona Cardinals either shopping that number one slot or current QB Josh Rosen, while others were stating that he was horrible in interviews and had severely damaged his draft value (which was already highly questionable due to his being way too short for the John Elway template of towering passers).

Both versions obviously cannot be true, but were all over Twitter, meaning that they were being heard by many of the people in Indianapolis.

Somebody was lying, or at least focusing on one point of view. With 32 teams, it is inevitable that there will be differing opinions. The reason one or the other take on any situation is pushed is because someone sees a benefit in having it out there. No matter how true it is or isn’t.

Patience, grasshopper

OK, I’m showing my age with that header. Still, things take time, and the Cowboys have a long established habit of being patient with things. That doesn’t always work out for the best, but a change in the approach would be a major and somewhat shocking development, given the inherent stability of the front office consisting of the team owner and his family, as opposed to all the other teams where GMs often take the fall.

This applies to both the coming free agency period when the team will be seeking to fill some holes (albeit at their price, and not likely in the first wave of big money deals) and to their negotiations with their own top-line free agents. It must be kept in mind that the Jones family is also in the misinformation game, even though Jerry sometimes is a little too open about what he wants to do to really pull it off. But the recent reports of not being interested in any of the big name free agent safeties certainly could be a part of the Cowboys’ own disinformation campaign. And that makes very good sense. The safety market is crowded with talent this year, while the position itself has become rather devalued as offenses and defenses have evolved. This looks like a situation where sitting back could lead to a real steal falling into the Cowboys’ lap. There is always the risk of waiting a bit too long or being too cheap. However, free agency always carries some risk. Dallas just prefers to take their risks on one side of things.

As for the now strained negotiations with Lawrence, Jerry Jones is fond of saying “deadlines make deals”. The deadline for this is mid-July. It will likely take just about every last day, even hour, to get a contract finally hammered out and inked. That’s how it went with Dez Bryant’s last deal.

Besides, that kind of tension between the team and players up for a new deal is part of the nature of things. Which brings up another element.

Blame it on the salary cap

In the last round of CBA negotiations, the league, to put it politely, put the screws to the players with the cap and the franchise tag. While the cap was sold as a way to maintain parity, that is a fiction and, at least for half the league, a failure. It was supposed to prevent a New York Yankees type super franchise, or the creation of super teams as we have seen in the NBA.

But it hasn’t prevented the New England Patriots from dominating the AFC for the entire length of the current CBA. They have been in five Super Bowls during that period, winning three. And they basically have a permanent reservation in the playoffs with the stunning ineptitude of the rest of their division.

The real purpose of the cap is for the owners to keep more of the enormous profits the NFL generates. And despite having the most valuable sports franchise on the planet and more revenue streams than you can keep track of, the Jones family is not going to throw millions of dollars at their players without trying to keep some of it for their own coffers. They may love to win, but they also have a fondness for the dollars and are businessmen. Profit matters, and that leads to looking to get by with paying a little less.

Despite the current concerns, it could always be worse

Just look at the rest of the NFC East. The Philadelphia Eagles have a solid roster, but had to make some hard decisions with their personnel to get under the cap. I don’t know how else you can categorize letting a Super Bowl MVP QB walk when your designated starter has failed to finish two consecutive seasons on the field. Washington is having to work around the huge contract they gave to Alex Smith, who may not even play this year as he recovers from a devastating injury, and just traded for Case Keenum to come in and compete with Colt McCoy for the starting job if Smith can’t go. And the New York Giants are just a train wreck, as detailed in an article at the SBN NFL umbrellas site.

The New York Giants had until Tuesday to give Landon Collins the franchise or transition tag to make sure he’s on the roster for another year. They opted against it, and now the path is clear for the three-time Pro Bowl safety to hit the free agency market. He’s already said his goodbyes.

When Collins inevitably signs elsewhere, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will be the only player drafted by the Giants between 2008 and 2015 who is still on the team’s roster.

Not good.

The simple truth is, the NFL as a whole struggles with roster building. In a fascinating read on what really happens at the combine at ESPN, writer Wright Thompson draws this conclusion.

Every little edge matters and a lot of time gets spent on the smallest of details, maybe because the single most important part of the game -- predicting who will be successful and who will not -- still evades everyone. From the past 10 years, for instance, only 23 drafted players remain on the Patriots’ roster, eight of them from a year ago -- and New England is the best at this.

Those at the top choose players by shrinking the pool of potential picks as much as possible and by spending a true lifetime developing educated hunches and theories. They succeed by understanding what they don’t know: namely, how or why 11 people work in concert together when the ball is snapped. An NFL team on the field is an organism, which is why baseball-style analytics don’t work. There isn’t a duel baked into the center of the game that can be studied. There isn’t a Moneyball solution waiting on a Wall Street quant to get rid of all the scratching and spitting. This is more about human behavior and tolerance for pain. At every moment on a football field, 22 X’s and O’s are in constant motion. Actually, 22 human beings are in motion, and that’s where the problems begin. The combine treats players like animals, which they aren’t. If they were, all this would be easy.

Researchers at the cutting edge of the thoroughbred business believe speed itself is less a predictor of future success than certain measurements, like body length-to-stride ratio. Jay Kilgore of Data Track, who sells information to investor syndicates, has a theory about the physical traits winning horses have in common. He can record a 2-year-old horse run and, after checking about two dozen measurements and angles, tell with a reasonable degree of accuracy whether that horse will have a chance to be great at 3 and 4.

But horses aren’t people. Human beings walk through the world with fear, anxiety and doubt. Human beings self-destruct, nearly all of us at one time or another. Bench pressing and sprinting don’t tell a team what they really need to know, and neither would Kilgore’s measurements, and so the combine at its core is an elaborate piece of theater that can’t answer its animating question because it isn’t looking in the right place.

”We operate as if it’s still 1980,” Lombardi says. “That’s the problem. It’s almost like, you can see, we have not let the future into the scouting process. There’s a billion-dollar industry and there’s a 10-cent industry and it’s all wrapped up into one.”

That is the big secret. Talent evaluation for a sport that is so dependent on teamwork and players filling specific, interconnected roles is more guesswork and acting on hunches, even ill-founded prejudices, than method or real analysis. The Patriots seem to be in a league of their own on this. The Cowboys are not perfect - but they have done better in recent years than most, especially in the draft.

Dallas will still make mistakes. But give them credit when they get things right.

Players are fungible - mostly

The Cowboys are at risk of not having DeMarcus Lawrence on the field, so they are doomed. Even if they get him back in the fold, if they don’t sign Earl Thomas or Landon Collins or some other stud safety, they still have no hope. If they somehow manage, despite their own missteps, to get the defense in order, they are playing with fire concerning Ezekiel Elliott, and his loss in the future or even just dissatisfaction if they do not give him an immediate extension will surely be the death knell. If they avoid that pitfall, they are surely going to lose Cole Beasley, and that is probably enough to lead to failure this season.

So it goes on Twitter. The problem is, that it just isn’t true.

That’s not to say it would be easy to replace Lawrence or Elliott or Beasley. The team would be much better served keeping all of them. But it is a team sport, and one player does not make or break things. A single man, even one as good as DLaw or Zeke, will affect the chances of winning - but generally, their loss can be overcome by a well-run team. NFL teams need to keep as many of their best as they can, but because of both the cap and the cash outlay (which directly affects the bottom line of the owners, don’t forget), there are some limits to what any team can and will do.

No, a lone player does not make or break things - with that one huge exception.

The franchise quarterback. If you have one, just about anything is possible. If you don’t, you have to get everything else just about perfect, like a truly dominant defense combined with other skill players on offense that can cover up the flaws of the passer. But if you have one of the ten to fifteen quarterbacks that are legitimate standard bearers, you always have a shot. Thompson had this in the article quoted above:

Only three Hall of Fame coaches in the Super Bowl era didn’t coach a Hall of Fame quarterback. One, Tony Dungy, will fall from the list the first year Peyton Manning is eligible.

That seems significant.

The Cowboys think they have their QB in Dak Prescott. If they don’t, then all the other stuff is probably not enough. But if they are right, they can look at the Super Bowl as a realistic goal to have as long as Prescott is in his prime - and as a quarterback, that could be another decade. His extension is the most important, not Lawrence’s, or Elliott’s, or Amari Cooper’s. Get Dak locked up, and if he is what the team clearly thinks he is, then Dallas has a chance to overcome any other issue.

So try to stay calm and rational. Things are far from perfect, but they are not as horrific as some out there paint them. There is still time to get the problems fixed, or find work-arounds. It is a long offseason, so pace yourself.

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