The Dallas Cowboys have had what looks like a very good offseason, despite having traded away their first-round pick for Amari Cooper (which seems to have worked out just fine). Our Michael Strawn and Tom Ryle take a look at some of the more interesting developments.
Tom: We are very excited about the new additions to the roster, which we will get to in a bit, but I think we can agree that the biggest single move was the promotion of Kellen Moore to replace Scott Linehan at offensive coordinator. How Moore handles his job is likely going to make or break the season, don’t you think?
Michael: It’s really interesting how Kellen Moore has gone from unwanted quarterback to young QB coach to young offensive coordinator/franchise savior. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but not much of one. A lot of people have a lot of hopes pinned on Moore - with good reason. Who knows what will happen but the offense Cowboys fans see this fall should look much more like a modern NFL team and less like an attempt to bring back 1992. And yes, I think what Moore does with this opportunity should play a big role in determining whether 2019 is a year for #CowboysNation to remember.
Tom: It is a daring experiment, but one I think they had to try. And Moore’s familiarity with the system may be very important. The OTAs certainly offered some real hope, with all the reports of more deep passing and an obvious attempt to capitalize on a significant increase in speed on the offense.
Michael: I have mixed feelings about the hype around all the speed on the roster. On the one hand, I love speed. That was one of the things I loved about Jimmy Johnson’s teams - he loved speed at every position. Simply, all other things being equal faster is better than slower, right? So hello Tony Pollard, I look forward to you running past and around people.
However, the speed at the receiver position is getting too much hype IMO. I mean, how many times are people going to get excited about Tavon Austin? The top three wideouts (Cooper, Gallup, Cobb) are going to get the lion’s share of snaps. That leaves little for folks like JonVea Johnson (should he make the team). So yes, I’m happy there’s more speed but I’m much more happy that there’s a competent group of starting receivers.
Tom: Of course, there are some other new faces that have us worked up. Some, like Robert Quinn, Randall Cobb, Trysten Hill, and Tony Pollard are getting a lot of attention, but I think the team is overlooking some players who are going to be bigger for the Cowboys than they think. One name I am really watching is Kerry Hyder. It looks like he has a good chance to be in the DE rotation. I believe he was a bit misused last year, and is going to come on really strong under Rod Marinelli. I think he could be the third best DE the team has at the moment, behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Quinn.
Michael: I really like how the Cowboys balanced risk and reward this offseason. The Quinn trade was a second aggressive trade (Amari Cooper the first) from the Cowboys after years of basically sitting the trade market out. While there was a lot of risk with the Cooper move, the Quinn acquisition is the epitome of low risk (potentially) high reward; a sixth-round pick and a one-time, $8M cap-hit for a proven edge pass rusher? Terrific move.
Dallas was more aggressive than we’ve seen in the recent past, but in a more disciplined, strategic way than the early free-willing Jerry Jones years. I like it.
The Moore promotion is a good example. It’s risky and aggressive, but in a reasoned manner. Moore isn’t some unknown quantity to the Cowboys. This will be Moore’s fifth season with the Cowboys; he knows the culture and the front office know what they’re getting in him. Again, more aggressive than Dallas has been the last five or so years, but not recklessly aggressive like Jerry trading for Roy Williams or giving $21M to a part-time, power back (Marion Barber) unlikely to age well.
Tom: One thing that is all good is the decision by the league (read: Roger Goodell) to not suspend Ezekiel Elliott. All he had to do was make a sincere-sounding public apology for his incident in Las Vegas. That really takes one big worry off the table.
There are, of course, a couple of real uncertainties for the team revolving around the NFL’s arcane discipline system. The big one: Will Randy Gregory be back? I think it is possible, and the team continues to be very optimistic. The league actually seems to be evolving in its approach to marijuana use and the role mental illness can play. As for Tyrone Crawford, who still could face discipline for his incident in a bar, the Elliott decision would seem to hint that he might not draw a suspension either. I am hoping so, but won’t count those chickens until they come home to roost. Or something.
(No, I didn’t forget about the one game suspension of Rico Gathers, but with Jason Witten back, that is pretty much irrelevant at this point.)
Michael: Admittedly, it’s not ideal. I expect Crawford to be suspended; I am cautiously optimistic Randy Gregory will not miss time. It sure would be nice to have an offseason without worrying about Cowboys defensive lineman missing time due to suspension, but those things are out of the Cowboys’ hands. I’m looking at what they can control and from my perspective they’ve had a really good offseason. They addressed needs both short- and long-term. They shored up an offensive line that wasn’t remotely close to elite last season; they improved at both the edge and the interior on the defensive line. They brought in some depth and competition at the safety spot and wide receiver and they added some more dynamic playmakers on offense.
At this point, it’s down to dealing with some of the team’s big contracts (I expect Dak to be extended during training camp, possibly Cooper and Elliott as well) and doing the usual offseason prep. Most of the hard lifting has been done and I’m happy with where this team is relative to where it ended last season.
Tom: The team did a lot, but they couldn’t do everything. What would you say is most important thing they should have addressed, but didn’t?
Michael: I know what you think about safety and will let you speak to that situation. But I can’t stop thinking of 2015 when the Cowboys were expected to compete for a Super Bowl and instead lost 12 of 16 games when the backup quarterback proved ineffective (putting it kindly). I honestly don’t understand the continued dice-rolling at this position. I have absolutely no faith in either Cooper Rush or Mike White. There’s cap space available. There were proven commodities out there (Teddy Bridgewater signed for one year at $7.25M; Ryan Fitzpatrick signed for two years, $7M guaranteed).
Yet the Cowboys seemed to make no effort whatsoever to address this potentially devastating situation. I don’t get it.
Tom: I guess the Cowboys are working under that old adage about if the starting QB goes down, the whole team does. (It has been said more colorfully, but decorum prevents repeating the exact quote.)
As for safety, I just feel that the team is much more confident in what they have than I am. Maybe it really just came down to how they used limited resources, but a bargain free agent signing and a sixth-round draft pick just doesn’t seem like enough. They got five new defensive linemen through free agency and the draft, plus grabbed some UDFA insurance. It just feels like they could have spared a bit more for another safety.
But in the overall scheme of things, those are not major worries. Maybe they will even work out as camp and the preseason progress. Overall, this was a very good offseason. Few teams, if any, can address everything perfectly. Right now, this looks to be as good a situation going into camp as this team has had in a long, long time.