There is a lot of discontent over the passive approach the Dallas Cowboys (read: Stephen Jones) have taken to the offseason. We have only seen three free agent signings, none of whom move any needles. Predictably, the focus was on the draft and contract moves involving their own players. But there is another view that has developed. This tweet illustrates it.
Cowboys was 12-5 best season since 2016 and what happened .. FO blows up the roster .. let every team in the division close the talent gap … and who will be to blame when it falls through Mike & Dak .. while the VILLIANS escape to the lair by yacht— J Tuck (@jtuck151) June 27, 2022
A personal disclaimer first: I know Tuck. I met him and, along with some other friends, discussed the Cowboys over some Mexican food and adult beverages at Oxnard. He is smart and has some good insights. I just thought this was thought-provoking. It also gave me a topic to write about during this slow time of the year. More importantly, I’ve seen his biceps, and I certainly never want to be on his bad side.
I just don’t get the “blows up the roster” part. If you look back at last year, the team still has 17 of the starters from the end of the season. The five who are now gone:
Amari Cooper. He was traded away for pocket change and a couple of Zebra Cakes. The concern here is the loss of his production, but CeeDee Lamb exceeded him in catches and total yards, and was close in touchdowns. Since the trade, it has been reported that he was seen as “difficult” by the staff.
Connor Williams. No one should be terribly upset by his departure. While there is an argument that he was unfairly picked on by the officials, he certainly had many holding calls that really hurt the team. While it may be a bit of a gamble to rely on Tyler Smith or Connor McGovern to step in as the starter at LG, it is a reasonable one, especially in light of the contract Williams got from the Miami Dolphins. It is hardly huge, but still more money than it was probably worth to Dallas to keep him.
Randy Gregory. This wasn’t exactly a planned move as the Cowboys thought they had him re-signed. Contract language turned out to be an issue, and he moved on to the Denver Broncos for the same money. It was a big contract, too. We have to see how the team replaces his production, but between Dorance Armstrong, Tarell Basham, Chauncey Golston, rookie Sam Williams, and free agent Dante Fowler, there is a pretty good chance they can. He also was the subject of similar concerns as Cooper generated.
Keanu Neal. He was generally a non-factor in games. There was no reason to bring him back other than the lack of depth at linebacker. That was not seen as enough to worry about. The team did re-sign Jayron Kearse, who was more help playing as a hybrid safety/linebacker than Neal ever was.
Damontae Kazee. He helped the team at safety, but the staff decided Malik Hooker, another free agent brought back, was more useful. They are banking on Israel Mukuamu and UDFA Markquese Bell to provide depth, but this does not seem terribly risky.
That’s it. Five starters leaving a team is not excessive at all. Cooper has the air of the staff thinking he was a case of addition by subtraction, and there is a hint of that about Gregory. One thing that has been mentioned before is that Mike McCarthy may be working to get the culture of the team right. That may have played some part.
It isn’t who they don’t have anymore. It is really the apathy about free agency that is the problem here. With lingering concerns about depth at offensive tackle, linebacker, wide receiver (at least until Michael Gallup is healthy), and other places, there is a simmering anger about just sitting on their $22 million in cap space while the pool of remaining talent dwindles. Some believe they are trying to hang onto as much space for carryover into 2023 as possible to make a run then. That is hardly a logical approach. It assumes they would do something then in free agency, which recent history does not support. Continuing rumors about Mike McCarthy being on a red-hot seat are used to posit that they are going to set up the next head coach for success. If there is any truth to those rumors, this is stacking the deck against the head coach. It makes failure more likely this year. The NFL is a win-now league. Teams should use every tool they have to win because there is no way to predict what could happen to the roster by next offseason. As many criticisms as I have of Stephen Jones, I hope he is not that Machiavellian.
Conversely, the approach of this offseason seems to be an endorsement of many of the starters returning, including Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, and others. The approach seems to be rather ham-handed at times, such as the way they are dealing with Dalton Shultz. But there is some validity in thinking that the returning players will still be the core of a competitive team, and if a few things go right, like health, they may even be better than the 12-5 team of last year. It remains disappointing that they are not more aggressive in free agency with so much space to work with, but this is not a case of shredding the roster for a rebuild. It is to us just a less than satisfactory reload.