If you are like me, your mind has already moved to 2016 and what the Boys need to get back to the playoffs. Let’s not kid ourselves; the Boys are more than a Tony Romo away from making the playoffs. They need upgrades in a lot of positions.
For example, Tyrone Crawford is a good three, but good doesn’t win Super Bowls. What if we signed a quick pass rushing three and moved Crawford to the one technique; would the Boys then upgrade two positions? This is just one example of the types of decisions and changes that the Boys will need to make.
The Cowboys are also losing several key players and will need to either re-sign or replace them. I could make a case that the Cowboys could have as many as five new starters on defense. So, as they say, change is a coming.
So rather than publish another scorecard that will primarily be a repeat of almost every grade from every other week, I want to begin looking at what positions and upgrades the Boys will need in 2016. I will keep the same unit by unit structure but in this three-part series, let’s start looking at the positions in the context of what will need to be filled and/or upgraded.
If you’re the Cowboys front office, you probably can’t upgrade every position that you would like to upgrade; hard choices and tradeoffs will be necessary. Information is the key to understanding these tradeoffs and before we can look at which tradeoffs the Boys should make, we first need a full inventory of the upcoming needs.
As we get ready to start a new year, why not clear the disappointment that this year brought and once again start building up our excitement thinking of the possibilities 2016 could bring (possibly a playoff)? In Part 1 of this series today, let’s look at what we want to do for 2016 on the offense first.
Romo will be back and leading the charge, but who will be behind him? That is the million dollar question (or multi-million actually). I do not foresee Matt Cassel being back as the primary backup. I am sure the Boys will want to forget about this year altogether. That means clearing the backup QBs and bringing in someone new to back Romo up. But since Romo’s window is realistically still three to four years, I don’t see Dallas drafting anyone in 2016 or 2017 for that matter.
I don’t see the Cowboys keeping three QBs on the roster either. So I expect whomever they bring in to be someone who has won in the league before. That means the staff will go out in free agency or trade to grab their guy. Robert Griffin III anyone? The “who” is for another article so for now, let’s just list backup QB as a need.
Number of Positions: 2
Players: T. Romo, TBA
Upgrade Needed: Backup QB
Optimal Scenario: Sign a winning starting quality backup like Griffin or Chad Henne
Running back is an interesting situation. I fully expect the Cowboys to draft a running back fairly early in the draft. And for all of the naysayers that talk about a running back not being an impact player, may I suggest they take a look at Todd Gurley and rethink that premise.
As I said, I expect the Boys to address the RB position in the first three rounds (assuming options are available and there are not significantly better options at other positions).
Lance Dunbar is a free agent though I assume the Boys will make a push to bring him back. Romo has finally developed chemistry with him. If Dunbar does return in his third-down role, how many positions will they keep? My guess is they will keep a primary backup (Darren McFadden), a third down back, and a fullback.
So if we have a rookie and McFadden, can we keep Robert Turbin as well? I don’t think so. There are just too many needs at other positions.
So to compensate, I think the Boys should train Lucky Whitehead to be the backup to Dunbar as insurance if Dunbar goes down. Doing it this way provides backup insurance for Dunbar without having to carry a fourth running back.
Now onto fullback, I believe there is absolutely a need of an upgrade. The Boys need a blocking back that can read where the hole is and move a linebacker out. It isn’t something they must address, but it would be nice to upgrade the position.
Number of Positions: 4
Players: TBA (Primary running back), D. McFadden, TBA (Dunbar hopefully?), TBA (fullback)
Upgrade Needed: Primary Running Back, Fullback
Optimal Scenario: Sign a game-changing RB in the first two rounds. Find a blocking fullback in rookie free agency.
The receiver position is fairly set. There is really only one question and one need.
The question is whether Devin Street or Brice Butler makes the team. One of them is going to be gone. I can envision a scenario where the Boys cannot find the right veteran receiver and so they stand pat with both of them. But even then it would be 50/50 that the Boys would just keep five receivers in that scenario. But in all likelihood either Street or Butler will be gone. So who stays?
I know the Boys receiver coach likes Street, but Butler has top-end speed and could be the primary backup to Terrance Williams; same type of receiver. Whitehead can back up Cole Beasley, so the slot position should be good too.
Problem – the Boys do not have anyone to back up Dez Bryant if he goes down. Williams is a different type of receiver so he cannot. Street has not shown he can do it. So I believe the Boys will bring in a proven veteran receiver as insurance if Dez goes down again. Someone like Houston got with Nate Washington or Charlotte got with Jerricho Cotchery this year. A solid veteran that has proven they can get 4 or 5 grabs a game when called upon.
Number of Positions: 6
Players: D. Bryant, T. Williams, C. Beasley, L. Whitehead, B. Butler (or Street), TBA (Veteran Receiver)
Upgrade Needed: Backup to Dez
Optimal Scenario: Sign a solid, proven vet that can play behind Dez and also steal some snaps from Williams
Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar will be on the team.
I don’t think they kept Geoff Swaim on the team all year to then cut him (I think he is Witten’s replacement in two years). So he should be on the roster too.
But James Hanna is a free agent. While he is primarily a blocking back here, he does have talent and could be utilized more with other teams. Because of that, I think the Boys will have a hard time keeping him. I just do not think there will be enough cap space to match other contract offers.
This will be a big blow to the Boys. It is no coincidence that the Boys running game got better when Hanna got healthy. So if the Boys cannot bring him back, they at least need to replace him with a solid blocking TE.
Number of Positions: 4
Players: J. Witten, G. Escobar, G. Swaim, TBA (Blocking TE)
Upgrade Needed: No upgrade, just replacement
Optimal Scenario: Re-sign Hannah, but if not, then sign a veteran blocking TE at a veteran minimum salary.
Center & Guard
Well, Ronald Leary is gone. Wish they had traded him and gotten something in return, but I understand why the Boys didn’t trade him. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 and now knowing how the season would wind up, they should have.
The only scenario in which I can envision keeping Leary is if La’el Collins moves out to tackle. That would move Doug Free to swing tackle and allow the Boys to sign Leary to play guard.
If Collins is a better tackle than Free then this is the perfect scenario. I would love to see the Boys experiment with Collins at tackle in the last two games of the year, now that they know they are eliminated in the playoffs. It should give them a couple of games against quality D-lines to determine if Collins has a future at right tackle.
It may be the best thing for the line in the long run because Leary brings a little nasty with him and gives the Boys an attitude. Collins is more athletic than I thought so he might be an upgrade at tackle. This also allows time for Chaz Green to season and get stronger.
But assuming the probable that Leary is gone, then what? You have your starters in Collins, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick, but you lose two reliable backups Leary and MacKenzy Bernadeau. So this is clearly a position of need. Drafting a rookie too early doesn’t make sense because of the future investments in the three starters. But there is the concern a later round pick will not be ready to be the primary backup. So I think the Boys will have to sign a veteran backup and draft a rookie with potential and develop him. This is with an eye of eventually – probably in 2017 – of moving Collins to tackle and having this pick replace him. So I could see them drafting a guard in their first five picks.
My guess is that the Boys will try to bring back Bernadeau. He has more value to the Boys than most other teams. Bernadeau is proven, knows the offense, and can be center and guard. I would not be surprised to see the Boys offer him a three-year deal around 5 million.
Number of Positions: 5
Players: L. Collins, Z. Martin, T. Frederick, TBA (Free agent, possibly Bernadeau), TBA (probably a draft pick)
Upgrade Needed: No upgrade needed, just replacement of backups
Optimal Scenario: Re-sign Bernadeau for three years and draft a solid backup within first five rounds
Assuming the probable happens and Leary is gone and Collins is at guard then we have starters with Free and Tyron Smith. But like the guard position, we are pretty thin on backups. We have Green, but honestly I am not convinced he is the answer yet. He did not look good in camp before his injury. Not sure I am willing to bet on him being the primary swing backup just yet. So that means we need a veteran swing tackle. Charles Brown is a free agent and might be worth signing for a 1mil contract as insurance. But honestly, unless Brown has looked really good, if I am the Boys I would try to upgrade the position. Free is an okay right tackle, but he makes a great backup swing tackle. So if I am the Boys this is one starting position I would try to upgrade. By signing a starter, both the backup and starting position is better for two or three years.
Number of Positions: 4
Players: D. Free, T. Smith, C. Green, TBA (Proven free agent)
Upgrade Needed: Right Tackle
Optimal Scenario: Either sign Leary and move Collins to tackle or sign a free agent starting right tackle and have Free be the swing tackle until Green is ready (probably two years)
In summary, the Boys do not have a lot of need for starters in the offense. They need a starting running back and possibly a starting tackle. They look good from a starting perspective. However, they do have some critical backup positions that they need to address. In addition to the two starting positions mentioned, the Boys will need to address the backup QB, 3rd guard, swing tackle, 3rd receiver, blocking TE and developmental 4th guard.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this series. I’ll put the defense into perspective with some looks at the key needs on that unit. I’ll wrap up this series with Part 3 this Thursday.