The 2016 NFL season begins now, with 32 teams scheming to knock off the reigning champion Denver Broncos. The NFL Draft is just around the corner, but the first step in any offseason plan is to assess a team’s needs. Here we look at what the Dallas Cowboys team needs are.
These reports were compiled with the help of Inside The Pylon’s writers and editors, as well as the outstanding offseason primers at OverTheCap.com, which are invaluable for understanding the salary cap and contractual obligations of each team. In addition, the depth chart data is courtesy RosterResource.com – thanks for all your support!
Last season, the Dallas Cowboys’ hopes of an NFC East title and potential playoff run were dashed early with injuries to quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant hampering their offensive effort. Dallas started the season 2-0 with victories against the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, but lost seven consecutive games stretching from September to November, and then lost their final four games en route to a 4-12 finish. No major changes were made to the coaching staff, as the front office retained Jason Garrett, but the organization found itself in an unfamiliar position in January – in Mobile, Alabama, coaching one of the teams during Senior Bowl week.
Dallas learned just how important the quarterback position is in 2015, particularly the benefit of having a capable backup. After getting just four games out of Romo because of injury, the offense struggled to find a QB able to keep the offense moving. Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden and Kellen Moore all started games for Dallas last season, but none of those options proved worthy of the #2 spot behind Romo as the offense sputtered. Romo still has a few seasons left in his career, and when healthy is one of the better options in the league, but picking this high in the draft presents Dallas with the chance to draft its quarterback of the future. How the front office handles finding its next quarterback is the biggest question surrounding this team.
Bryant suffered a foot injury in the season opener and missed six games, but when healthy he remains a very impressive #1 receiver. Behind him Dallas has a number of question marks at the position. Finding a talented WR to line up across from Bryant remains a very high priority for the Cowboys. Depending on how they address the quarterback position, selecting a play-making receiver with that fourth selection might be a wise decision.
Numerous questions surround this unit. The Cowboys signed Greg Hardy and drafted Randy Gregory last year, two talented defensive ends with off-the-field concerns. Even with these additions, Dallas tallied only 31 sacks in 2015, tied for 25th in the league. With some of the talent available up front in a very deep DL class, the Cowboys must address this spot with one – or more – selections.
Similar to the defensive front, the secondary is also a group facing issues. Byron Jones looks to be a promising and versatile player who can be used both at cornerback and safety, but there are questions at the other positions in the defensive backfield. At cornerback Morris Claiborne enjoyed a solid 2015 season and recently signed a one-year deal to return to Dallas. Across from Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr saw significant time, but the team could use an upgrade at CB depending on how the coaches seek to utilize Jones. Whether the defense uses the second-year player at cornerback or safety, the last line of defense could use improvement as well.
Dallas lost its previous starting running back, DeMarco Murray, in free agency to Philadelphia last offseason, and tried to replace his production with a hodgepodge of Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and Robert Turbin, a November free agent signing. In order to shore up this group, the Cowboys signed former Washington running back, Alfred Morris to a two year deal this week. Morris still a capable back who was in a bad situation in Washington, but has still seen his yards-per-carry average decline every year since his rookie season. Behind Dallas’ line, he could flourish, but given that McFadden is injury prone and has only a year left on this contract and Dunbar is still recovering from a torn ACL and MCL, the Cowboys would be wise to add some depth at this position at some point in the draft.
The Dallas 4-3 defense saw linebackers Anthony Hitchens, Rolando McClain, and Sean Lee as their three starters in 2015. Hitchens was a capable starter, McClain at times showed the ability to be a solid NFL linebacker, and Lee enjoyed a very impressive season. But given the injury history of Lee, as well as the options behind these three players, the Cowboys would be wise to invest some draft capital at the LB slot.
Set, For Better Or Worse
Jason Witten continues to chug along as one of the more durable and capable tight ends in the NFL. The selection of Gavin Escobar looks to be panning out, as the former San Diego State TE is a very athletic player and serves in a complementary way to Witten as a move tight end. Behind these two players are James Hanna, another athletic TE, and Geoff Swaim, who has a similar playing style to Witten. These four options are very solid and lock down this position for the Cowboys for seasons to come.
A number of wise decisions by Dallas have paid off over the past few seasons, and the Cowboys boast one of the more impressive offensive lines in the league. A few seasons ago Dallas drafted Travis Frederick in the first round, and the young center has blossomed into one of the most impressive in the league. The Cowboys are also set at the guard positions, with two young and very talented players in Zack Martin and La’el Collins. Tyron Smith is also growing into one of the more imposing LTs in the game, and these four players give Dallas four first-round talents up front. Right tackle Doug Free is this unit’s “weakest link,” but is also a very capable RT and a solid option for Dallas at this spot.