While Christmas Eve may be the most infamously memorable date from this Cowboys’ 2017 season, with the visiting Seahawks spoiling Ezekiel Elliott’s return from suspension to force Dallas out of playoff contention, a case could be made that this 9-7 campaign was set up months earlier.
On the heels of winning the NFC East at 13-3, the Cowboys took their usual approach to free agency last offseason — patching holes with depth players available on cheap contracts.
The scope of this article is not to cover what the definitive biggest problem was for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys, but their mix of distractions, suspensions, and injuries is best summarized as a lack of depth.
For the better part of the season, the Cowboys did not have better players than their opponents on the field — a simple recipe for disaster in the NFL. This means that their free agent acquisitions did not perform as expected.
Looking back, here are the contracts the Cowboys gave out last offseason, with their end results:
- Signed CB Nolan Carroll to three-year deal worth $10 million, released in week six.
- Signed DT Stephen Paea to one year deal, retired in week six (placed on injured reserve).
- Signed DE Damontre Moore to two-year deal worth $1.65 million, released prior to week eight.
- Signed OT Byron Bell to one year deal, finished season but was ineffective in place of LT Tyron Smith.
- Signed S Robert Blanton to one year deal, released prior to week one.
In some areas, the Cowboys’ loss of depth through free agency allowed younger players to shine. Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis only further cemented this team as a draft-first organization, turning the Cowboys’ secondary into a strength.
The positions elsewhere on this list remain ones of need a year later though. With Stephen Jones mostly calling the shots, the Cowboys do not like to enter the NFL Draft with a glaring need at any position.
Dallas’ pass protection for QB Dak Prescott was putrid at times without LT Tyron Smith, as Byron Bell could not be counted on as his replacement. Bargain-shopping for pass rush again too, the Cowboys’ defensive line has plenty of young talent to be legitimately excited about, but is in need of depth that can stick with the team, unlike Damontre Moore.
This NFL offseason is hardly in full-swing yet, but already it appears the Cowboys will enter April’s draft favorably.
Quality depth can be added through a deep draft class, in a year where the Cowboys may have as many as 12 picks (an optimistic way to look at their poor turnaround in free agency from the previous year).
However, the offseason is not yet here for all 32 teams.
Two teams that are simply better at roster building than the Cowboys still have to play on Sunday. Super Bowl LII features the hated Philadelphia Eagles, who have overcome an impossible amount of key injuries to earn another shot at their first title, against the New England Patriots.
Fans everywhere know all too well about the Patriots this time of year, and ones who pay close attention to the league certainly see their plug-and-play free agents contributing to playoff success each season.
Dreams of this year’s Super Bowl long gone in Dallas, the Cowboys have sold their faithful once again on “the process”.
Calls for serious change to occur after this season have been met with coaching changes to the offensive line, wide receivers, linebackers, special teams, and tight ends (a position that remains vacant). Kris Richard has also been hired to replace Matt Eberflus as passing game coordinator.
Head Coach Jason Garrett and both of his coordinators remain in place though, preparing to coach a roster that won’t look drastically different — with the same front office constructing it using a similar approach.
Whether or not the Cowboys’ way of doing things can survive another offseason like last year’s will be determined by how available their top players are for 2018.
As a draft analyst, I support nothing more than teams embracing the young talent available to them every April. As a Cowboys writer, I’ve supported this coaching staff numerous times — along with the idea that this team isn’t as far from turning things around as I may be leading you to believe.
As simply a Dallas Cowboys fan though, the reality is this: a lot of things have to go perfectly for the Cowboys to contend next season.
After arguably derailing this season before it even started, the two teams left standing this week simply can’t relate to the Cowboys’ organizational approach. One of them will be bringing the Lombardi trophy back to their city, an honor the Cowboys haven’t realized in 22 years.
Placing themselves behind the figurative eight ball before a season like 2017 begins will do little to ever end this streak.