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Dallas Cowboys: How To Address Team Needs For 2016

Tommy Simon

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Cowboys Blog - Dallas Cowboys: How To Address Team Needs For 2016

If you read the first two articles in this series, you will understand when I say that the Dallas Cowboys will be a completely different team in 2017. If you haven't read them yet, here are the links:

  1. Dallas Cowboys 2016 Needs: Assessing The Offense
  2. Dallas Cowboys 2016 Needs: Assessing The Defense

Hopefully, they’ll be healthier but they also have numerous expiring contracts and will need to fill them with new players. A third of the starters could be changed (certainly a fourth). The Cowboys will need to re-sign players, bring in free agents, or draft rookies for 18 possible positions.

While this should free up some cap space, it certainly will not provide enough relief for the Boys to be big spenders in the open market.

I am not a cap space expert, but with $20mil in expiring contracts, getting 7-8 million in relief by re-negotiating Brandon Carr’s contract, the cap space increasing 8-10mil, and with a little restructuring, say freeing up another 10mil, then the Boys should have 48mil to spend on the 17 to 18 positions.

Again, this is not based on in-depth analysis, but high-level estimating. Don’t quote me on those figures.

In this scenario, I can see them landing a star player for 10-12 million, signing four starters for 20mil, signing four key backup slots for 12mil, and have 8 to 9 draft picks/free agent signings at league minimums. This would be another 5-6mil or so.

So half of the 18 positions will need to be addressed with rookies or veteran free agent signings at the minimum veteran salaries. They will need at least four to five rookies to make the roster and provide quality playing time and salary relief.

Let’s look at the position-by-position needs we identified in our previous articles:

  • Backup QB
  • Starting RB
  • Third Down Back
  • Starting Fullback
  • Backup Blocking TE
  • Backup (Number 3) Receiver
  • Backup Guard
  • Another Backup Guard
  • Starting Right Tackle or Backup Swing Tackle
  • Starting Corner (either slot or outside)
  • Backup Corner
  • Backup Free Safety
  • 5th safety/Special Teams
  • Starting Middle Linebacker
  • Starting or a backup SAM Linebacker
  • Starting Defensive End
  • Backup Defensive End
  • Either a starting one or three technique

Now let’s rank them in order of importance. This is somewhat subjective, but I think we can agree on most of the prioritization.

Here is my list from top to bottom:

  1. Starting Defensive End
  2. Starting Corner (either slot or outside)
  3. Starting Middle Linebacker
  4. Starting One/Three Technique
  5. Starting RB
  6. Starting Right Tackle or Backup Swing Tackle
  7. Backup QB
  8. 3rd Down Back
  9. Starting Fullback
  10. Primary Backup Guard
  11. Backup Blocking TE
  12. Starting or Backup SAM Linebacker
  13. Backup (Number 3) Receiver
  14. Backup Slot Corner
  15. Backup Free Safety
  16. 5th Safety/Special teams
  17. 4th Guard/Center
  18. 4th Defensive End

So let’s look at some trends and stats. First, there will be needs at some very key positions. There could be as many as 8 starting positions that need to be filled. At a minimum, there will be at least 6 starting positions affected.

Assuming that you can get two of those positions filled with draft picks, you still need to sign three to five free agents to start. That is a lot to expect in free agency. So expect the Boys to bring Greg Hardy, MacKenzy Bernadeau, Rolando McClain, James Hanna, and possibly Morris Claiborne back.

Now, if you look at all the positions, the first twelve spots play significant roles (starters or critically key backups). Assuming you have a great draft and you can fill four of the roles with rookies (most likely only three), then that still leaves, at least, eight high-value positions to be filled in free agency or by re-signing players. Again, I would expect the Boys to try to land some key backups like Bernadeau and Hanna.

You can also see that the needs are evenly split between offense and defense. On offense, you have two starting positions (RB and Fullback) and one other possible starter (RT/Swing). But there are some other important backup positions needed (QB, 3rd Guard, 3rd Receiver, blocking TE).

On defense, there are at least four starting positions needed (DT, DE, Corner, and the Mike). The Boys could also use a starting SAM LB. However, unlike the offense, and other than the backup slot corner, the backup positions are lower in importance and can be filled with developmental players.

While the needs are split evenly between offense and defense, notice that 4 of the top 5 needs are defensive players. With that being the case, our defense could be dramatically better or worse next year. Having 4 to 5 new starters out of 11 possible positions is a significant change. Next year’s team will have a whole new identity.

I look forward to seeing what it is. I hope it is power, not finesse as it's been of late. You can look at this as a challenge or as an opportunity to create a whole new identity.

Frankly, on the whole, to upgrade or replace 18 positions is a lot to expect from one draft and free agent class. That is why I do not think the Cowboys will make more than one splash signing. Other than possibly re-signing Hardy, I do not expect any big name signings this year. There are just too many needs and the money will have to be spread around amongst 10 key positions.

So now that we know we will need around 12-13 free agents (or returning players), we can predict the positions that are most likely to be addressed by bringing back players or signing free agents.

Here are the positions that seem to make the most sense to me and why:

Starting Defensive End

You need to have a starting caliber DE that makes an impact. Too hard to trust a draft pick to be an impact player. Also, the Boys need their early draft picks to use on other starting positions. I can see one possibility of drafting a DE early. If the Boys sign an impactful starting-caliber corner in free agency, then they could gamble on trying to draft a first round DE. But it’s a risky gamble.

Corner (probably backup slot corner)

I believe the Boys will sign a vet and draft a corner too. They need a starter and a reliable backup. I would love to see them sign a shutdown corner and then draft a corner in the mid-rounds. However, I don’t think they have the money to do that and so I think they sign a veteran for depth and draft a corner in the first two rounds.

Starting Middle LB

Again, this could be addressed in the draft, but it would need to be in the first three rounds. I don’t see the Boys doing that because they have other positions that will take priority. I could see them drafting MLB in the second round if the Boys sign a running back in free agency.

Backup QB

No draft pick is reliable enough to count on to win games in year one. The Boys need a definite upgrade and a proven commodity.

Starting Tackle or Backup Swing

We have Chaz Green so we need to team him with a veteran to give him time to work on his strength and technique. Hopefully, it will be starting tackle and we could move Doug Free to swing, upgrading both positions. However, the cap may make this unattainable.

Third-down Back

I really expect to see Lance Dunbar re-signed. Some team could throw money at him, but with his injury history, I do not think so. This should give the Boys the inside track on re-signing him.

Backup Guard

Too important of a position to rely on a rookie mid-round pick. Can they re-sign Bernadeau? Need a proven vet to step in if/when a starter goes down.

Starting SAM LB

Again, I do not foresee them using a high enough draft pick to get a starting caliber SAM linebacker. Save the pick and just go get a good value plug and play steady vet.

Backup Receiver

The Boys need a proven vet that can step up if Dez Bryant goes down. I do not see them drafting a receiver high enough in the draft to be impactful. So this should be addressed by signing a reliable vet in free agency.

Backup blocking TE

I can see the boys spending a draft pick from the 5th to 7th round on a blocking TE. But I think they will try to re-sign Hanna or go get a vet at near the minimum salary. Either way would not surprise me.

Fullback

This can be addressed in the draft, but honestly, there are a lot of cheap free agents out there with experience. The Boys should be able to find a fullback that can make more of an impact in the running game.

5th safety and special teams guru

I expect they will re-sign Jeff Heath. I do not see teams throwing money at him, so the Cowboys can get him. If they do not re-sign Heath, I bet that they will go with just four safeties on the roster. If that is the case, then they will sign a vet for depth’s sake.

The first six positions MUST be addressed in free agency or the draft. The final four should be addressed, but the Boys could survive without addressing them in free agency. But let’s assume our scenario plays out, that would leave the Boys 6 positions to be filled in the draft or with unsigned rookie free agents.

  1. One or Three technique
  2. Corner (could be starter or backup based on free agency signing)
  3. Starting Running Back
  4. Developmental Free Safety
  5. Developmental 4th DE
  6. Developmental 4th Guard

Now things never go as planned. But if I were in the Cowboys front office, I would have a plan of action similar to this.

I can’t see a situation that covers all 18 positions of need by re-signing their players and adding free agents. This means that contrary to their wishes, they’ll need to draft some players specifically to fill needs or voids. It’s called, “drafting for need” and that approach to the draft tends to backfire. A team can blow a whole draft by overreaching to take specific players in positions of need. So I imagine that having to play by this strategy will make the Boys take some chances they wouldn’t normally take. I also think it means they’ll be moving up and down a lot in this draft.

If they don’t follow this strategy then they gamble and take chances in other ways.

For example, if they don’t find a swing tackle, or can’t draft one early, they’ll promote Green to the primary swing tackle role. As I said earlier, I don’t think Green is ready for this. Deciding to promote Green could lead to disastrous situations. If one of the starting tackles goes down then he could be starting games and just one blown assignment away from allowing Tony Romo to go down again. So there will be definite tradeoffs to be made when considering to draft the best player available or drafting for need.

While I’m a proponent of the best player available approach, this year, I think they’ll need to draft more for need. Let’s just hope there is a good player in a position of need when we draft. Otherwise, we should be smart and drop down so that we don’t over-reach for need. Given the amount of needs that the Boys will have this offseason, I expect dropping down will be the strategy.

But with Jerry Jones strategies change quickly, so it’ll be fun to watch.



Tommy Simon is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and sports enthusiast. He is currently CEO of TechBAA, an investor and board member of TPC Technical and CommunitesFIrst, and acting CFO for ALS Communities. In addition to investing and advising companies, Tommy is also a Sales Management coach and is working with companies as a Fractional CMO/CSO. Tommy is a life long football player, coach and Cowboy fan. He currently coaches and sponsors several 7 on 7 teams. He manages/coaches an adult flag football team that is the top team in Florida one of the highest ranked teams in the country. Tommy's hobbies include international travel, fantasy football, reading, and engaging in intelligent political discourse. He is married to a wonderful women for 18 years; which is the best thing he has ever accomplished. He has a dog that is the best dog ever. He also has 9 siblings and roughly 30 nieces and nephews. For more information about tommy, or to request him to speak, please contact him at info@techbaa.com

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Dallas Cowboys

Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?

Sean Martin

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Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?

The Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss at the Los Angeles Rams is still fresh on the minds of their players, staff, and front office. So much so that the team had to fan the flames on a Jason Garrett comment expecting Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to return. Garrett himself walked back this "report" once Stephen Jones noted it's still too early for any coaching staff changes. The focus will remain on Linehan's post until it's removed or the Cowboys OC is retained, but one coordinator the Cowboys now expect to keep is Rod Marinelli on defense.

Marinelli himself disputed the season-long belief that this was likely his last as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. With Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard not taking any of the three HC positions he interviewed for, Marinelli doesn't have to worry about shuffling his title to accommodate Richard - who called the plays from week one this season anyway.

Rod's title does include his specialty as defensive line coach though, a unit that the Rams dominated with their offensive line to a historic degree. The Rams' season-high 273 rushing yards was provided by both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson surpassing 100 yards on the ground, the first time in team history they've had two backs reach this mark in a single playoff game.

Rams HC Sean McVay hardly had to reach into his vaunted 'bag of tricks' to expose the Cowboys defense in a way they hadn't been all year, but there was still an element of brilliance in his offensive game plan. It came out after the game that the Rams picked up on the keys the Dallas defensive linemen used to signal stunts and twists before the snap. While this is nothing more than just great scouting yielding an unforeseen advantage, it's left the Cowboys with more than enough time to ponder what went wrong in the Coliseum.

Danny Heifetz on Twitter

The Rams offensive line knew what the Cowboys defensive line was going to do before the snap on Saturday. https://t.co/oGo6Eiz4av

The answer to this may be nothing other than the coaching questions the Cowboys are already considering. With Richard's interviews in Tampa Bay, Miami, and New York coming at the beginning of the week leading up to game day, it's possible Marinelli had a larger say in the Cowboys preparation on defense.

It was Marinelli's defense that conceded 412 yards to the Rams in 2017 in a loss at AT&T Stadium. Matching him up with McVay leaves a lot to be desired, while Richard helps bridge this gap - something he was seen desperately trying to do on the sideline with a battered Cowboys defense.

As each day of the offseason passes, a change at either coordinator position becomes less likely in Dallas. On offense, the play caller has more than a season's worth of evidence showing the deficiencies of the Cowboys attack. In a league fueled by recency bias however, Marinelli certainly didn't leave his best performance on the field in Los Angeles.

Somewhere in the middle of this is Jason Garrett, safely in place as the head coach that should be personally trying to upgrade his top two assistants however possible. Marinelli signing up for another year makes this hard on defense, though Richard should resume play calling duties next season.

Again, this leaves the onus of the Cowboys improvements for 2019 on the offensive side of the ball, something that'll be realized when the shock of their defense letting them down in the biggest game of the season is gone.

Tell us what you think about "Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money

Jess Haynie

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Tony Romo, Dez Bryant

You may have already heard that the Dallas Cowboys will be flush with salary cap space in 2019, and that's very accurate. A huge portion of it comes from over $30 million in expiring cap penalties, otherwise known as "dead money."

Quick explanation; dead money occurs when a player is released or retires prior to the expiration of their contract. Any guaranteed money, such as the original signing bonus or money converted in a restructuring, that has not yet been paid out according to the contract schedule is accelerated.

For example, when Tony Romo retired after 2016, he still had $19.6 million in guaranteed money owed to him. Dallas chose to split this dead money over two years, and thus had a $10.7 cap penalty in 2017 and $8.9 million last season.

But now Romo's dead money, along with Dez Bryant's and several other players, is coming off the Cowboys' books. The result is a roughly $30 million infusion of salary cap space for 2019.

Here were the major culprits for last year's dead money:

(All cap figures are taken from Spotrac.com)

  • QB Tony Romo - $8.9 million
  • WR Dez Bryant - $8 million
  • DT Cedric Thornton - $2.5 million
  • CB Orlando Scandrick - $2.3 million
  • CB Nolan Carroll - $2 million
  • WR Deonte Thompson - $1.8 million
  • DE Benson Mayowa - $1.1 million
  • K Dan Bailey - $800 thousand
  • TE James Hanna - $750 thousand

Those players alone make up a little over $28 million. Another $4 million or so came from over 30 players with lesser penalties that still added up.

Right now, the Cowboys have only $1.76 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap. Nearly all of that is the $1.6 million still owed to Orlando Scandrick.

That difference is where the cap space comes from, and it will be of tremendous help to Dallas as they have major financial moves coming. They need to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, deal with a major salary bump for Amari Cooper, and consider a contract extension for Dak Prescott.

The 2019 number will change, of course, as the offseason rolls on. If Dallas elects to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, or others, some dead money will appear. But that will be offset by whatever cap savings motivated the move in the first place.

This is a good reminder of why the Cowboys' new era of fiscal conservatism is a good thing. After years of what felt like perpetual "salary cap hell," they are finally getting out from under those penalties and have complete flexibility this offseason. They may not even need to cut a guy like Crawford, who they almost would have been forced to in past seasons.

We'll be talking a lot more about individual players and their contracts in the weeks ahead, but this summary helps us see that Dallas isn't nearly up against the financial wall as they have been. We still miss guys like Romo and Dez, but we won't miss that awful dead money in 2019.



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Player News

Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program

Jess Haynie

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Travis Frederick

Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.

After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.

Rob Phillips on Twitter

Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire

While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.

It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.

Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.

That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.

But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.

Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.



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