Many people in the media, football fans, and even Dallas Cowboys fans never gave the 2014 Cowboys team much of a chance to be successful. Not only were the Cowboys not given much of a chance, but they were being dubbed as one of - if not - the worst teams in the league coming into the season.
The team was horrific on defense last year; bad play calling on offense and the refusal to run the ball consistently were some of many reasons why the 2014 Cowboys were given no chance.
And on top of it all the team lost it's best three defenders from that dreadful defense of 2013 - Jason Hatcher wasn’t resigned, DeMarcus Ware was released, and then in May, Sean Lee tore his ACL; not to mention Tony Romo was trying to come back from having his second back surgery in as many years.
No doubt about it, nothing but misery and despair were to come for America’s Team.
But looking back on it now, was that really the case? Remember last season when the Cowboys defensive line had 19 different players take snaps? Let that sink in a little bit. 19 DIFFERENT PLAYERS.
Now, also take into consideration that the majority of those players were not playing football when the Cowboys gave them the call. Some were busy opening up an ice cream shop or selling insurance and I think a couple might have worked at home depot.
Yes, the defense still had DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Nick Hayden and George Selvie. But only Selvie was able to remain mostly healthy of the four. As for the other defensive positions, linebacker Sean Lee missed a lot of time again; Justin Durant missed games as well. The cornerback position stayed healthy, but the safety position continued to struggle through injuries and inexperience.
Throw all that in with a defensive scheme that didn’t allow the players to play at their strength, and what you got next was a recipe for disaster.
Yet, after all that, through all the injuries, that revolving door on the defensive line and the coaching miscues; somehow, someway this team managed to finish with a .500 record at 8-8.
During the offseason, the team didn’t make any free agent splashes. If anything they made more noise by letting people go.
Jason Hatcher left, as did DeMarcus Ware. The team replaced them with Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Henry Melton - who was coming back from a torn ACL. The biggest move of the offseason was arguably during the summer when the Cowboys traded with the Baltimore Ravens for the linebacker Rolando McClain.
Making a return to the team was DE/DT Tyrone Crawford - who tore his Achilles tendon during the 2013 training camp - but at the time, people were saying, “Yeah, so, what’s the big deal?”
In my eyes it was huge and here’s why.
The coaches and staff were able to get players that they thought would fit the system, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The team wasn’t forced to take players who were sitting on the couch at home, like they had been for the 2013 season. The team was also going into the second year of the Kiffinelli scheme, albeit now with Rod Marinelli at the head of the table.
With the player transactions, coaching changes, the return of a few key players on defense, and the maturation and experience at the safety position, a big improvement for this team wasn’t out of the question. As a matter of fact, I expected it. I felt that if this team was able to stay healthy, they would indeed improve and fight for a playoff spot. Why the so-called “pros" in the industry couldn’t see it is beyond me.
Think about it, this team is fresh off three consecutive 8-8 seasons. In each of those years the Cowboys led the league in number of players put injured reserve or missing playing time. And yet they remained competitive and had a chance to make the playoffs.
This season, the team has still had to fight through injuries. Sean Lee was lost for the year before it even began and Justin Durant was gone midway through the season. Even Bruce Carter and Rolando McClain have missed time due to injury and illness. But the difference is they weren’t all missing at the same time. Plus, their backups were actually chosen during the offseason and those same backups were able to stay healthy.
Let’s face it folks, when you get down to your third string and fourth string players having major playing time, you’re going to experience a drop off in production. But that hasn’t happen this season, has it?
I’m not going to sit here and give all the praise to the defense and their improved play as to why this team is heading into their first playoff game in 5 years. The offense has played a major role, as most expected they would have to.
The team said they were going to run the ball this year and they have. DeMarco Murray stayed healthy and has played out of his mind. Dez Bryant continued to prove he is one of the best wide receivers in the league. The emergence of second-year wide receiver Terrance Williams, as well as Cole Beasley, has been huge. The ever consistent Jason Witten and up and coming tight ends James Hanna and Gavin Escobar have played a huge role, too.
The offensive linemen have proved to be the best unit in the league while Tony Romo fought to come back from back surgery to have a MVP type of season (which he should be in my biased opinion).
So was it really that big of a shock that this team turned things around once they stayed healthy and got back some players from injury? I don’t see it that way, and haven’t seen it that way. Even the young men on this team showed improvement throughout the season.
I can’t sit here and say I saw a top 5 team in the league, I would be lying if I did. Matter of fact, I had them winning 10 games and sneaking into the playoffs as a wild card. Heck, I was one of the people who gave them no shot to win in Seattle.
But what I can say is people were pointing at signs why the 2014 Cowboys were going to be bad, when what they should have been looking at signs of why they were going to be good in 2014.
If they had, their success this season wouldn’t really be that big of a shock.
Are the Dallas Cowboys Distancing Themselves from HC Jason Garrett?
Training camp is always an exciting time for the Dallas Cowboys, with 2018's proceedings being no exception. A major difference this year is the hype carrying over to the Cowboys coaching staff, featuring newcomers at the positional level everywhere but running back, safety, and defensive tackle.
Experienced coaches like Kris Richard, Paul Alexander, and Sanjay Lal will have a big impact on the Cowboys development as a 9-7 team that's only gotten younger this offseason. Still likely in need of a playoff appearance to save the job of Head Coach Jason Garrett and his coordinators, one can't help but question Garrett's effectiveness with this year's team.
The Cowboys appearance on NFL Films' latest All or Nothing series offered Cowboys Nation a rare look inside this team's day-to-day activities, including Garrett's role as a motivator and leader to many coaches no longer with the team.
Garrett's walk through a proverbial hall of mirrors at The Star reflects much deeper though. Ultimately, it's the players that decide games on Sundays, and the Cowboys didn't have enough of their blue chip ones on the field together for 2017. Whether or not this changes in 2018, the Cowboys can do little to shake the truth that conditions must be perfect for Garrett to captain this team to success.
If having a future Hall of Fame tight end like Jason Witten around wasn't enough for Garrett, going all in on this team in their first year without not only Witten but Dez Bryant feels foolish.
This underdog status and youthful nature may very well bring the Cowboys back to their 2016 form. I've already mentioned mirrors however, and how about the smoke? Garrett's best year out of eight full seasons, that 13-3 campaign was surely not all 'smoke and mirrors', but it is now far enough in the past to expect improvement from the Cowboys head coach.
Garrett must overcome massive changes on the offense he once coordinated to see third-year Quarterback Dak Prescott put this team back in the playoff picture, or the Cowboys will only continue to change face even more dramatically for 2019.
Long gone are the innocent days of Garrett playing catch under the California sun with a rookie Prescott, who had no idea the impact he'd make on the entirety of this franchise so quickly. Now, the Cowboys may have to quickly separate this duo if looking to preserve a window of contention under Dak's rookie contract.
It truly will be fascinating to see the new points of emphasis this revamped Cowboys coaching staff brings to the team not only on the field in Oxnard but through their team meetings and into the regular season. As Garrett allows the likes of Richard and Lal to oversee important changes at CB/S and WR respectively, his overarching message of character, competition, and respect will still echo throughout the team.
Whether or not the slew of new players Garrett has to coach can inspire him to implement this message effectively, or if his days are numbered given the slack the Cowboys have already provided, is the most important story line for the Cowboys in 2018.
By most team's standards, a 9-7 season given the circumstances around the Cowboys a year ago is acceptable -- which it ultimately was for Dallas as they kept Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli.
This team's shortcomings through a disappointing season was enough for the Cowboys to begin reevaluating the coaches below this trio though, leaving only their ninth year head coach to fall victim to the level of turnover NFL teams are experiencing on the fly right now.
The Cowboys roster has received this message loud and clear. Will Garrett's carry the same impetus, and will it truly matter for the 2018 season?
Is WR Cedrick Wilson the Player With Most to Gain in Training Camp?
Within the Dallas Cowboys' uncertain wide receiver core, is sixth-round pick Cedrick Wilson. Considered a draft steal by many, Wilson's name is often lost in the mix among Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley and third round rookie Michael Gallup. Just days away from the start of the 2018 training camp, Cedrick Wilson might be the player with the most to gain on the team.
Wilson comes from the Boise State Broncos, where he set the school record for receiving yards in a season with 1,511 last year. As a sixth-round rookie, the young 22-year old receiver has an uphill battle ahead of him to earn a spot on the Cowboys' 53-man roster.
It shouldn't come as a surprise if he emerges victorious in this battle, though.
You see, the lack of a #1 receiver has been one of the main story lines for the Cowboys and for good reason. Heading into the preseason, there is no clear-cut "#1." But even though there isn't a big name such as Dez Bryant, I'm sure we'll feel way better about the wide receivers once the season starts and the offense manages to sustain a good passing attack led by Dak Prescott.
Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup seem like the two front-runners for being the "X" receivers on offense, the position in which Wilson lined up at Boise State during his last year in college football. It's tough to imagine a sixth round rookie being the starting "X" receiver in his rookie season, but that doesn't mean he can't earn an important role at some point of the year.
In 2017, the offense struggled due to the receivers failing to create separation downfield. Wilson, although a raw route-runner, was a very dangerous vertical threat in Boise State and could be just that for the Cowboys down the road.
He needs to improve as a player, but with Sanjay Lal focusing hard at route-running with his receivers, Cedrick could become an important target for Dak earlier than expected.
In order to do so, the young wide receiver will have to find success in training camp. Wide receiver will undoubtedly be one of the most intriguing position battles on the team, with many young yet unproven talent.
There's too many receivers that will be fighting for a roster spot over the following weeks, so Cowboys Nation is bound to be disappointed with so many so-called "pet cats." One or two of these guys will be released and I bet it'll hurt, just as it happens every year.
In all seriousness, though, with his ability to stretch the field and be a vertical threat plus his experience as an "X" receiver, Cedrick Wilson might not only make the roster, but become a significant piece for this new-look offense in Dallas during his rookie season.
Will DeMarcus Lawrence Be Franchise Tagged Again in 2019?
The deadline for extending players under the franchise tag has come and gone last Monday, in a day in which none of the remaining tagged players reached an agreement with their respective teams. That includes Dallas Cowboy Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, who's set to earn $17M in 2018.
The front office and the 26-year old defensive end failed to agree to a new contract before the season's start, but we saw that coming. After all, there was never a point in which we had the classic "X player and his team are close to a new deal" headline.
All of this makes the future of the Cowboys' promising "War Daddy" very uncertain. What lies a head of the player that put on an impressive show in 2018?
Since 2017 was Lawrence's breakout year, racking up 14.5 sacks trough the season, we have leaned towards the narrative of last season being his only good one. His performance last season was impressive and clearly his best one yet, but we tend to overlook 2015.
In his sophomore season, the only other year in which he has played 16 games, he finished the campaign with eight sacks and 35 tackles (55 combined). Really, the idea of 2017 being his only good year is not as accurate as we might think.
That being said, I think it's more likely that we see another great year from him this upcoming season than seeing a disappointing one. This, of course, will end up being the main thing that determines his future in Dallas.
The Dallas Cowboys front office really took a risk by tagging Lawrence this offseason. #90 was reportedly asking for an average of $17M per year in his long-term contract, which is Olivier Vernon kind of money.
So what if he puts a similar season or an even better one? Lawrence and his agent could end up asking for even more money. Perhaps in the 18 or 20 million dollars per year range. If that ends up being the case, the team will find itself in a tough position when trying to reach an agreement with its promising pass rusher.
Which leads us to the possibility of seeing the Cowboys franchise tagging Lawrence for the second consecutive season. Dallas will already be negotiating a contract extension with QB Dak Prescott, and things will get complicated. Even more if they decide to pursue a big-time free agent in March, such as Earl Thomas.
It would make sense, from a financial perspective, to hand the tag twice in consecutive years to D-Law. However, it shouldn't be the priority. If he plays like he did in 2017, the front office will be more than wise to extend him for good.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Cowboys will have approximately $50.6M. Seemingly, the team's cap woes will be over soon.
Fortunately, Lawrence didn't become a headache by threatening to holdout for offseason programs and even training camp. However, don't expect that to happen if he finds himself under the tag next year.
Careers in the NFL are short, so DeMarcus will surely want to get paid. If he keeps it up, he'll deserve it. As much as he deserves it, though, football is a cold business. If the Jones need to tag him, they will.
Do you think the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence in 2019?
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