Now two games behind Philadelphia and Washington, and perhaps the Giants as well after tonight, I am confidently sticking a fork in the 2015 Cowboys. Their ugly loss in Green Bay yesterday cost a lot of ground in the comical NFC East division race. What's more, the poor performance left no reason to think that they can suddenly pull off any kind of miracle.
I will soon turn my attention to offseason business: coaching changes, roster moves, and the beloved draft. But alas, painful as it will be, we have to have some final words about this season. I know Dallas is not officially eliminated, but I can't abide this fantasy any longer. This just isn't our year. It hasn't been since the third quarter of the Week 2 game in Philadelphia, when Tony Romo got smashed into the turf and took our 2015 hopes with him to the injured list.
The Romo injury casts a fog over everything that happened this year and even in the previous offseason. How accurately can you grade the offense without its most important piece? How much was the defense hampered by the lack of offensive production and ball control? Even arguments about what Dallas could or should have done last spring are problematic because of the hindsight element. I'll do the best I can, trying to push my frustration and sorrow away as I go.
My biggest takeaway from this season is that the Cowboys, particularly the front office and coaching staff, paid the price for hubris. There are a few key areas where this was evident:
Tony Romo went down on September 20th and the Cowboys traded for Matt Cassel on September 22nd. Brandon Weeden had been here for two training camps and played a little in 2014. That they made the Cassel trade so immediately speaks to how little faith they had in Weeden, and makes you wonder why Weeden was here to begin with.
Did Dallas reach out to Shaun Hill last March, as some were reporting? That has never been confirmed. Maybe it's unfair to assume Dallas just blindly believed in Weeden and didn't try to upgrade the position. We obviously don't know every phone call that's made between teams and agents.
What's more, you can even make a case for why they felt sticking with Weeden for a second year was the best option at the time. Continuity and system familiarity are valuable things for all players, and none more than quarterbacks. But what changed between March and September? Why didn't you find a fallback option during the offseason if you had so little confidence?
Maybe it comes down to Dustin Vaughan and their missed projection of his development. I could see the scenario where they hoped Vaughan would improve enough in his second year to push Weeden out the door. That didn't happen, so now they were stuck with Brandy to start the year. They wouldn't be the first or last team to base their strategy around an expectation that never materializes.
Backup quarterback is the ultimate hindsight position. Nobody criticizes your strategy if Romo never misses time. Once you have to break the glass, though, your handling of the position is put in the crosshairs. The bottom line here is that Dallas clearly didn't love Weeden and, seemingly, didn't do enough to try and improve the depth behind Romo.
As I said last March, I have no issue with Dallas' decision to let DeMarco Murray walk. He wanted more than any team should pay for a guy at his age with a spotty history of both health and performance. Murray wanted to cash in on one epic season and, for once, Dallas was smart enough not be the ones writing the check. Even if he'd had a strong year for the Eagles that wouldn't change my praise of how Dallas handled Murray.
The issue isn't in letting Murray leave but rather how Dallas chose to replace him. Joseph Randle was a certified knucklehead already and Darren McFadden's stock had dropped harder than McDonald's. The run game was such a key to success in 2014 that you'd think they would've treated it with more care. It appears that the front office was far too cocky about the strength of the offensive line and the idea that anyone with two legs could produce behind it.
To their credit, they seemed to bet right on McFadden. He's been more than productive enough given the lack of a passing game, even handling heavy loads of carries better than anyone expected. But they whiffed so hard on Randle, and had more than enough reason to be concerned going in, that it's a blight on the front office's evaluation skills.
There's been a lot of hindsight complaining about Dallas not taking a running back in the draft, particularly in the Third Round. Obviously, getting Jay Ajayi, David Johnson, or Matt Jones would've been nice. Chaz Green became an afterthought after the La'el Collins pickup and his stint on the PUP list that makes it easy to look back with regret. I don't go there, though, because Green could wind up being a very important pick if he replaces Doug Free in the neat year or two.
Still, there was a pretty clear need for another bullet or two in the chamber at running back going into 2015. They picked up Christine Michel but, apparently, weren't able to deal with his issues any better than Seattle could. Dallas went to the scrap heap too many times with this position and, ultimately, ended up with mostly trash.
Dallas put a lot of eggs in the Tyrone Crawford basket, and rightfully so given how he played in 2014. Plenty of criticized the deal in retrospect but I can't fault them for the decision based on the information they had at the time. What bothers me more is the way they handled the rest of the defensive tackles, including Nick Hayden as the other starter.
Hayden is not a bad player. He'd be an okay running mate with proven, elite talent around him but Dallas's defensive line did not have that going into 2015. Once again, they were riding on hope that guys like DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory would breakout and that Greg Hardy would be a force after his four-game suspension. They've come up short on those projections, including their trust in Crawford. The result is that a guy like Hayden gets exposed far more.
With Hayden as the Cowboys "run-stopping" tackle they have ranked in the bottom half of the league three out of the last four seasons. Last year's run defense statistics were greatly helped by the offensive efficiency and an easily-exploited pass defense. If you watched those games, you remember that teams had little trouble running on the Cowboys when they chose to.
Hayden is hardly the only culprit here but he was one of the easiest targets for an upgrade last offseason. Dallas put their money into Crawford and hoped that someone between Hayden, Terrell McClain, or Josh Brent would emerge. McClain ended up on Injured Reserve, where he tends to live, and Brent retired in May with his ongoing personal struggles.
I'm not saying Dallas should've gone and signed Ndamukong Suh but they couldn't do any better than bringing back this same crew? Was their confidence in Rod Marinelli's ability to "coach 'em up" too high? Was their faith in the upgrades at defensive end enough that they felt the interior line would be okay? Whatever they based the gamble on, they clearly bet wrong.
One of my biggest wishes of the last offseason, and one that I'll wish even harder for next year, was improvement at safety. I was very excited when they drafted Byron Jones and hoped that he would emerge their, perhaps even taking a starting job by Week One. But Dallas kept bouncing him between corner and safety and ultimately sabotaged his ability to take over at either position.
The jury has been out on Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox since last year. Church is a tackling machine with no threat of making big plays in coverage. Wilcox is just another Roy Williams, big-hit obsessed safety with far less consistency, instincts, or talent. They are a horrible combination for this defense and yet Dallas didn't make the moves necessary to improve it.
Jones was scouted as a potential safety ace leading up to the draft. He showed his spark for the job almost instantly in mini camps. Why hold him back as much as they did? I think it comes down to something that I've noticed about Jason Garrett, and that I view as his greatest weakness.
As a former player, Jason has plenty of insight into the dynamics of the locker room and the mentality of athletes. This serves him very well as a motivator and leader. However, I think it also gives him an overly cautious concern for disrespecting veterans. I think he defers too much to older players and waits too long to recognize when a young guy is deserving of an opportunity. He wants everyone on the team, and perhaps even the veteran himself, to clearly see and accept that they should step aside for the superior younger player.
Kickoff & Punt Returning
What about Cole Beasley's history as a return man made you want to stick with him? Was it the lack of dynamic athleticism or the absence of any touchdowns?
As minor as this may seem compared to other areas we've discussed, this is one that really burns my biscuits. Garrett is an old school coach and, I know, has plenty of respect for field position. He's a smart guy that knows how to play the odds, and odds are that a better return man is going to set you up for easier drives way more than he might burn you with a turnover because he takes chances.
Dallas played it safe with Beasley, assuming their great offense didn't need help with field position. They trusted Beasley to secure the catch and that Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Joseph Randle wouldn't need those extra ten yards.
How'd that work out for you?
I know elite returners don't grow on trees but Dallas just so happened to find one on the street in Lucky Whitehead. His ability was clear in the preseason. He did have a fumble in the first game but otherwise was secure and consistently flashed dynamic ability. Lucky wasn't heard from again on special teams until Week 5.
Once the Romo and Dez injuries occurred then that should've been the switch flipper. At that point you couldn't let any opportunity to score or help your offense pass, and sticking with Beasley was either ignorance, arrogance, or more of the same "stick with your veteran" stuff that I talked about before. It was the least logical or excusable decision made all year.
~ ~ ~
The good news for Cowboys fans is that the team is set up to make a run again in 2016. They will bring back all of the important pieces and have plenty of opportunity to improve with increased cap space and what are sure to be some high draft picks.
My only hope is that this season kicked away whatever complacency or hubris may have set in from the success of last year. They simply weren't as talented as that 12-4 record, division title, and playoff victory led some to believe. Let's hope that reality check is evident in the offseason ahead.
And if Tony could stay healthy next year, that'd be nice.
Malik McDowell Is Well Worth The Risk For The Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys are reportedly brining defensive lineman Malik McDowell into The Star this week for a visit, as they decide whether or not to potentially sign him for the 2019 season.
McDowell is a former second round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, who fell to day two because of what scouts call "off the field" or "character" concerns. McDowell did not last long with Seahawks, as he was released in 2017 following an ATV accident in which he reportedly suffered "extensive brain and eye trauma" according to Charles Robinson.
None of us know much about who Malik McDowell is as a person, or what concerns their really should be with his health. But what I do know is that on tape at Michigan State, McDowell was a top 5-10 player in the 2017 draft class. He was a stud, and has the traits to continue to be a stud in the NFL.
The 2017 NFL Draft is chock full of talented, athletic, and productive defensive linemen. While most of the draft pundits have focused on EDGE rushers thus far, the defensive tackle class also possesses some of this year's top NFL prospects. Arguably the best of those defensive tackles is Michigan State's Malik McDowell.
Back in 2017 I wrote a full scouting report on McDowell, detailing why he earned such a high grade on my board. McDowell is a versatile linemen who is explosive off the ball, powerful and rangy against the run, and a skilled pass rusher who plays with a high motor. What more could you really ask for?
"McDowell is a patient pass rusher at times, setting up the blocker how he likes and then beating them with ease. McDowell’s ability to swipe hands off helps him greatly, but his quick swim is his most effective pass rush move.
On this play he uses that swim to perfection, forcing the center to power down to the right before swimming back to the other side."
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
When the Spartans went to a three man pass rushing front, McDowell moved to the EDGE often and made plays with his quick, active hands and impressive swim move. He was much more impressive on the interior, however, and could be a direct replacement for David Irving as an explosive and powerful 3-technique for the Cowboys.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
I love that the Cowboys are bringing McDowell in for a free agent visit. His price will likely be low, as he is yet to play in an NFL game over the last two years, but his ceiling remains very high if he is healthy. It's rare for a player with his college production, natural ability, and measurables to completely fail in the NFL.
Maybe all McDowell needs is a second chance to get his head right and prove that he belongs in the league. Maybe he flames out quickly and can't get on the field due to "off the field" stuff. Or, maybe he simply isn't healthy enough to contribute as an NFL player. Regardless, for the price he'll likely command, McDowell is well worth the risk if the Cowboys are willing to take it.
Though Not A Direct Beasley Replacement, Randall Cobb Would Bring Value To Cowboys’ Offense
When the news broke Monday that veteran wide receiver Randall Cobb was visiting the Dallas Cowboys, most immediately assumed he would be a logical replacement for the departed Cole Beasley.
When you take a look at the film and each of their skillsets, however, you quickly see this is likely not the case.
While Cobb would be able to play in the slot as a receiver for the Cowboys if he signs, his value extends much further than just a slot receiver. Where Beasley makes his mark with precise route running, short area quickness, and 3rd down reliability, Cobb is much more of a threat after the catch. He's not the route runner that Beasley is, and really isn't an upgrade over Beasley as a receiver, but Cobb would be able to help the Cowboys' become more diverse in their offensive schemes.
Similar to Tavon Austin, Randall Cobb can be used in pre snap motion and jet-sweep packages, as well as a traditional running back. A college quarterback, Cobb's versatility is what makes him so attractive to NFL teams. Cobb would actually fit more of the Lance Dunbar "scat back" role of sorts for the Cowboys than that of the Cole Beasley slot receiver role. His versatility, however, allows him to carve out a lane within the offense which they haven't quite had before.
Another area Cobb could help the Cowboys is when the play breaks down. With experience in the Packers offense playing with arguably the greatest improviser we've ever seen in Aaron Rodgers, Cobb would be able to help Dak Prescott down the field when he breaks the pocket and the play is off schedule.
So often last season we talked about how the Cowboys offense is reliant on remaining on schedule, staying in front of the chains and not having to force the ball downfield. Unleashing the Mississippi State version of Dak Prescott, where he can improvise and use his legs to create big plays, tends to be when this offense is at its best, however.
Randall Cobb won't be a Pro Bowler if the Cowboys sign him, and depending on the money he receives, it might not even be a lock that he makes the final roster. But Cobb would be an exciting addition to a Cowboys offense which has lacked "creativity" over the last few seasons, and is looking to reinvent themselves to a certain extent.
A receiving corps headlined by Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, with versatile weapons such as Cobb and Tavon Austin behind them, is a pretty good one to head into draft day with.
Signing Cobb would keep the Cowboys from "needing" to take a wide receiver early in the draft, and would allow them to easily shed Allen Hurns if a receiving weapon did fall to them at 58th overall.
Should Cowboys Inquire About Trading for 49ers DL Solomon Thomas?
When it comes to making trades, the Dallas Cowboys are typically the buyer and not the seller. They proved that last season when they acquired Tavon Austin, Jamize Olawale, and Jihad Ward via trade and could be looking do the same once again this offseason. That's why today I want to talk about the Cowboys putting in a call to the San Francisco 49ers to inquire about potentially trading for Solomon Thomas.
New 49ers Defensive Line Coach Kris Kocurek is rumored to be evaluating Solomon Thomas' film in order to determine his fit and future with the organization moving forward. This is no easy task. In his two years in the league they've tried Thomas at DE and DT, but unfortunately the former No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft has yet to find his footing at either position.
Being a man without a position doesn't bode well for Solomon Thomas, especially after the 49ers acquired Defensive End Dee Ford from the Kansas City Chiefs last week via trade. The 49ers are suddenly stacked along the defensive line. That's not all though, things could actually get worse for Thomas.
To further complicate matters, the 49ers could use their second overall pick in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft on the either Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams. If that's what indeed happens, someone is going to be the odd man out. If you haven't guessed it yet, I think that player could be Solomon Thomas.
As a former high first-round draft pick, Thomas would count $7,678,468 against the salary cap in 2019 and $8,958,213 in 2020. That's probably more than the 49ers want to pay for a rotational/backup defensive lineman. And cutting him this season would create $16.6 million in dead money, so a trade is the logical solution.
With all that in mind, it wouldn't surprise me if San Francisco put Solomon Thomas on the trade block any day now. He is only two years into his four-year rookie deal and comes with a fifth-year option as a former first-round draft pick. That means if a team does trade for him they have him under contract for essentially three more years.
If you add all of this up, it makes a lot of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. They need defensive line help and Solomon Thomas needs a fresh start. The Cowboys would get a young versatile defensive lineman and the 49ers get to dump his contract while also receiving some compensation in return. It's a win-win for all parties concerned.
I know what you're thinking though. What would the Cowboys have to give up in the trade? Well, it might not be as much as you think.
Fortunately, Thomas' failure to make an impact his first two years in the NFL favor the buyer, in this case the Dallas Cowboys. He has only four career quarterback sacks, three of which came in his rookie season. Stats of course don't always tell the entire story, but game film does. Unfortunately for Thomas, he can't escape his poor play.
I believe it wouldn't take more than a 2019 fourth-round draft pick to get Solomon Thomas away from the 49ers. Remember, just last season the New England Patriots sent a third-round draft pick to San Francisco and received Offensive Tackle Trent Brown and the fifth-round pick in return. Brown was a more proven player and was in the last year of his contract.
I don't know about you, but I kind of like the idea of Solomon Thomas in a Dallas Cowboys uniform. If anybody can tap into his potential, Rod Marinelli can. Giving up a 2019 fourth-round pick is well worth the gamble in my opinion.
Do you think the Cowboys should inquire about trading for Solomon Thomas?
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