Mediocrity is a scary word to be thrown around in the world of sports as it usually ends up with someone being fired. But on December 29th, 2013, after completing their third straight 8-8 campaign and missing out on the playoffs yet again, that’s exactly what the Dallas Cowboys proved to be, mediocre.
Then the unthinkable happened, Jerry Jones did what most fans have dreamed about since he ran Head Coach Jimmy Johnson out-of-town after winning back-to-back Super Bowls nearly two decades earlier; he took a step back from making personnel decisions.
After handing over the reigns to Head Coach Jason Garrett and GM Stephen Jones, Jerry assumed a role similar to the Queen of England; he’s become a glorified figurehead. This has become the most important factor to the resurgence of the Cowboys.
The first major change was the decision to be financially responsible for the first time in decades. The new regime decided to let All-Pro and future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware walk rather than overpay an aging star. For years, Jerry Jones was known for letting his emotions get the best of him and his checkbook. Performance based contracts are all the rage in Valley Ranch lately, which has been a brilliant move by the front office.
Players with a questionable history, like former top prospect Rolando McClain, are forced to play with a chip on their shoulder and earn their keep.
There has been a noticeable change in the way the team has drafted since the changing of the guard.
Gone are the days of the Cowboys reaching on prospects just to make a splash. This was never more evident than when the War Room decided to pass on Johnny Football in the 2014 draft and elected to bolster the offensive line instead. Zack Martin wasn’t a flashy pick, but he was the best option available and solidified what is considered by most to be the best offensive line in the league. As a former offensive lineman, I firmly believe that the game is won and lost in the trenches.
Flash forward to the 2015 off-season and it’s clear what the gameplan has been from day one: improve the defensive front.
They addressed this need in both the draft and free agency with the controversial signing of Greg Hardy. After taking CB/S Byron Jones in the first round, Garrett walked away with what may very well be the steal of the draft in Randy Gregory. Add in DeMarcus Lawrence from the previous draft, the brilliant signing of undrafted free agent La’el Collins, and it’s clear to see that the scouting philosophy has shifted. A philosophy that is geared towards building the infrastructure of the team. Who is the architect behind this new philosophy? That would be none other than Will McClay.
McClay’s importance to the Cowboys organization is evident with his three promotions in as many seasons. His new position is Senior Director of College and Pro Scouting after serving the 2014 season as the Assistant Director of Player Personnel. While the job titles have changed over the years, McClay’s task has remained constant: build the Cowboys into a perennial contender. Since being handed the keys to the War Room, McClay has done a phenomenal job at evaluating talent and building quality depth in the trenches.
While the second preseason game of the 2015 season left a lot to be desired overall, the young lineman that the Cowboys have acquired over the past few seasons flashes of brilliance.
It remains to be seen if the youngsters can play like that for an entire season, especially on the defensive side of the ball; but if the depth is half as good as it appears to be on paper then Cowboys fans are in for a hell of a season.
The final factor in the resurgence of America’s team is without question the new mentality that Jason Garrett has brought to the locker room. Since taking over for Wade Phillips, who makes Barry Switzer seem like General Patton, Garrett has brought a sense of accountability, discipline and aggressiveness that has been lacking within the organization since the aforementioned Jimmy Johnson era. One could argue that Bill Parcells brought that kind of demeanor to the sidelines but was fired before any major turnaround could take place.
Garrett and company have worked tirelessly to bring the right guys into the Cowboy's family over the past few seasons. Guy's that are prepared, in Garrett's own words, to "Finish The Fight."
One thing is for certain: the future is bright in Big D.
Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?
Despite their insistence that upgrading the safety position was a top offseason priority, the Dallas Cowboys haven't really done much to improve the backend of their secondary. They did sign former Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals Safety George Iloka as a free agent and drafted Donovan Wilson in the sixth-round in this year's NFL Draft, but neither player looks like a clear-cut upgrade at this point. Fortunately, there's still time to find Xavier Woods' counterpart for 2019.
Xavier Woods is the only clear-cut starter at safety currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to who starts opposite him this season. With that in mind, the Cowboys should be keeping all of their options open, including acquiring players who get released or even making a trade for someone they like. The latter is what I want to talk about today.
A potential safety who could be put on the trade block that I'm kind of intrigued with is Josh Jones, who has reportedly requested a trade from the Green Bay Packers.
Packers safety Josh Jones is skipping the voluntary OTAs and working out in Florida because he's hoping to be traded, a source told ESPN. The source said the 2017 second-round pick believes it would be best for both parties if they parted ways. Story coming on ESPN shortly.
Josh Jones clearly sees where he stands with the Green Bay Packers after they signed Adrian Amos in free agency and drafted Darnell Savage Jr. 21st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, thus his absence from OTA's and trade request. He understands the business and knows he's not going to see the field much behind those two, meaning his best chance for playing time would be in a different uniform.
It's not all that shocking Jones has requested a trade. Even before the Packers added Amos and Savage he wasn't receiving a lot of playing time. He's just never seemed to fit into what Green Bay was trying to do on the backend of their defense. It may be in the best interest of both parties to mutually part ways. This is where the Dallas Cowboys come in.
I believe Josh Jones is exactly the type of safety Kris Richard would like to pair Xavier Woods with on the backend of the Cowboys defense. He fits the criteria Richard likes in his defensive backs as far as size, length, and speed are concerned. And, he also has the kind of skill set/mindset to become that Kam Chancellor "enforcer" type of strong safety.
Josh Jones is at his best when he can play around the line of scrimmage, much like Chancellor was during his time with the Seahawks. But, Jones also has the ability to be a factor in coverage as well. The only real question here is whether or not he's an upgrade over the likes of Jeff Heath, George Iloka, and maybe even rookie Donovan Wilson?
In all honesty, I don't have the answer to that question. Josh Jones really hasn't received a fair opportunity to prove himself in his first two years in the NFL. I believe the skill set is there to start in the league, but there's not much there to back up that belief.
Personally, I'd be willing to part way with a late round pick if I were the Cowboys to acquire Josh Jones. I like the idea of bringing him in to work with Kris Richard and allowing him to compete for the starting job next to Xavier Woods. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward move Dallas likes to gamble on, and it could potentially pay off in a big way.
Where do you stand? Should the Cowboys consider trading for Josh Jones?
How Can The Cowboys Force More Turnovers In 2019?
2018 seemed like the beginning of a new era. A defensive era. For the first time in years the Cowboys were able to consistently lean on their defense during games, staying alive even as their offense sputtered and limped through stretches early in the season.
The defense was downright prolific some weeks. They carried the Cowboys to an inspiring home victory over the New Orleans Saints to put them in prime position to make the playoffs. They dominated the Wild Card game in key moments, making key stops and holding the Seahawks to just 22 points in the win. They featured one of the league's best individual pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, an All Pro cornerback in Byron Jones, and one of the league's most exciting young linebacker duos.
For all of this success, this defense still lacked one thing. Takeaways.
The Cowboys forced only 9 interceptions in 2018, ranking 26th across the league. In fact, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was actually tied with Xavier Woods for the team lead in interceptions with just 2. When it comes to total takeaways the Cowboys' defense was a little better off, though, finishing 16th in the NFL.
Part of the "problem" seems to be their philosophy. The Cowboys have finished 26th, 24th, 27th, and 31st in interceptions dating back to 2015. They've also finished 9th, 25th, 18th, and 19th in team defense DVOA over that same stretch. Clearly there was an improvement in total defense in 2018, but neither their team defense nor ability to take the ball away has been strong since 2015.
The bigger problem, really, is a lack of luck. While this sounds like a cop-out, takeaways often do come down to just that. Of course putting yourself in the right place at the right time to benefit from a batted pass or overthrown ball matters, but those bounces finding the right hands is usually a matter of luck.
Turnovers are incredibly volatile year to year, and as much as you'd like your players to "make their own luck," randomness does play a part here.
You can certainly argue the Cowboys have done their best this offseason to increase their chances at takeaways, however. By trading for defensive end Robert Quinn, re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence, and adding talented players to the middle of their defensive line as well, Dallas has put an emphasis on getting after the quarterback and corralling the opposing running game. Putting pressure on quarterbacks can force them into quick decision making or bad throws, which could in turn breed interceptions.
This is far from guaranteed, though. Plus the Cowboys play against some of the league's top quarterbacks this year, which hurts their chances of taking the ball away further.
In the end the Cowboys will need both the skill of their pass rushers and defensive backs to put them in good positions, and luck to smile down on them, if they'd like to turn around their takeaway numbers in 2019. And after all, this demoralizing trend has to reverse itself at some point, doesn't it?
Will It Be The Cowboys, Or Another Team, Who Pays Byron Jones After 2019?
After having his fifth year option exercised for the 2019 season, cornerback Byron Jones enters a contract year this Fall.
Jones inarguably had the best year of his career in 2018: earning not only his first Pro Bowl selection but also Second Team All Pro honors for his performance. Doing it all without an impressive stat sheet, Jones was able to let his film speak for itself throughout most of the year, and he became the number one cornerback we'd all hoped he could be when the Cowboys decided to take the freakishly athletic defensive back in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
This contract year is quite unique for Byron Jones, however. Next offseason the Cowboys will be forced to re-sign and extend just about all of their key contributors on both sides of the ball. DeMarcus Lawrence already got his contract, but Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and others still await their deals. Deals which the front office has all-but explicitly promised will come.
This leaves Jones, the former first round pick and now former All Pro, generally considered to be the odd man out. So while 2019 is a contract year for Byron Jones, he may be earning himself a contract from a completely different team.
Jones has had an interesting road to this contract season. One which would be a shame for the Cowboys to waste. Moving between cornerback and safety during the first three years of his career, Jones fell out of the coaches' good graces while playing out of his most natural position. Under Kris Richard's new regime, though, Jones had his best season to date. He looked to finally be comfortable in his role, and was now playing for a coach who believed he could be a special player.
Now that Byron Jones has found his place in the Cowboys defense, and has earned his way into conversations with the league's top cornerbacks, he's likely priced himself out of the Cowboys' future plans.
It's funny how that works out. Of course, Jones should go get paid, and I'd never fault a guy for maximizing his value on the market. But there's a good chance the Cowboys make the mistake of allowing a premier cornerback to walk out of their building next offseason. But if they want to retain players like Elliott and Cooper, they may not have any other choice.
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