The NFL Draft is almost two weeks away, which means the best part of the offseason is so close, we can taste it. We are at that point in the offseason where what gets said by the Dallas Cowboys and other teams needs to be taken with a grain of salt as front offices turn into politicians delivering misinformation to the masses.
The Dallas Cowboys, as much as any team in the league, have a lot at stake. Not only in the upcoming NFL Draft, where one wrong evaluation at a premium pick can set you back — looking at you Randy Gregory and Jaylon Smith — but also the 2018 season as a whole.
From the front office to the coaching staff to the quarterback, success is almost necessary at this point.
The Front Office
Things have been changing in the Cowboys front office during the Jason Garrett era. Where the team used to hold onto players a year longer than they should, it now appears they are willing to part with players before they really hit the rock bottom of their decline. Even popular players like Dez Bryant.
Stephen Jones and Will McClay have begun to take on a lot of the decision-making process throughout the organization, and the NFL Draft has become one of the team’s strengths in the last several years. The 2016 and 2017 drafts were both very strong for the team and nothing suggests they won’t continue to find really good players in the 2018 NFL Draft.
That being said, the decision makers in the front office really went out on a limb with Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones in the Dez Bryant decision.
As we sit here in the middle of April, there’s no way to know if it was the right decision.
If Dez Bryant goes to another team and puts up a good year, Jerry Jones will likely take back some of the reigns that he’s been slowly handing over to his lieutenants these last eight years.
A favorite of Jerry’s who had a hard time being convinced would probably feel like he made a mistake not listening to his gut and going with the voices around him. He’s made a life of following his instincts and if his instincts told him to keep Dez but he allowed others to convince him otherwise, that could bring back late 90’s and early 2000’s Jerry Jones.
And we begged for that Jerry Jones to give away some of his power.
If the Dez decision bites them, he could seize it back, and there could be some turnover in the front office.
As good as they’ve been in the draft, they can’t afford a miss in the first three rounds of the draft this year. Hopefully, 2017 was an indication that they’re done gambling their second-round picks.
The Coaching Staff
This very much seems like a win or go home scenario for Jason Garrett and the coaching staff, on offense in particular.
At the start of the 2017 season, things were going fairly well. Though they were only 5-3 in the first half of the season, they’d suffered a couple of losses where they scored 30 points (Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams).
The second half of the season was a completely different story.
The wake of the Tyron Smith injury, primarily Dak Prescott getting destroyed in Atlanta, left many to wonder where the coaching adjustments were.
From the Atlanta game on, the offense was a wreck. The team that was scoring 20-30 points per game on a regular basis was struggling to hit double digits.
Rumors are that the offensive staff is working to revamp the offensive system to better suit Dak Prescott’s strengths. One of the weaknesses being they weren’t getting creative enough in scheming their pass catchers open.
If there is any kind of carry over of the 2017 debacle into the 2018 season, the calls for changes to the coaching staff will be loud and consistent. Even the strongest of Jason Garrett supporters, me included, would have to admit the time has come for a change.
And like the front office, Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan have a lot riding on Dez Bryant’s production in 2018. While they won’t publicly say it, and maybe in their hearts they hope he has success, in the subconscious part of their mind they have to be hoping for Dez’s demise.
The offensive coaches are out on the same limb as Stephen Jones, the difference being Jerry Jones isn’t going to fire Stephen. But the Dez Bryant decision really put the coaching staff on the hot seat. Only hindsight will tell us if they were right.
On the defensive side of the ball, the transition from Rod Marinelli to the next defensive coordinator appears to be underway with the hiring of Kris Richard, the former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator.
Marinelli may not be the coach beyond this year, but his heir is already on the staff, and Richard could even be a head coaching candidate if a change has to be made.
I’ve argued that, with a little luck in the health department, particularly with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, the Dallas Cowboys defense is championship material. They have two elite pass rushers and several solid to good ones as well. They have an ascending secondary. The only weakness is the health of their top two linebackers, but as we saw in 2017, when Sean Lee plays, this defense can be elite.
While the defense seems ready to play in 2018, the offensive coaches and the head coach have a lot to prove to retain their standing within the organization.
Eight games do not make a career, but the final eight games of the 2017 season left a lot to be desired from the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.
Dak Prescott, who through 24 starts was showing that he was franchise quarterback material, really struggled after his left tackle went down. He wasn’t the same player after that unlucky night in Atlanta.
Coming into 2018, he has a lot to prove. And a lot might be an understatement.
He needs to show the Cowboys that he’s shaken off the beating he took in the last half of last season. He needs to show that his first 24 games are more indicative of the player he can be than the last eight.
Dak Prescott has been one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the league and, with a little bit of protection, should still be able to move the team down the field with regularity. That being said, he needs to improve his deep-ball consistency so teams can’t crowd the line of scrimmage and take away the short chain-moving throws to Beasley & Co. that were his bread and butter in 2016.
The Dallas Cowboys have Dak Prescott at a very reasonable rate over the next two years, but his 2018 season is going to go a long way toward deciding whether they are negotiating an extension in 2019 or looking for his replacement.
Dak Prescott literally has millions riding on his 2018 season.
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As I wrote the other day, I believe the Dallas Cowboys are contenders in the 2018 season. If they don’t live up to my and a lot of people’s expectations, a lot of changes could be forthcoming.