(actually published on 3/24 BTW)
Ok so I haven't blogged much if at all about the Cowboys after their disastrous 08, but then I started the blog after they imploded so it is time to catch up a bit. I just wanted to do a recap of the off-season and go over some roster and pre-draft things.
While I tired of Owens' mouth and media omnipresence like everyone, he still had dozens of advocates among his teammates and would have been a valuable contributor this year as last. I don't think the Cowboys are better talent-wise with this move but they are better scheme-wise. His release was an indication that Garrett is taking control of the offense and intent on more effectively diversifying the attack. Williams will be the focal point of the wide-outs with Austin becoming the speed threat but who will have limited touches, say 25. Losing owens will allow Garrett to more effectively and creatively use Barber, Choice, Jones, Witten, Bennett and the wideouts as well. It might also indicate a move toward a more run-heavy attack or at least a more even run/pass split. Expect Jones and Bennett to be big contributors this year with both emerging as candidates to become deep threats split wide in some sets. So overall, I like this move, and I do buy Jones' explanation that Owens was not released because he was a dick. It is all about the scheme and the emergence of Garrett which just might have the Cowboys actually realizing their super bowl aspirations in 09, err, at least on offense.
Losses/Gains of Note.
Losses: Canty, Burnett, Henry, Williams, TO, Tank, Pacman
Will not resign: Johnson, Thomas
2nd-rd tenders: Austin, Proctor
UFA who might be resigned: Davis, Bollinger, Curtis, Polk
Gains: Kitna, Brooking, Olshansky, Sensabough
Phillips washed-up retreads: Stewart, Siavii, Anderson, Hawkins, Carter
I had a spirited debate over at "blogging the boys" that Canty was worth resigning and that the Cowboys D simply couldn't win with Spears being their second-best lineman. No one agreed, somehow forgetting that Spears was a lighting-rod for Parcells' criticism who asserted he was fat, lazy and lacked commitment to improving himself as a player. Me and Parcel behind the red line, boy-bloggers on the other. As it turns out, Canty was worth 7 million and was worth it as there was only one other 3-4 DE on the market who could adequately replace him: Olshanksy. Lucky for the Boys, the cowboys were able to sign him for about 4mill per. If they had not managed to sign him, the Cowboys line would've been in real trouble next year as Spears is a league average player and Hatcher and Bowen are rotation players but not starters. With no first round pick, they would've had to luck into a 3-4 DE late in the second or trade for one, likely an older overpaid vet who would be a placeholder and below average starter. In that scenario, Canty would've have been worth _exactly_ what NYG paid for him.
So now the DL will be ok if slightly worse than last year IMO. Canty still has the talent to be a better pash rusher than Olshansky while Olshansky is what he is, a run-stuffer. The best way to improve the line, following the NYG, is to add quality veteran rotation depth. The most notable vet still available is Vonnie Holliday and is worth a sign to put pressure on all our young lineman for playing time and provide leadership. I'm not as familiar with some of the 4-3 DL in the 30+ age set still on the market though one recent sign would have been worth adding: Marques Douglas. A couple of other guys on the market, Taylor and Berry, are DE/Rush LB types who could contribute in a rotation role and in certain sets and I wouldn't be opposed to adding them to back up Ware at the very least. It doesn't look like they are interested in going this route however - things have been quiet of late and these guys are still on the market - which leads me to believe that they have confidence in Hatcher and Bowen to fill the 4th/5th spots in the DL rotation.
Now, I don't really get the faith placed in these two, if accurate, as Hatcher is an underachiever on par with Spears and Bowen should be competing for the 6th spot in any DL rotation (he is, himself, an UDFA). Getting a nice draft pick to fill the #4 spot in the rotation, that is to say, a starting caliber DL in case of injury, is really important IMO. If JJ is smart he'll ink a vet for cheap so he is not tempted to over-reach in the draft to fill a position of need.
As for the LB core, the departure of Thomas and addition of Brooking is being touted as an improvement but I don't anticipate that being the case. Both are mid 30's players, who are fundamentally sound former pro-bowlers, and will make 90 tackles by the end of the year; this is a lateral move that won't result in much improvement in the end but had to be made as Thomas wanted back into a 4-3 scheme. In addition, JJ is touting Brooking as a 3-down LB, apparently asserting, that the loss of Burnett is inconsequential because Brooking can fill the role. My only word to that is: nonsense. It also indicates a palpable lack of faith in the only nickle LB candidate still on the team: Bobby Carpenter. It was revealed in the last few days that the boys were trying to trade him for a bag of bones even _before_ Burnett signed.
What does this mean? Well the cowboys have ZERO depth at the I/O LB spots and need at least one starting caliber player in the draft or via trade to backup one or both spots. If they don't believe Carpenter can fill Burnett's role last year on passing downs, then they might need two quality linebackers to accomplish this. The ideal scenario would be to get a badass OLB in the second round who can: be the nickle LB, backup both Brookings and James, _and_ be good enough to replace Brookings in 2010. If the cowboys don't manage to do this with one or two high quality players, then they are an injury away from defensive disarray on par with the offensive disarray that we saw when Johnson tried to fill-in for Romo. The best route might be to trade for a vet as a precaution but this can be done after the draft as well if need be.
Speaking of the QB position, the cowboys went out and traded Henry for Kitna. Kitna is a very capable backup so JJ has learned his lesson (or learned not to listen to the coaches and their perceived QB wisdom)from the debacle that was Johnson '08. However the need to trade a starting CB for a backup 30ish QB is highly suspect. Kitna was about to be cut and the liklihood that they would have to pay 3million for a backup seems out of the question. Not even being able to get a 5th round pick or something or a backup linebacker or _anything_ out of the deal just seems idiotic. While Henry was declining he wasn't bad enough to give away and the risk of losing Kitna was not very likely if ne ended up on the FA market. In addition, the move saved very little in cap room. All in all a puzzling move that filled a big need in the end.
Trading Henry did speak to the confidence that the coaches had in Jenkins and Scandrick. As it turns out, ditching Henry was part of a larger plan to overhaul the secondary, and, with this in mind, getting rid of him makes more sense. The more in-depth revelations about these changes came from the radio jockeys at DC.com and the Boy Bloggers site. What we learned was that team was going to make Jenkins the starter opposite Newman and move scandrick to be a kind of nickel CB/FS. Clearly this move seemed incredibly hair-brained as Scandrick is about 5-10 189, small for a CB much less a safety. In this scheme, I guess Hamlin, a very poor prototypical SS, was to move to SS with Scandrick as the FS on passing downs. Luckly the Boys game to their senses, and signed FS Sensabough, a very nice player, who will be the coverage SS that will complete the transformation of the secondary in a pretty dramatic way IMO. Think of Sensabough as a combo safety better than Hamlin vs the run but still able to cover backs and TE out of the backfield much better than Keith Davis or Roy Williams (or watkins).
So the secondary should be much improved next season and it certainly inspires confidence that Phillips and Campo decided to go with more of a hybrid secondary with a lot of speed and coverage skills. That Campo was also Roy Williams coach during his heyday at SS, also goes a long way to suggest that the team is not wedded to salary or player prestige when assessing the fundamental needs of this team. Finally, there is some scuttlebutt to suggest that the Corey Brown experiment at FS is over. The team loved him when he was drafted - blazing fast, converting from CB - but hated him last year when he played poorly after both Williams and Watkins went down. And watkins, well, they just don't like him anymore at all. A bit of a nitwit. I think you will see a combo safety drafted before the 5th round to be the backup to both Hamlin and Sensabough. In addition, I think you will see brown moved to the nickel to compete with Ball for playing time, who they seem to be enamored with, at least as a 4th CB.
Their has been a lot of hand-wringing of at Blogging the Boys about the lack of depth in the OL. I disagree with the relative urgency of the matter. So, the argument goes a bit like this: Proctor and Holland suck; Free and McQuistan suck. Sophisticated stuff I know but hear me out. Holland is the only guy on the line who has starting experience and was traded to the boys for cheap last season because he was out of shape and no longer fit the scheme. Despite his experience, the boy-bloggers say he sucked when he had to fill in during the season and should not be considered a starting-caliber player. I'm going to disagree though I can't say I really payed too much attention to see if he was staying in his lane or whatever. He fits this scheme and he is a capable backup. Proctor was said to suck so much, that he detracted from the performance of the entire OL as they were all looking out of the corners of their eyes to see if he needed help or was blowing an assignment. All I can say on the matter is this: the boys put a second round tender on him to ensure that he would be back in 09 and he plays both C and G giving the team flexibility. Obviously JJ agrees with me on both counts.
I do agree that Free and McQuistan suck so we do not have a starting-caliber LT in the wings. However, we don't need one. Hear me out. The line has inherent flexibility if you take a look at the backgrounds of all of the starting OL save for Adams. Adams is a LT and can play no other position. Gurode was a G converted to C. Kosier has played all three positions on the line, having played tackle when he signed with us. Colombo has played both tackle positions and Leonard Davis played LT before he signed with Dallas. So, what am I saying? All of the jeremiads about the lack of depth in the line are mainly a bunch roster geeks he don't get the fact that the starters themsleves will be shuffled first in order to meet a need occasioned by catastrophic injury, especially at LT. Davis, Colombo and Kosier would be your LT before a draft pick taken at the end of round 2 or 3. Holland remains a starting caliber backup, and, at least in the eyes of the coaches, Proctor remains a viable backup (not startin calber mind you) at 2 positions. So the best strategy would be to take the best player in the draft and if there isn't one worth taking on the first day of the draft, sign a vet after it. Simple stuff no?
Neeeeexxxxxxtttttt.....! Ok, so to get back to the offensive side of the ball, teh best news of the off-season is that, Garrett is taking control of the scheme. I am very excited to see Williams, Jones, Bennett, Witten on the field at the same time. If the simplicity of the scheme was a criticism launched by opposing players and bloggers alike, then this scheme will be hard to decode. The biggest percieved weakness is in the depth of the receiver core. Essentially this team is counting on Miles to be a speed option and will likely get no more than 25 catches or so. As he won't be a focal point of the offense, I think he has shown that he can do it. However, he can't stay healthy and neither can his backup, Stanback. While crayton is a capable possession receiver, he should not be relied upon to stretch the field obviously. I would say that this is a pretty strong position of need on the team because once you lose a legitimate deep threat - even though he may only get 25 balls and even though Jones might be able to pick up the slack in some different sets - it makes the offense a little more predictable, which is what Garrett is trying to avoid in the first place. So draft'em if hes' there, sign a vet if he is not.
In summary, the Cowboys have done well thus far in the off-season, ditching malcontents - Tank, Pacman, To - and making fundamental changes in scheme and staff that needed to be made. The 2 most notable changes were in the schemes for the offense and secondary. the offense should be less predictable and more diverse and teh seondary should be faster and less vulnerable to TE/RB running wild on the safeties. Undergirding these scheme shifts are changes in staff roles. Garrett is taking charge of the entire offense and Phillips is taking charge of the whole defense. Stewart was fired, the ST coach was fired, TO and williams were released.
I see all of these changes a recognition of some fundamental failures by coaches and management alike and you have to be pretty positive about the teams outlook for next season. I am at least.
Ok, before signing off from Cowboylandia I should mention that the cowboys were just awarded compensation picks in the 5th and 6th rounds for Jacques Reeves and Julious Jones. This really sucks as it will be hard for the team to fulfill all of its needs without that extra 4th they were expecting.